Our world view: Made in Madrasas?


"Gen Musharraf is the biggest ally of the west against Islamic world and it is the duty of every Muslim to oppose him."

— Qazi Hussain Ahmed

Officially, we are pursuing a policy of abolishing the ‘Madrasa culture’ and extremism in Pakistan. The policy is a part of broader package known as ‘enlightened moderation’, which intends to reorient the society. Apparently, it is desirable to bring the madras into the mainstream-public education system. One premise of Madarsa-reform policy is that they are inculcating fanaticism through preaching a narrow world view. Are our public sector education institutions enlightening and broadening the visions of their students? Are they not promoting the same world view that is indoctrinated through madrasa-education? Can the policies of the state succeed if the minds of youth remain hostage to militant version of Islam?

Time and again the top officials of the state express their resolve to reform Madrasas–”which are said to be infusing a world view that generates mediaeval thinking, extremism, and militancy. Obviously this world view is not acceptable to the state of Pakistan, firstly because it is retrogressive, isolationist, and dangerous, secondly, it pits Pakistan against the contemporary international and regional environment. So it is important to examine the world view taught in the religious schools. The fundamental assumptions of religious view of the world are: that world is clearly divided into two antagonistic parts: Islamic world, and Un-Islamic /infidel world. With little common ground between the both, the mutual clash is eternal, natural, and unavoidable, because the forces of evil and the forces of good are predestined to be at war. The West is after us, they want to destroy Muslims, Islam, and our culture. This conflict-ridden conception of world is essentially, anti-Western, anti-American, and anti-Indian. Clothed in religious dressing these views assume a kind of divine authority, and sanctity requiring uncritical acceptance.

The mindset behind this world view is perhaps even more dangerous than the view itself. Because the sanctification processes turns a particular perspective on foreign or domestic policy into an article of faith. The religious class tends to put their personal ideas as divine injunctions, as they believe they speak on behalf of God. Those who disagree with them are termed as unbelievers. Such a mindset makes free debate and dialogue impossible. Intolerance, militancy, and fascist tendencies take roots in such social environment. Monopolization of the ideology and patriotism by any peculiar class does damage the broader interests of society at large.

Fortunately, majority of Pakistanis do not subscribe to militant ideas, but unfortunately they are voiceless and passive spectators. The pervasive ignorance and lack of education leaves them intellectually defenceless in the face of religious onslaught. When the religious lobby advocates their preferences on public policy in the name of Allah, no common man could dare to challenge them, notwithstanding the fact that Islam does not disallow free debate and questioning in the public matters.

Coming back to the questions raised in the beginning, let us look at the policy of purging extremism that exclusively focuses on religious schools. The problem does not lie with the madrasas themselves but with the mindset and the world view they form. On this count, could we allow ourselves a dispassionate analysis of our so called mainstream public education system? After all we aim at bringing the madrasas in this main fold. If we have conveniently presumed that our normal education institutions are inculcating enlightenment, moderation, and civic values to their students, then we are pathetically wrong. Exceptions could be their but an average college or university student’s world view is not much different from the world view of their counter parts in Madrasas. However, there are differences of intensity and in modes of expressions. But does it make much difference if the students of public institutions subscribe to the same narrow world view but only remain inactive?

Supposedly, the institutions of higher education provide intellectual leadership to a society. They are the torch bearer of enlightenment and instrument of progressive change. Do we have enough courage to see the realities on ground? Just look at a few examples. Those who have been exposed to un-academic environment of the largest university of Pakistan–”The University of the Punjab–”know very well about the level of academic freedom available to its students. To get an idea of dominant thinking pattern at the university, one just needs to join the Friday prayer and listen to the sermon and DUA at the end of prayer. One could find little difference between an ignorant mullah’s world view and the views of highly educated Khateeb–”who is at the faculty of the university.

The (dis)credit of this decay goes to General Zia’s two pronged policy of Islamization and Afghan Jihad. Education in general and the social sciences in particular suffered very badly due to the policies mentioned above. Zia never concealed his antipathy for social sciences. While addressing convocation at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad, he once pronounced that Pakistani society did not need studying social sciences. Cleansing college libraries by destroying ‘un-Islamic’ books, and recruiting teachers for their ‘piousness’, suffocated the academic environment for times to come.

General Zia left the political scene in 1988, and during the last 15 years the world around us has changed, but the ideological hangover still lives on. Recently, Dawah Academy, International Islamic University, Islamabad, conducted an ‘Islamic Orientation Program’ for the lecturers in social sciences. One of the scholar’s words echoed General Zia, when he claimed that the West was led astray by social sciences. Other renowned Islamic scholars invited as resource persons, with a few honourable exceptions, were extremely opinionated and biased. Without any academic pretence they just transmitted their faith-based likings and dislikings about ideas and personalities to the extent of blurring any distinction between a political activist and academician. To the utter dismay of the participants, the academy badly lacked an academic paradigm, and seemed working as mouthpiece of the MMA.

To cite a few examples of political messaging, it seems unavoidable to quote from some of the sermons. A well-known scholar denounces President for his anti-Islamic policies, he says, ‘Musharraf ridicules Sharit-e-Islam’. He further opines, ‘While the Kashmir issue can only be resolved through a threat of war, The Commando President is pathetically displaying cowardice vis-à-vis India’. Another statement goes on to say, ‘The West is against us, because we are Muslims. They do not let us do anything good for ourselves through their stooges, imposed on us’. Are these not the often-heard words and known views of clergy? The political Mullahs and the prayer leaders are used to blast in the same manner.

One could see the striking similarity of the world view generally promoted by the religious and the normal institutions of educations. The foundations of this conception of the world are: the belief in division of world between two conflicting polls ALAM-E-ISLAM (Islamic world) and ALAM-E-KUFR (Un-Islamic world), natural clash of civilizations, strong feelings of resentment against the Western world led by America, and the perception that rulers of the Muslim countries are just toadies of the West.

In this backdrop, what is left to remain optimistic about the change of direction of the state according the much talked about vision of enlightened moderation? Change in policy does not change the hearts and minds of the people. Education is the only way of enlightened formation of minds. Sadly enough our seats of learning are only reinforcing a popular, sentimental, and self-destructive view of the world. If we are sincere and really committed with progressive transformation of society, we need to establish truly academic environment in our education institutions. President Musharraf usually expresses his commitment to liberate the ‘moderate majority’ from the extremist minority. He could do a great service to this nation by converting the some dens of fundamentalist and propagandist into the learning institutions. Given the level of resistance, surely it is a challenging but worthy task. The reactionaries are frustrated over the break up of their alliance with the state-agencies. Now they are just fighting the lost battle, by exploiting religious sentiments.