Pakistani scholars question PM Khan’s plans to reform madrassas

In this file photo, Islamic religious students take mid-term exams at Jamia Binoria, a seminary in Karachi, on Jan. 26, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 October 2018
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Pakistani scholars question PM Khan’s plans to reform madrassas

  • Previous governments unsuccessful in mainstreaming seminaries despite detailed plans
  • Move to ensure religious schools are on par with those providing modern education

KARACHI: Upset over the previous governments’ lackadaisical attitude, Pakistan’s religious scholars said that while Prime Minister Imran Khan shows promise in making religious schools a part of the mainstream educational framework, it’s unlikely his plans will be brought to fruition.
Khan has repeatedly called for reforms in the education system to bring the seminaries, also known as madrassas, in line with the modern education system. 
Last week, during a meeting with the delegation of the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris-e-Deeniya Pakistan, an alliance of religious schools in the country, Khan had said that uniformity in the basic educational system was imperative to work toward nation building. The delegation was headed by Mufti Muneeb-ur-Rehman and comprised heads of all madrassa boards, while the premier was accompanied by federal ministers of education, religious affairs and a coterie of other officials. 
Yaseen Zafar, head of the Wafaqul Madaris Al Salfia — the board of religious seminaries representing the Salafi school of thought — told Arab News that Khan’s government and past leaders, including former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif, Benazir Bhutto “were also sincere in their efforts to mainstream the seminaries,” adding that the madrassas never opposed the plans either.
“It’s the bureaucracy, which hampers the process by raising objections to the key demand of registration of the board,” Zafar said, adding that he feared Khan’s plans would meet a similar fate. 
Aamir Tauseen, former chairman of the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, agrees that when it comes to meeting the demands of clerics, specifically granting them the status of official education boards, the bureaucracy has always raised various objections, treating religious schools as unequal or as a hotbed for terrorism. “Since they are educated through the modern system, they have a specific mentality and consider the religious schools backward,” he said.
Taking cognizance of the issues discussed, Khan said: “It was unjust to ignore the contributions of madaris (seminaries) and associate them with terrorism.”
Maulana Hanif Jalandhari, chief of Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan (the board of Arabic religious seminaries of Pakistan), said that in the meeting with the prime minister, it was decided that all measures agreed upon with the previous governments would be implemented.
He added that Khan had formed a committee comprising ministers of education and religious affairs which, “after consultation with the madrassa leadership would draft the recommendations”.
Detailing the limitations of including the seminaries in the mainstream educational framework, Jalandhari said: “To us, the madaris are already mainstreamed as they’re imparting Islamic education in a country, which was carved out of (pre-partition) India for implementation of Islamic teachings. For the government, however, the mainstreaming is that graduates of madrassas should be able to work in other fields of life. For this, the madrassas will have to start teaching English language, science, mathematics and social studies. In return, the government will have to recognize our degrees.” 
One solution to the problem could be if “the basic education in schools and madrassas is the same till grade 10,” he said, adding that: “The religious seminaries should teach modern subjects whereas modern schools should incorporate religious subject in their syllabus.”
Tauseen said the timeline of efforts for mainstreaming madrassas dates backs to the 1970s when an educational commission headed by Air Marshal Noor Khan recommended introducing modern subjects in religious seminaries.
In 1974, after the recommendations failed to see the light of day, all five boards were accredited by the University Grant Commission of Pakistan, which accepted the highest madrasa degree of “Shahadat Aalia” as equal to a Master of Arts (MA), Tauseen said.
“Almost every government formed a commission in this regard but in vain. In 1999, Mahmood Ahmed Ghazi recommended the establishment of a Pakistan Madrassa Education Board, which was setup in 2001. This board was aimed at mainstreaming the madrassas but all five boards rejected the proposal,” he said. 
Tauseen, who took charge of the board in August 2014, said that it remained dysfunctional for 11 years primarily due to the “adverse attitude of the Religious Affairs Ministry”.
Inclusion of the madrassas in the mainstream became a part of the National Action Plan, which was formulated in the aftermath of the December 2014 attack on the Peshawar Army Public School. “Several meetings of different committees, education ministry, National Anti-Terrorism Authority and Interior Ministry were held and I, being head of the Pakistan Madrasa Board, was part of all of them. Several recommendations were prepared; however, with a change of government none were implemented,” he said.
Citing a lack of coordination and understanding as the main reasons for the delay in the implementation of plans, Tauseen suggested that madrassas should first have the complete data on hand, which should be shared with the government, as the first step toward mainstreaming. This could be followed up with the introduction of a uniform syllabus in the second phase.
There are three types of seminaries: Maktabs (schools for day scholars), madrassas (seminaries with boarding and lodging) and darul uloom (seminaries for higher studies). Together, they are responsible for more than 37,000 institutions, with nearly 4 million students acquiring education from them.
Jalandhari said that around 30,000 madrassas are registered with the five boards representing various schools of thought in Islam. Abdul Kabir Qazi, home secretary of the Sindh province, said there are a total of 10,033 madrassas in Sindh out of which 7,724 are operational while 2,309 were shut down after the geo-tagging exercise. “We have registered all the seminaries in Sindh province,” Qazi told Arab News. “All the madrassas in the province have been geo-tagged,” he added.
Wakeel Ahmed Khan, former secretary of religious affairs, refutes the allegations and instead blames the ‘inconsistency of policies’ of the succeeding governments for hampering the development of the madrassas.
“For mainstreaming madrassas, modern disciplines should be taught and religious education should be an additional focus,” the former secretary told Arab News. 
Drawing a comparison with the religious seminaries in the UK, he said: “They are accredited with the UK education boards on their terms and simultaneously to their branches in Pakistan… they have accepted this mainstreaming happily.”


Cyclone death toll above 750; fighting disease new challenge

A boat carries people from Buzi on a river near Beira, Mozambique, on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 48 sec ago
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Cyclone death toll above 750; fighting disease new challenge

  • Nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, said Correia, the government’s emergency coordinator
  • Malaria is another looming health problem that the minister said was “unavoidable” because large expanses of standing water encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes

BEIRA, Mozambique: Cyclone Idai’s death toll has risen above 750 in the three southern African countries hit 10 days ago by the storm, as workers restore electricity, water and try to prevent outbreak of cholera, authorities said Sunday.
In Mozambique the number of dead has risen to 446 while there are 259 dead in Zimbabwe and at least 56 dead in Malawi for a three-nation total of 761.
All numbers for deaths are still preliminary, warned Mozambique’s Environment Minister Celso Correia. As flood waters recede and more bodies are discovered, the final death toll in Mozambique alone could be above the early estimate of 1,000 made by the country’s president a few days after the cyclone hit, said aid workers.
Nearly 110,000 people are now in camps more than a week after Cyclone Idai hit, said Correia, the government’s emergency coordinator. As efforts to rescue people trapped by the floods wind down, aid workers across the vast region are bracing for the spread of disease.
“We’ll have cholera for sure,” Correia said at a press briefing, saying a center to respond to cholera has been set up in Beira though no cases have yet been confirmed.
Beira is working to return basic services, he said. Electricity has been restored to water pumping and treatment stations by the government water agency, so Beira and the nearby city of Dondo are getting clean water, he said. Electricity has been restored to part of Beira and the port and railway line have re-opened, he said.
Repairs and bypasses are being built to the main road, EN6, which links Beira to the rest of Mozambique and the road should open Monday, said Correia. The restored road connection will allow larger deliveries of food, medicines and other essential supplies to be to be brought to Beira and to flooded areas like Nhamatanda, west of the city.
“People are already going,” the environment minister said of the newly accessible road.
Malaria is another looming health problem that the minister said was “unavoidable” because large expanses of standing water encourage the spread of malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Asked about his country’s current corruption scandal and whether the diversion of money has hurt the rescue efforts, Correia bristled, saying the government’s focus now is on saving lives.
“We are doing everything to fight corruption,” he said. “It’s systematic, up to the top,” he said of the anti-graft drive.
Two large field hospitals and water purification systems were on the way, joining a wide-ranging effort that includes drones to scout out areas in need across the landscape of central Mozambique, said Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, deputy director of the UN Humanitarian operation.
The scale of the devastation is “extraordinary” not only because of the cyclone and flooding but because the land had already had been saturated by earlier rains, he said.
A huge number of aid assets are now in Mozambique, Stampa said: “No government in the world can respond alone in these circumstances.”