Extreme Madrasahs

By Ahmed, Samina | Harvard International Review, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Extreme Madrasahs


Ahmed, Samina, Harvard International Review


Alexander Evans ("Madrasah Education: Necessity or Rational Choice," Fall 2008) is correct in focusing on the state's failure in South Asia to provide quality education. He, however, is wrong on two counts. He believes that some parents in urban centers make a deliberate choice in sending their children to madrasahs. That is certainly not the case in Pakistan, where children at madrasahs, urban or rural, are predominantly from the poorest sections of the population. Given a failing state education system in the countryside, those desperate to educate their children certainly have no other choice than the madrasahs. But because madrasahs provide free religious education, boarding and lodging, they are also essentially the schools of the poor in Pakistan's cities.

Secondly, Evans claims that the public policy response in states such as Pakistan has been a tightening of regulation. On the contrary, because there has been little attempt to regulate and reform the madrasah sector, jihadi madrasahs and even their more moderate counterparts are a threat to the Pakistani citizen and state.

Not all Pakistani madrasahs propagate hate and incite violence, but some 10 to 15 percent certainly are jihadi madrasahs, linked to or run by violent extremist groups and radical Islamist parties. And as the numbers of jihadi madrasahs have drastically increased over the years, so have the numbers of young people who have passed through them. While the vast majority of some 10,000 madrasahs do not fall under this radical category, sectarian preaching sows the seeds of sectarian hatred. Sectarian conflict, which claims hundreds of lives every year, occurs because every major sect and sub-sect runs its own madrasahs and therefore indoctrinates its students with unique teaching.

Abdicating its responsibility to educate its citizens and to protect the more than 1.5 million children who are enrolled in Pakistan's madrasahs, the state has failed to regulate and reform the madrasah sector. On the contrary, the very phenomenon of jihadi madrasahs was largely state-sponsored. …

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