Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has spoken out against madrassas and their teachings, in an unusual remark on a sensitive subject coming from the military head of the Islamic country. Bajwa said there was an urgent need to take a relook at the teachings imparted at the religious schools. In fact, while criticising the role of mushrooming madrassas, the Pakistani army chief even questioned the concept of having religious schools in the Muslim-majority country.
Madrassas, which mostly teach only Islamic theology, have come under lens in India as well for their teachings. Some of these in parts of the country have even been accused of propagating fundamentalist thought.
“I am not against madrassas, but we have lost the essence of madrassas,” the General told a youth conference title ‘Human resource development – opportunities and challenges’ in Quetta, capital of the restive Balochistan province, as per The Nation newspaper.
“Only religious education is being imparted to the students at all the seminaries and thus the students educated from the seminaries are left behind in the race for development,” he was quoted as saying by The Express Tribune.
“We need to look at and revisit the concept of madrassas… we need to give them a worldly education,” he added.
At the same event, Bajwa also commented on the role of the Army, which enjoys considerable influence over major policy decisions in Pakistan.
“Army shall continue to perform its role while national security and development remains a national obligation for all state institutions,” the Inter Service Public Relations quoted him as saying.
“All of us have a duty to the nation,” he emphasised.
Modernising madarsa education is a thorny issue in Pakistan, where religious schools are often blamed for radicalisation of youngsters but are the only education available to millions of poor children.
Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s remarks, apparently off-the-cuff during a prepared speech, were a rare example of an army chief criticising madarsas, which are often built adjacent to mosques and underpin Islamisation efforts by religious hardliners.
It is also said that areas close to the International Border in Rajasthan have witnessed a spurt in establishment of mosques and madarsas, an increase in the number of mosques and madarsa has been noticed in the border areas in the last 10 years and the message coming out of those places is not of peace.
The people who come to most of these madarsas to teach and the maulvis are not from the state which indicates that the message coming out of those places is not that of peace.
Religious schools provide Koranic teachings to 3.5 million children and young adults in Pakistan, and officials and analysts think that a small but significant number of these institutions act as incubators of radicalism.
Innocents are being radicalized in Pakistan, it was because they are exposed to ways of thinking that these schools have helped to promote. They require people to isolate themselves from modernity — television is wrong, eating McDonald’s is wrong, mixing with opposite gender is wrong,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based columnist who specializes in education issues. “And once you establish that isolation, then dehumanizing people is easy . . . and if you leave someone there, you have left them on a cliff.”
In January, the government released a 20-point action plan, which included the “registrations and regulation of madrassas.” But even though much of the plan is now being implemented — helping to reduce the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan this year — the government remains conflicted over how aggressively it should, and can, confront the country’s powerful network of Islamic religious leaders and teachers.
With Islamic study a key characteristic of Pakistani society, government officials say they are struggling to differentiate legitimate faith-based teachings from those that spew intolerance or actively recruit militants.