Desi in DC

July 25, 2007

Lal Masjid and Madrasa Reforms

The Lal Masjid fiasco has once again brought to the limelight the issue of Madrasa reforms. The 9/11 commission reports issued in the US seem to consider the Madrasa education as a root source of problems. In fact there seems to be a general belief amongst the western population and media that these schools help promote intolerance and extremism and are the recruiting grounds for terrorists.

Although acknowledging that it is only a small minority that promote extremism, the question still remains how can Pakistan help change the system while still maintaining the benefits of the Madrasa’s? Many families, especially those coming from rural areas, send their kids to madrasas where although they are provided a basic education heavily focused on religion they also provide support to the family by taking care of these children by providing them with free board, education and two square meals a day. For families who can barely afford one square meal a day, having one or two kids taken care of lands up being a great source of relief.

In addition, children need religious education along with secular education. I think in order to overcome this issue the Pakistani policy makers will do well to observe the Indonesian Religious schools also known as Pesantrens. These pesantrens are noted for teaching a moderate form of Islam.

The pensentran that I had visited was located in Bogor Indonesia, located close to the Indonesian Capital Jakarta. The Madrassah Aliya Nagri is Muslim religious high school run by the department of education and the department of religion. The school is coed, and provided both secular and religious education. I have quoted a journal entry that I wrote incorporating my initial thoughts when I first visited the school. “I visited the school and wished all religious schools could be similar.

The children are provided a well rounded education. The classes are mixed and there is free interaction between the two sexes. The female students and teachers wear the hijab but this in no way restricts their freedom of interaction. The students pray together, but during breaks take out a guitar and join in the singing as well.

In Pakistan half the religious schools would probably teach you that singing is not allowed. I feel the mix that they have in Indonesia will allow them to be more tolerant not only of other religions but also of those who tend to be different within our own religion. “

The government of Pakistan would do well to invest some resources in figuring out what it is that makes these pasentrans work so well in Indonesia and what is the reason that almost 20% of the student population in Indonesia obtains their education from these schools and high schools and why is it that Indonesia is still able to maintain its reputation as a moderate Muslim country even with such a widespread madrasa system?

I believe it is only through learning from the Indonesian experience and making the necessary changes within our own will we be able to not only maintain the benifits of the madrasa system but also prevent it from being exploited by extremist elements.

over and out!

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