ISLAMABAD: Despite opposition from religious parties, the government is devising a plan to introduce a common code of conduct to counter the existing differences among various religious sects in order to encourage greater religious harmony. The widely debated and proposed reforms to the educational system of madrassas in the country are also on the cards. These reforms are part of the country’s first ever National Internal Security Policy.
Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony Sardar Mohammad Yousaf met the leaders of the Ittehad of Tanzeem-e-Madaris Pakistan on March 4 and discussed the registration of madrassas, reworking their syllabi and integrating them into the mainstream.
Recently, Sardar Yousaf met the ulema of all Muslim sects in Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta to discuss sectarian issues and ask them to abide by a common code of conduct.
Speaking on the floor of the National Assembly, chief of the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam Fazl (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman opposed the proposed reform of madrassas. Another member of the JUI-F said that faulty policies and not the ulema were responsible for the present state of affairs.
A written reply from the religious affairs ministry elaborated on efforts to encourage interfaith harmony, including an allocation of five per cent for religious minorities in all federal government services, in addition to open merit, with effect from May 2009. In 2009, the ministry declared August 11 ‘minorities day’; four seats in the Senate are reserved for religious minorities under the 18th Amendment as of 2010; as of September 2011, Christians will be referred to as ‘Masihi’ and not ‘Essahi’; the free and fair celebration of religious festivals of minorities at the official level has also been ensured; the National Commission for Minorities has been reconstituted as of July 2013.
Additionally, a national conference on inter-faith harmony, ‘Living Together with Diversity: Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue’, was convened in February 2013 in Islamabad and another conference is being scheduled this year. The ministry’s reply stated that those affected by the attack on Lahore’s Joseph Colony in March 2013 were financially compensated – 109 people were provided with Rs500,000 each on March 15 and April 24.
The Minorities Welfare Fund has been utilised to provide financial assistance, scholarships and funds for the execution of small development schemes for the repair and maintenance of places of worship. The rate of financial assistance for minorities was also increased from Rs5000 to Rs10,000 and a grant of Rs50,000 is provided for the marriages of orphans or children of widows in the minority community, according to the ministry’s reply.
JUI-F threatens country-wide protests
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal (JUI-F), an important ally of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), has criticised the inclusion of religious seminaries in the country’s first National Internal Security Policy (NISP). The party has announced country-wide protests beginning from March 20th and other religious groups and parties are expected to follow suit.
The security policy mentions ‘some madrassas ...which impinge on the national internal security’, receive financing from unidentified sources and publish and distribute hate material. The policy aims to register the seminaries, monitor their funding and revise the curriculum within12 months. The process of integration and mapping of these seminaries will be done through the Directorate of Research and Coordination.
The policy emphasises that ‘the madrassa system cannot be excluded from the internal security parameters of the country. All madrassas derive their inspiration from some specific sect. It appears that the madrassas are in competition to proliferate for more influence and power’.
However, the JUI-F says it is not opposed to any government scrutiny of these seminaries but no madrassa could be registered between 1994 until 2004, when a madrassa was only registered if it accepted the government’s scrutiny of its funds, curriculum and management. “If criminals are taking refuge in a madrassa, they should be arrested, and no permission is required for such raids by security agencies,” Jan Achakzai, the spokesperson for Maulana Fazlur Rehman told The Express Tribune.
Achakzai said that issues related to the registration of madrassas had already been resolved by previous governments, suggesting that if there was any problem within the madrassa system, government functionaries should have contacted the bodies that represent these seminaries.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2014.