KARACHI – A huge number of students at Pakistan madrassahs have been offered a golden chance to create a better future after a decision by a state-owned university offering its affiliation to the country’s religious seminaries and bringing hundreds of thousands of students to mainstream education.
“We are offering our affiliation to the madrassahs in all over the country with a view to bringing their students into the mainstream educational environment,” Dr Zafar Iqbal, the vice chancellor of Federal Urdu University said while addressing the graduation ceremony of Jamiatul Rashdia, the country’s one of the largest madrassahs in southern port city of Karachi on Monday.
The Federal Urdu University Karachi is the first ever state-owned or private university that has offered its affiliation to the madrassahs that are often blamed by the western media as “nurseries of militancy”.
“Those madrassahs, which get our affiliation, their students will be granted Bachelor of Arts (B.A) degrees by the univesity,” Dr Iqbal said.
“Not only that, but those students who qualify, will be granted admissions to masters, and Phd classes as well,” he maintaind.
Dr Iqbal said that in case of affiliation, the degree to be issued by his university, would be recognized equivalent to graduation by all the state-owned and private universities.
A similar decision was issued in the mid 1980s by Pakistan’s former military president, Zia-ul-Haq, in mid 1980s, who declared the eight-year long madrassah course equivalent to graduation. However, the degrees are issued by the respective madrassah boards instead of any recognized university.
Around 13000 madrassahs out of 22,000 are operating in Punjab, the province of 90 million people.
Nearly 12,000 madrassahs are administered by Wifaq-ul-Madaris Pakistan, which represents the Dubendi school of thought.
The remaining 10,000 madrassahs are administered by Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Pakistan (Brelvi school of thought), Tanzeem-ul-Madaris (Shiite), Wifaq-ul-Madaris Al-Salafia (Ahl-e-Hadit), and Rabita-tul-Madaris Pakistan (Jammat-e-Islami).
An estimated 2.2 million students are enrolled by the five madrassah boards across Pakistan.
Maulana Wali Razi, a Karachi-based religious scholar, and a former minister for religious affairs does not see the university’s offer as exciting.
“This (idea) does not attract me. There is a difference between the overall atmosphere and syllabus of madrassahs, and universities, therefore, the affiliation of madrassahs with the universities will cause many problems,” Maulana Razi told OnIslame.net.
He observed that when the universities grant affiliation to any institution, then they often try to intervene in the syllabus related, and even in the administrative affairs.
“Therefore, instead of affiliation, the incumbent system (recognition of madrassah course equivalent to bachelor degree) is just fine. There is no need to change that,” he added.
Maulana Razi who served as the religious minister from 1999 to 2002, however says if the universities –in writing- assure the madrassah boards of not intervening in their syllabus, then he is ready to support the idea.
“But again, I woul d say, the current system is better,” he insisted.
Maulana Razi also rejected the notion that the university’s decision will bring the madrassah students into the mainstream educational environment.
“This is not true that the madrassah students are living in isolation. They are very much in because nowadays a large number of madrassahs are teaching languages, science, social studies, and computer to their students,” he thought.
Terming the Urdu University’s offer to madrassah student for admission to masters and Phd classes “nothing new,” Maulana Razi said that this decision has been there for last three decades without implementation.
“The government had taken this decision 30 years ago but the state-owned and private universities are not implementing that,” he said.
Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman, the head of government’s moon-sighting committee too appears to be undecided about the university offer.
“Frankly speaking, I do not know that what mechanism the university will adopt in this connection,” Mufti Muneeb who is head of the Tanzeem-ul-Madaris board, which represents Brelvi school of thought, told OnIslam.net.
“I will contact the university administration to know about the mechanism, and then we will decide to oppose or support this idea.”
The western media often blames Pakistani madrassahs for providing reinforcement to Taliban fighters in war-hacked Afghanistan, a charge, the madrassahs’ administration deny.
Many Taliban leaders including Supreme Leader, Mullah Omer have studied in Pakistani madrassahs, which once were supported and projected by the US and the western world to fight the defunct USSR forces in Afghanistan in 1980s.
Many Pakistanis believe that madrassahs are the largest NGO in the country, which provide free of cost boarding, lodging and education to the poor students.
A large number of Pakistanis cannot afford to send their children to schools due to grinding poverty, particularly in the rural areas. Therefore, madrassahs appear to be the only choice for them.
According to World Bank, nearly 34 per cent Pakistanis live below poverty line, although the government puts these figures at 18 to 20 per cent.
Related Links:Pakistani Madrassah Unfazed by Terror Tag
Pakistan’s Modern Madrassahs
Modernized Madrasahs Lure More Pakistanis
Madrasah Harassment Angers India Muslims
India Muslims Protest Unjustified Arrests