Desi in DC

November 18, 2007

Madrasa Reforms- Part2

When Madrasa Reforms part 1 article got published, one of the response that we received asked do you know how expensive it is for the government to board hundreds of students and provide two square meals a day..and how do we address that?

following is the response I wrote back.
I wrote the article since the government has been speaking about madrasa reforms for the last few years and nothing seems to have been done. My concern is primarily due to the long term effects of this education. The madrasa system in Pakistan has become extensive in the last 2 decades and we have started to see the effects in Pakistan in the last few years. In Indonesia the government was providing partial support to the pesantrans, the remainder was coming from private sources similar to those providing support to madrasas in Pakistan. It is up to the government to make the change. If there is no choice of religious education without some secular education, then funds will accommodate as well.

Why is it that the Punjab government can implement free primary education, but we are unable to do so for the rest of the country? Other provinces need to receive similar support, but at the same time the provinces need to show a similar commitment to education.

My only response to the government official is that drops of water make an ocean. If we can identify areas where “extremism” is more rampant (for the moment, these areas include but are not limited to bordering Afghanistan, FATA areas and the province of NWFP), we should start with making changes in the system here and then with more sources try and move to the other provinces as well. We acknowledge that the problem cannot be solved in one day. It took 15 years and more to create the problem and will require a similar amount of time to resolve it, but we need to start somewhere to possibly reach a solution someday. If we keep looking at the situation in a complex manner which is what it is, we will never come up with a solution. In order to reach a solution, we need to simplify it and take it one step at a time.

You have NGO’s like the Zindagi trust who are attempting to make a difference, one school at a time, and frankly that is the approach that we also need to take. Please read the book “Three Cups of Tea”, building peace one school at a time to see what I mean.


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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