Maulana Muhammad Asghar does not agree with the assertion that madrasas in Pakistan, or at least in southern Punjab, are opposed to mainstreaming or introduction of science subjects for their students. “Madrasa administrators, teachers as well as students also have brains. They know it well the study of science subjects, along with the madrasa syllabus, can enhance their acceptability in society and increase their chances of getting jobs after completing their education. Then how come they would oppose mainstreaming of their education or introduction of modern-day subjects for their students,” he asks.
Muhammad Asghar is a member of a group of madrasa teachers from southern Punjab, attending a workshop in Lahore under the banner of an international non-governmental organisation. The NGO has called 35 teachers from as many madrasas situated in different cities and towns of Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan divisions for imparting them training about teaching a booklet on human rights in their respective seminaries.
The NGO had sent a letter to selected madrasas in southern Punjab for signing a memorandum of understanding on teaching a booklet on human rights to the students. A representative committee, consisting of five leading ulema, minutely examined the booklet, enclosed by the NGO with the letter, and cleared it for teaching at the madrasas. “How can a Muslim oppose human rights studies while one of the main subjects dealt with in the Qur’an is human society. Islam is the religion of peace and it stresses human dignity the most. It’s propaganda against madrasas that they are against rights of women, children or religious minorities,” adds the Maulana.
Muhammad Asghar welcomes Minister for Federal Education and Professional Training Shafqat Mahmood’s announcement that his ministry would pay salaries to trained seminary teachers who teach contemporary education. The minister announced on Dec 30, 2019, that a Directorate General of Religious Education (DGRE) had been set up to register and facilitate seminaries. The minister told a seminar in the federal capital that there were between 32,000 and 35,000 madrasas in the country and 3,000 of them would be registered with the ministry in the first year. According to a study conducted by the Majlis-e-Ilmi Foundation Pakistan, a research centre based in Karachi, seminaries of various schools of thought have crossed the figure of 37,517, in which around 4.59 million students are enrolled.
The research report shows that 28,241 madrasas in the country are functioning under the umbrella of five boards of the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan (ITMP), whereas, 9,276 madrasas are functioning under other independent bodies, including Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Jamia Muhammadia Ghausia, Itihad-ul-Madaris, Wafaq Nizam-ul-Madaris, Al-Huda International, and others. The foundation report of 2018 says 13,798 madrasas are running in the Punjab, 10,033 in Sindh, 3,579 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, 2,959 in Balochistan, 1,404 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 354 in Islamabad and 145 in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Minister Shafqat Mahmood told the seminar that the registration process of seminaries would complete in four years, and the DGRE would pay Rs17,000 a month in salaries and stipends to each registered seminary teachers, who teach contemporary education. He said the government would pay salaries of two teachers at all registered seminaries which have more than 100 boarding students. The recruitment of teachers would be the responsibility of the seminary concerned, the minister clarified, adding that a project worth Rs1.84 billion had already been approved.
Muhammad Asghar, an MA in Arabic from Islamia University of Bahawalpur, besides a holder of Shahadatul Almiya fil Uloomal Arabia Wal Islamia from a madrasa in Karachi, believes studying basic science subjects and teaching them to madrasa students was not a big deal. “Madrasa education is 100 percent difficult than school education,” he claims. Most madrasas in Pakistan teach Hifz-e-Quran (memorization of Holy Quran), Tafseer (Interpretation of the Quran), Hadith (thousands of sayings of Holy Prophet Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH)), Usul ul Hadith (rules of Hadith), Fiqh and Usul ul Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence and principles of Islamic jurisprudence), Sarf and Nahw (branches of Arabic grammar), Arabic language, Islamic finance, Mantiq (logic), philosophy, classic Arabic literature and eloquence. However, the reward for such a tough education is very limited, complains Maulana Asghar. “And if studying two, three more subjects could brighten their chances of getting a better and well-paid job, why would they refuse it,” he questions. He claims madrasas have been ready for joining mainstream education for long and it were successive governments that have shown slackness.
Karachi-based Dr Aamir Tuaseen, former Chairman Pakistan Madrasa Education Board, endorses Asghar’s claims. In a talk with Cutting Edge, he says the fault for non-implementation of a plan to regulate madrasas in the country lies with successive governments. He says the largest association of seminaries in the country, the Ittehad-e-Tanzeemat-e-Madaris Pakistan (ITMP), which was established in 2005, has time and again called for mainstreaming of madrasas in Pakistan.
Being actively involved in the process for long, Dr Tuaseen tells Cutting Edge that the ITMP had signed an agreement with the federal government in 2010, on behalf of its five constituent boards, the Wafaq-ul-Madaris Al-Arabia, Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Ahl-e-Sunnat, Rabita-ul-Madaris Al-Islamia, Wafaq-ul-Madaris Al-Salfia and Wafaq-ul-Madaris Al-Shia for mainstreaming madrasa education. Under the agreement, the boards had consented to teaching non-religious subjects also to their students. However, the government failed to fulfil its commitment.
Dr Tuaseen regrets that the federal government has rather complicated the governance of madrasas as currently three federal ministries – the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training – are dealing with seminaries with no distinct boundaries of their intervention in their administrative affairs. “With three ministries having their say on the issue of madrasas, the management of seminaries is confused,” he adds.
“The government-ITMP agreement was, definitely, an important national document for ensuring religious harmony in the country, believes Dr Tuaseen. The government could have introduced well-thought-out curricula in madrasas to minimise sectarian differences among various sects, but sadly no such measures were taken,” he adds.
Maulana Asghar, being the administrator of a madrasa, believes introducing formal education at seminaries would not be a very difficult task. “All madrasas already have basic facilities like buildings, running water, electricity, toilets, etc. Also, a majority of seminary teachers can teach many subjects including Urdu, Pakistan studies, Islamic studies and other arts subjects. In the situation, relatively small financial resources will be required if there is a political will to implement the plan,” he adds. Asghar believes religious learning should be considered as professional education, as it is the need of our society. “The role of mosques in our society could not be denied and authorities will have to put religious education on the right direction to prevent its further deterioration. Graduates of madrasas have good command of Arabic. If the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government provides vocational training and technical education to them, Pakistan would be able to produce a skilled workforce for the Middle East,” he believes.