The trouble with: Madrassas in Pakistan

Published: January 25, 2012

Facts, figures and opinion based on The Express Tribune reports:

• There are around 18-24,000 registered madrassas in Pakistan. There are countless more unregistered seminaries.

• There are as many as 83 illegally constructed mosques and seminaries in Islamabad alone.

• The ministry of interior provides madrassas — including illegal ones — with walk-through gates, along with police officials for security.

• Unlike Pakistan, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Iran, the state controls religious learning to prevent sectarian disharmony in society.

• 90 per cent of foreigners studying in religious seminaries across the Punjab have expired visas.

• On paper, the government plans to demolish madrassas not registered with the Wafaqul Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan and Tanzeemul Madaris Pakistan.

• But the government is hesitant to demolish illegally set up madrassas fearing a violent backlash like Laal Masjid.

• There are numerous cases of torture, rape, violence and terrorism connected to madrassas in 2011 alone.

• The education ministry was provided over $70 million in aid to modernise the curriculum in madrassas.

• Most of the funds were not utilised due to non-cooperation from the seminaries.

• The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has researched Pakistani school textbooks to discover that there is religious bias in them denigrating minority communities.

• The study was based on visiting 37 public schools and 19 madrassas.

• “Madrassas not only spread a certain kind of ideology to students, they also spread it in society, to the families and extended families of these students. Saleem H Ali did a much better study and found that madrassas also spread sectarian hatred, and do not allow pupils and society to look at alternative perspectives within the religious discourse.” – Ayesha Siddiqa.

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Reader Comments (21)

  • The Truth
    Jan 25, 2012 - 5:16PM

    Why everyone is against Islam and its institutes these days??? Can’t you talk about the number of cases waiting for decisions in Pakistani courts, the number of corrupt politicians , the number of corrupt police officers in the country, the number of projects halted due to unavailability of funds, the number of unregistered hospital spreading deaths in the society and so so so so on…..


  • Genius
    Jan 25, 2012 - 5:28PM

    To combat all the ills of the society is the responsibility of the people at large. Whereas my plea is to the people at large, it is also to the intellectuals and educated among the masses to urge and plead with the people come out to organise their regular coming together in their respective localities.
    Once people see the sense and benefit in starting this very valuable and far reaching course of action and past time in their effort to bring improvement in the qualities of their communal life, there will be benefits for all for all times to come.
    Failing the above course of most beneficial venture, people will continue to suffer all kinds of adversities. All of their own making.
    It is the people who can make or break their society and country. It all depends on the people if they do care for their society and country. If they care for their life and destiny they must come out of their homes to join hands with their neighbours to work to bring improvement in their local environment. No one elese is going to do for the people, they alone are responsible for their good or bad. The choice is that of the people. No one else.


  • Haris Farooq
    Jan 25, 2012 - 5:42PM

    This article is NOT against Islam, but pointing out that how some “politically motivated groups” carry out illegal activities (including killing of muslims from other sect) and also wants to get away because they claim to be doing a service for the “religion”.
    They are earning a bad name for Islam and society must educate them.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 25, 2012 - 5:53PM

    Can we change the three centuries old Madrassa system but how?????


  • Haris Farooq
    Jan 25, 2012 - 6:19PM

    @Ali Tanoli: Dear Friend, this is not three century old system. In olden time these were source of education only, all the well known Muslim scholars/leaders of pre-partition India were educated by the religious teachers. The newly created Madrassa System came into being once British Government established schools (Punjab and KPK came under British Empire in 1857), all the upper and middle class went to those schools in order to join the newly created professions of Doctor, Engineer, Civil Servant, Lawyers, Railways, Military and other attractive professions or even become Clerks.
    The poor people had no choice but to join these Madrassas which ran mostly on charity, free education, free food and free lodging. The Afghan Jihad era brought militancy in it and made the situation worse.
    We all are to be blamed for this downfall, we look for an expansive tutor to teach English to our kids, but dont want to pay a Qari Sahab even few hundred rupees a month? and keep looking for a low paid Qari Sahab. So think of the career a Madrassa student is going to end up? There is a likelihood that the hopeless lot might get attracted by the radicals to join their ranks.


  • Jan 25, 2012 - 7:02PM

    Pakistan has its very own MIT- MADARRASA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY


  • Akhtar
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:23PM

    Nice article. The results are there for all to see. Hundreds of jihadi groups preaching sectarian hatred, fatwa’s, glorifying murderers, are all to see. Extremism has changed the DNA structure & I think its irreversible now.


  • Ali Tanoli
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:30PM

    @Haris Farooq
    Yes i agreed and because of this system we learn Quran and Hadith atleast unlike turks and others.


  • Singh
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:54PM

    Please can any body explain it to me i.e. Why everyone shake their head violently when reading?


  • dr khan
    Jan 25, 2012 - 7:57PM

    What I fail to understand is when the majority of the violence incidents that have gripped Pakistan for the last few decades have been related to political activities. Why dont the modern elite sector concentrate on eradicating political student wings and other related activities instead of routinely attacking madaris? How are these ‘unregistered madaris and masajids’ intrrfering in our daily security and well being? Im more afraid of university going hoodlums than a practising Muslim boy studying at some small town madrassah. Our internal policies are truly messed up and we need to set our priorities right. No one has the right to tell Muslims what they should teach in their curriculum. Our problem is not with the deeni madaris but the political gangstars and power hungry generals supported massively by the secularists and liberals. 60 years of secular political parties have destroyed our nation, how much more of secularism will you shove down our throats?Recommend

  • Cautious
    Jan 25, 2012 - 8:52PM

    Interesting article – if your madrassas are the source of radical teaching which feeds the radical element in your society then your never going to have peace until you fix the madrassas. Unfortunately it will take political guts to take on this issue – as I recall the last time you took any move against the religious extremist was the Red Mosque attack which some would argue the the real start of suicide bombings and civilian casualties.


  • Mohammad Ali Siddiqui
    Jan 25, 2012 - 9:41PM

    The government should completely ban Madrassas once and for all from the entire country.

    If any one wants to learn Quran he or she should go to a School where Quran is also taught along with the subject of Islamiat.

    Foreign Muslim students should be sent back to their respective countries as Pakistani students are more than enough to be accommodated in the Schools.

    What one would expect from the Mullahs in the villages and far flung areas who put chains around and shackles to the students for the rote learning and teaching Quran without its real meanings.

    The holy book Quran is been translated in several international languages around the world including the national language Urdu.

    The Mullahs who teach Quran to the students are supposed to teach the actual meaning of each Ayat which generally they don’t but instead they teach hatred against the people having different faiths and believe, the result of which is visible in the cases of target killing and suicide bombing.

    I wonder if the sitting government can take such a bold step to end the menace of target killings and suicide bombings from the country.


  • Umar
    Jan 25, 2012 - 11:14PM

    @Mohammad Ali Siddiqui:

    Let me get it straight, let us put students from 24000 madrassas, assuming that there are at least 100 in each on the streets, that number is 2.4 million at least. Your solution is like bandage on cancer and ignoring the root cause. Short term and emotional decisions have brought us in to this mess in first place. Extremism in madrassas is a fall out of Governments’ inability to provide quality secular and religious education to masses. Why do I have to go to a maddrasa if I want to become a religious scholar? Shouldn’t Islamic Republic provide such a facility? Considering sorry state of our government run “secular” schools I have little hope for a quality education of any type.

    Best solution is to open enough quality schools that teach both Islamic and secular education. And take away the need and reason for people to send their kids to a PRIVATE school or a MADARASSA.

    Private security guards, private schools, madarassas, private roads, generators to generate electricity privately, water wells and water tankers to bring water to your neighborhoods, self help roads, private busses, and private clinics and hospitals are all examples of present and past government’s inefficiency.

    Govt. should be able to provide basic needs such as education, health, water, electricity, transportation, security and infrastructure to all in a fair and equal manner. We shouldn’t have to look for Private or free facilities (depending on our financial status) for these.


  • Shahid
    Jan 26, 2012 - 12:16AM

    Madarsas are creating terrorists.It is better to be ignorant if schools are not available that to turn into terrorists. it is just like saying if doctors are not available let’s produce more quacks who can play with the lives of innocent people.


  • Umar
    Jan 26, 2012 - 2:21AM


    Generalizing or stereotyping is another problem on its own. A graduate of standard 9 years of madarassa is producing a scholar and is not a quack, however he is taught extra stuff which is not part of the curriculum, which is generally opinion of his teacher or of the madarassa. Chances are that the Imam that you pray after at your neighborhood mosque or one that married you or your parents came from a madrassa and is not a terrorist. Some terrorists come from madarrasas, all madrassa graduates are not terrorists. Given your logic, some generals end up as dictators so just abolish entire military, or some judges are corrupt so just remove judicial system or lots of police is corrupt so let’s not have any police at all and so on, INSTEAD of at least trying to reform and fix the system (Education department in this case). It is sad that people in Pakistan are very polarized and generally represent one of the extremes, very few realize that middle path is generally the best. Insisting to keep the status quo of madarassas (religious extremists) or shutting them all (liberal extremists) is both wrong in my opinion. Madarassa holds an important place in our society and should be reformed not shut down. Same as reform is needed in military, judiciary, education and other flawed departments in our system. We cannot just shut them all.


  • Zalmai
    Jan 26, 2012 - 8:33AM

    @ Ali Tanoli

    How do you know anything about Turks and their religious education? Have you been there? They are better Muslims than most Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent and they were wise enough to separate church and state.

    They went one step further wiped out all traces of Arabic culture by changing their script to a Latin based language. They realized long ago they were not Arabs and did not have any qualms about shedding that baggage. Now if the rest of the Islamic countries could follow suit and learn from the Turks we will all be better for it.


  • Haris Farooq
    Jan 26, 2012 - 2:19PM

    @Zalmai: I appreciate your observation.


  • Truth
    Jan 26, 2012 - 3:35PM

    @Mohammad Ali Siddiqui, students being killed in stampede, student unions making colleges and universities battle grounds and disrupting educational activities and to top it off exam papers and examinations being disrupted by students etc. Are these activities which madrassas should start adopting so that they are not targeted ?


  • Shahid
    Jan 26, 2012 - 6:34PM

    @Umar: Tell me how many madrassa wrere there before Zia ul haque ?. I do not know your age but when we were growing in seventies no body even knew that they exist. Why there was sudden Mushrooming of Madrassas?. We all know who funded them and for what purpose.


  • Umar
    Jan 26, 2012 - 8:48PM


    You missed the essence of my previous comments. We all know madarassas in Pakistan are one of many sources of militants and extremists (so are colleges and universities who produce gang style student unions). So we agree on motives to do something about it, however I disagree with methods proposed here to fix the problem, ie shut them down. I am for reforming madarrassas (along with many other institutions and departments in Pakistan). We cannot just shut down everything that is faulty. Considering our sorry state we will have to shut down entire system by that logic. So my suggestion is to fix this problem, and have the government take away motives for people to send their kids to a free madarassa or a Private school. Madarassa means “school” so if I can get both religious and secular education in an institution run by the government I am happy to go to a “Government Madarassa”. What is wrong in proposing equal opportunities of both religious and secular education for entire population?????????????

    Number of madarassas is never a problem, Indian state of Utter Pardesh is about same population as entire Pakistan but only 18% or less are Muslim. It has 10,000 maktabs and 15000 madarassas according to a report from Aligarh University. . Far more proportionally than entire Pakistan yet they do not have same problem of extremism as we do. WE NEED TO REFORM, NOT SHUT DOWN EVERYTHING.


  • Feb 7, 2012 - 10:41PM

    Let there whatever be here, but this issue had to be addressed, and thank you ET for taking a notice and take on it!


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