Madrasas and Militancy: Dogma in Education Leads to Intolerant Worldviews
A Mindset Issue
By Javed Hasan Aly
March 15th, 2015
MADRESSAHS have of late been back in the limelight, for discussion of what they produce and how, ever since a feeble expression of intent by the government to regulate them became part of the National Action Plan. (Some of the latest reports suggest the government has reneged on its plan now.)
While a few sane voices have appreciated the state’s concern, suddenly the managing stakeholders of madrasas have come alive in defence of their ‘estates’. The various wafaqs and their political patrons are all on their feet to protect their jealously guarded domains that bring them so much clout and even more largesse from within and without the country.
Op-ed pieces are being articulated regularly and reporters have been busy conveying the angst of the madrasa managers. Their patron institutions have taken affront to possible intrusion by the state into their protected privacy. Since madrasas provide the doctrinaire troops protecting the religious political parties their visible muscle, such parties are averse to any neutral, intellectual examination of their activities. Madrasa curriculums are defended and the addition of computer literacy and English to their courses is offered as evidence of their ‘modernisation’.
Dogma in Education Leads to Intolerant Worldviews
Some 10 years ago, Barrister Zafrullah, presently a special assistant to the prime minister, wrote a remarkably illuminating insider’s account of the irrelevance of some of the components of the Darse Nizami that is still pursued in these madrasas. Apparently not much has changed since then.
Recently, some newspaper columns have also referred to the 2010 Brookings Institution’s research, Assessing Links between Education and Militancy in Pakistan, recalling its conclusion of a limited direct link between madrasas and militancy in Pakistan. But the report’s observation that: “an education system has the power to shape students’ worldviews and thereby instil a more militaristic or radical outlook that is the major factor facilitating militancy in Pakistan”, is conveniently overlooked. The madrasas’ pedagogy of ideological and authoritarian teaching is the prime driver in that direction.
In the madrasas, it is the quality of education — the content (a curriculum of propagandist dogma); the learning environment (intellectual suffocation and abuse); and the quality of teacher and teaching — that determine the worldviews of its products.
When dogma is incorporated in or imposed upon education, it leads to worldviews that are intolerant of others. Intolerance leads to extremism. This could translate into militancy — perhaps a quick, short conversion is all that is required for the matriculates of these much self-acclaimed institutions to turn into sympathisers of extremism and graduate later as its practitioners. They may be driven by grandiose, but perverted, worldviews of Islam or sectarian separatism.
The Sunni Muslims of the subcontinent had broadly divided themselves, since the middle of the 19th century, into two distinct factions. Studies show that the vast majority preached an inclusionary approach to Muslim social life with little prejudice against others, often associated with the Bareilvi School. The other faction, known as the Deobandis, was in a minority. Many were seen to have an exclusivist approach to Muslim life and were regarded as intolerant of other worldviews.
Some tend to limit the gestation of militancy in Pakistan to a little over the last 30 years; but the seeds of this malaise were sown much earlier. The Objectives Resolution of 1949 gave an opportunity to the obscurantist/dogmatic religious right to entrench itself in the body politic. In 1947, Pakistani Sunnis were largely influenced by the Bareilvi school of thought, but since the 1950s, other religious groups succeeded in becoming the beneficiaries of disproportionate state patronage and global politics.
The Jamaat-i-Islami was particularly successful in setting up a propaganda machine, also establishing its counterpart body in educational institutions, When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam supported ‘jihad’ there. The Mujahideen were largely the products of Deobandi madrasas. Global politics funded the adventure and its supporters. So in Pakistan was created a powerful minority of dogma-driven religious groups.
The JUI in madrasas and the JI in public education institutions have openly preached against social inclusion and have produced some scholars who are intolerant of other worldviews. These hardened ideologues form the faculty in madrasas and driven by their indoctrination in intolerance and extremism, they suppress the spirit of independent inquiry amongst their pupils and dogmatise them with a prejudiced worldview. Since the madrasas largely proliferated in Punjab and the former NWFP, education-linked extremism is predominantly located in these areas.
The mindset issues seem incontrovertible. The political patrons and managers of such institutions should recognise this. They will be well advised to introspect as true scholars and evolve research instead of indoctrination as their vehicle of gaining acquired knowledge rather than one which is merely transferred.
Javed Hasan Aly is the author of Education in Pakistan, A White Paper, 2007.