Fewer madrassas than believed: study
* Less than one percent of full-time students actually attending seminaries
* Little evidence of religious schools recruiting militants
* Small number of madrassas training jihadis
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: A new study released here concluded that “earlier assertions about the pervasiveness of madrassas appear to baseless in light of current and previous research.”
The study by Chrstine Fair of the US Institute of Peace and Syed Rashid Bukhari, her Pakistan-based colleague, has found that the most robust estimates of the market share of madrassas suggest that less than one percent of all full-time enrolled students attend these institutions. There is also “scant evidence” that madrassas contribute substantially to the recruitment of militants, probably because militant organisations have their own quality standards and, given their relatively small recruitment missions, they likely have other options. “Similarly, most observers believe that only a very small number of madrassas are involved in the actual training of militants,” the study adds.
Fair and Bukhari have, however, found that it is likely that madrassas may contribute to conditions that are conducive to supporting terrorism and militancy. They may likely contribute to Pakistan’s domestic security challenges and may indirectly pose challenges to regional security as well. In addition, there is evidence that density of madrassas contributes to sectarian violence, which could be probably due, at least in part, to the fact that each school teaches the superiority of its own tradition.
The madrassah system as it is currently constituted, many of those the two researchers talked to is likely producing ullema that are “irrelevant and ill-prepared to contribute to the needs of a modern Muslim state.” The authors are of the opinion given that the vast majority of students attend public schools, it seems that disproportionate efforts have been expended focusing on the madrassas. They believe that greater attention should be given to public schools and possibly to encouraging greater access to private schools. They quote an earlier study that made the point that private school students and teachers were more likely to support equal rights for Pakistan’s minorities and women and were more likely to support peaceful means of conflict resolution.
Fair and Bokhari recommend that more attention needs to be given to understanding the determinants of parental choice in educating their children. If the Pakistan government’s efforts do not adequately consider the demands of parents as well as the demands of the labour market and an evolving economy, the market will provide other options to parents. According to the two authors, many Pakistanis believe that education reform in Pakistan is driven by external actors, such as the United States and Britain, who explicitly seek to “de-Islamise” education in Pakistan, something that has contributed to a general dissatisfaction with the given school system and the desire to find other alternatives, which the market is providing. Not all of these options are expensive and poorer students can finance these alternatives through zakat.
Fair and Bukhari spent around three weeks visiting administrators at 10 of the most prominent post-secondary madrassas located in Lahore, Mardan, Peshawar, Multan and Karachi. They also interviewed senior faculty and personnel at the International Islamic University, Islamabad, as well as staff at primary Islamic schools and newly established alternative Islamic schools. The team also interviewed government officials and non-governmental analysts.