Enrollment of foreign students in the country’s seminaries has fallen by as much as 74 per cent in the wake of their failure to embrace a more modern system of education in line with the changing world.
While the local clerics admitted that they had fallen short, they argued that the government’s new laws for issuing no-objection certificates (NOCs) to foreigners remained a major stumbling block for those seeking admission in Pakistan’s seminaries.
These reasons have led foreign students to opt for India, Egypt, South Africa, Iran or the United Kingdom in the past eight to 10 years to pursue new forms of quality religious education, government officials and clerics told The Express Tribune.
The number of foreign students at Pakistan’s seminaries was They estimated that 10,117 students from more than 45 countries were studying at Pakistan’s seminaries in 2005-06, but the interior ministry puts the current figure at 2,673 students from 37 countries.
“We are preparing a soft procedure for foreign students in the light of an agreement with representatives of the Wifaqul Madaris (education board for seminaries),” said Religious Affairs Minister Sardar Muhammad Yousuf.
He, however, admitted that this agreement was pending with his ministry since 2012. “It could not be implemented due to differences between clerics and the government.” He hoped that moderate seminaries would attract students from other countries.
Dr Manzoor Ahmed al Azhari, who studied at the al Azhar University in Egypt and is an associate professor at the HITEC University in Taxila, said: “Seminaries cannot become moderate, while international students prefer religious institutions that teach modern Islamic education with better research methods.”
As for the strict laws, former religious affairs secretary Vakil Ahmad Khan said Pakistan had introduced stringent procedures only on the demand of Pakistan’s brotherly countries.
He said the then interior minister Aftab Sherpao had ordered deporting the foreign students who failed to produce NOCs. “It was a good step. We must regularise the system.”
Abdul Quddus, spokesman for the Wifaqul Madaris, said: “Our seminaries host around 70% foreign students. A complicated registration process forces foreigners to leave Pakistan’s seminaries.”
Foreign student breakdown
At present 1,273 Afghan nationals are studying at Pakistani madrassas, with more than 900 of them in Balochistan alone.
Ninety-seven seminary students are from Thailand, 60 from Indonesia, 44 from Kazakhstan, 32 from the Philippines, 24 from Kyrgyzstan, 16 from Tajikistan, 13 each from Malaysia and Ethiopia, and 12 from China.
Moreover, nine of the students in Pakistan belong to Jordan, eight to Somalia, seven each to Myanmar and Sudan, five each to Tajikistan and Sri Lanka, four each to Bangladesh and Canada, three each to Mali, Morocco and Tunis, two each to France, Guinea, Russia, the Netherlands, Turkey and Madagascar, and one each to Mauritius, Liberia, Cambodia, Algeria, Djibouti and Macedonia.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 20th, 2015.