The Taliban Emerged from Here
The Taliban Emerged from Here
When Marginal Human Beings Become Fuel for Other People s Wars
On the furthest margin live people of a particular type. Their hopes revolve and then turn back on them in a space in which the horizon of this world has become narrow, and expanded with the expansion of poverty, misery and brokenness. Their morning is pursuit, and their evening is not like other evenings, as there is no alternative to waiting for the unknown, whether it be war, salvation, or more death, which never loses its way to them. After that, do some people wonder about the reason which makes their view of the world through a gap narrower than the eye of a needle and more suspicious than an injured lamb?
The twilight of dawn was struggling to cast its particles on the roads when we left Islamabad airport, which is still part of Rawalpindi, to live the first moments of discovery of a country to which we had come when it was still living the danger of great events which had raged in the Indian subcontinent and placed Pakistan in their blazing furnace.
In the depth of the darkness enwrapping long streets which the car that was carrying us penetrated, we had to stop several times for searches by military checkpoints, which each time inspected the car and the people and suitcases in it, while the silken road undulated in its glistening whenever the threads of light continued to embrace the extremely broad road.
It did not take more than half an hour before we arrived at a hotel in the center of Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan which was now over thirty years old. From the first moment we had a growing impression that the security sense dominated everything else. At that moment a long tape of the events, that had swept over that country little more than half a century ago, passed through the memory. During that time instability was the distinguishing characteristic of a course that exhausted by wars, threats of wars, internal explosions and even louder explosions nearby, military coups, reversals in alliances and directions, and constant heat whose intensity varied from time to time.
One is not allowed to pass through the door in the outer wall of the hotel, except after undergoing a thorough search carried out by four policemen. Two of these each have a long stick with a large mirror on the end. They both pass them under the sides of the car, trying to discover any explosive material that might be hidden there. The third and fourth policemen open the bonnet and boot of the car and look inside, before all four signal to their fifth colleague to raise the barrier and let us in.
At the other door from which one passes to the interior of the hotel, there are other guards in their dark blue uniforms walking round the door. There is an employee in civilian clothes standing behind a narrow doorway for an electronic search. Then before one can touch the button in the elevator to go up to one s room, a policeman comes to him from inside to ask him whether he is a visitor or staying in the hotel. He does not allow one to touch the button in the elevator before showing the card which is used as a key for the room.
Matters do not end here. On every floor of the hotel there are two policemen, one of them standing near the elevator. While he salutes the hotel guest as he arrives, the task of the second one is to pace back and forth along the corridor persistently watching the guests with penetrating looks, but without saying a word.
To this extent the security sense overwhelms a visitor to Islamabad from the first moment when he arrives, and may continue to accompany him wherever he goes in its alleys, or wanders in other cities thousands of miles away or so close that they seem to be blended into the fabric of the young city.
Although these measures are annoying to many who have not been used to seeing them for a long time, when they are placed in the context of the many challenges that have faced Pakistan and still pursue it, they seem normal. This country, which has an ambitious nuclear program and rocket launchers set up over the length and breadth of its territory for the purpose of boosting national pride, has never tasted tranquility for a single day throughout its history. Today it lies between several focal points that no sooner does the blaze of their embers die down, than they flare up again with an even fiercer blaze. What can a passing visitor expect when Afghanistan and its blazing fire have not been extinguished for more than 25 years non-stop on its immediate borders, and when Kashmir is at the heart of another focal point, and is the main criterion for rallying the people around successive Pakistani leaderships, or alienating them.
That is the difficult equation surrounding Pakistan, which led us to set out for there after the neighboring fire had died down slightly, in an attempt to make a calm assessment of what had happened and was happening, of future probabilities and the repercussions of events of such magnitude on the region as a whole, which is surrounded by many ethnic, political, cultural and social minefields which, if a spark passes near them, might resume their terrifying explosions.
Here we moved from one place to another, and we met more than one official and observer of the events. And we tried to open pages different to those brought to us by the satellite channels and daily news media, which had invaded our ears and eyes for several months during which the events were at their hottest.
This being the situation, we had to be in contact with an extremely fiery page, namely that which had been opened wide since the horrifying events of 11 September, and which had become a main target in the American campaign against what was called terrorism . This was the page of the religious schools which appeared, from the amount of storms that pursued them, to be the most dangerous and ferocious thing in this world. Yet the story was extremely simple, and also extremely fragile, but it is the world that has changed and its alliances have been overturned, and what was required some years ago has become an enemy who must be wiped off the map.
Scarcely had the world s astonishment at the American earthquake of 11 September lifted slightly than talk turned to the system of religious education in Pakistan, as represented by a series of private Islamic schools. It became the preoccupation of international information, after the United States regarded it as responsible for the ideological training of activists of the Taliban movement, which remained at the helm of government in Afghanistan for nearly five years before tons of American bombs managed to remove it.
These accusations placed the Pakistani President, General Parvez Musharraf, in an unenviable situation. Although he had managed to overthrow the previous Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, exile former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and then defy India by setting off a continuous series of successful tests of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, this time he found himself so impotent in front of the theologians in his country, that when he passed a new law last June to restrict religious schools, he found no way out other than to send three of his senior ministers to negotiate with the theologians on the implementation of this law. In fact the latter declared that they rejected this law, and even defied it.
This rejection relied on the massive popularity which these religious groups had gained among ordinary Pakistanis, going back three decades, during which they were able to exploit the interrelationships of strategies which the region witnessed, and in which interests coincided in the establishment of an infrastructure with a support system, as well as a massive and influential information network of newspapers and publications, which was highly prosperous and was easily able to establish what one could call a culture of jihad .
These religious schools continue to number more than 10,000 at the present time, some registered and others not, as more than one analyst and observer informed us, or 7,044 schools according to the last statistics issued by the Pakistan government. They contain more than two million Pakistani students, as well as nearly 20,000 students from Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Arab countries, Africa and East Asia, and are distributed among various areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are permanently directed by well-known religious personalities, and financed by collecting donations.
The religious schools in Pakistan and India are called Devebandi Schools, after the first school which was established in Deveband north of Delhi in India, in 1867 by a group of religious scholars and Sheikhs at that time, like Muhammad Qasim Al-Natutwi and Fadl Al-Rahman. Then they were followed by other schools, some of which grant the highest degrees of scholarship (universities), and are still teaching very old curricula in grammar and conjugation, Islamic law, logic, astronomy and mathematics, by old methods unchanged to this day. One of the most famous of them today is Nadwat Al-Ulama in India, which was presided over until his death by Sheikh Abul Hasan Al-Nadwi, Dar Al-Ulum Haqqaniya, called after its founder Abdulhaqq, in Peshawar, Dar Al-Ulum, the Islamic University, the Farouqiya University in Karachi, Manba Al-Ulum in Miran Shah in Sarhad Province, Peshawar, Matla Al-Ulum in Quetta (Baluchistan Province), and the Ashrafiya University in Lahore.
A graduate of such a school is called a Mullah, and with a higher degree a Mawlawi, namely a religious scholar. The Mawlawis have a great effect and influence on Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, and many of them have been elected to the House of Representatives, like Mawlawi Fadl Al-Rahman, Chairman of the Association of Religious Scholars in Pakistan, who occupied the post of Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Pakistani Parliament during the term of office of Benazir Bhutto. He is the real founder and patron of the Taliban movement, who persuaded the Pakistani government to back it and support it. They also include Maulana Sami Al-Haqq Ibn Abdulhaqq, the founder of Dar Al-Ulum Haqqaniya, who was also a member of the House of Representatives.
The Road to Haqqaniya
This noisy clamor prompted us to attempt to get close, and to go and see what was happening on the ground. When the car set out with us towards several towns and villages between the provinces of Pakistan, beginning from Peshawar, the official capital of Sarhad Province, or the North-West Frontier Province as it is called in correspondence, the fame of those schools in our memories was wrapped in two broad headings. The first was what is often said, that most leaders of the Afghan Taliban movement graduated from these schools and universities, specifically the Haqqaniya University, that these religious schools are nurseries in which the members of this movement were brought up, and their personalities, culture and thought structure were formed.
The second heading is related to American accusations that these schools offer, or used to offer, military training to the students who join them, and that they qualify them, and also incite them, to fight non-Muslims.
Then began this journey full of calculated adventure, and the enjoyment of surprise at times.
We had woken up before 6 a.m. That day, our timetable was full. We had a visit to Dar Al-Ulum Haqqaniya University in the town of Akorrah Khatak on the road from Peshawar, where we had spent several nights, to Islamabad. The appointment which had been made for us was at 8 a.m., the same time when morning lessons began, on Sunday, when government offices and schools had a complete holiday, except the religious schools which chose Friday as their day of rest.
We had to go there according to the appointment. It took a car which was going fast a full hour to cover 100 kilometres, and then we had to go back again to Peshawar to meet a Ministry of Information official who would accompany us with two policemen to the Khyber Pass area.
We emerged from the hotel at a quarter to seven, and Nawaz, the extremely reckless Pakistani driver, flew with us, exploiting the emptiness of the road at that time of the morning. We arrived at our destination in Akorra Khatak exactly on time.
We stopped at the gate, and when the administration made sure that there was permission for us to enter, the iron barrier was raised and we entered the university campus. Small children wearing Pakistani-style dark blue uniforms, with caps of the same color on their heads, were heading towards the interior, passing by the space in front of the large mosque, which is regarded as an inseparable part of the school building, just like all the mosques which we had seen in the towns and villages, where there is seldom a mosque without a school or university attached.
Above the gate of the Haqqaniya University was written in black the inscription: The call of truth: Glory be to You, we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. You are the All-Hearing, the Wise. Dar Al-Ulum Haqqaniya, Akorra Khatak founded as a school on 22 September 1932.
The building is divided into two parts. The first is devoted to religious sciences, and the other to modern sciences. The older students in it wear the well-known Pakistani costume, without any uniformity in color or style of this costume. But most of those who study in these schools are a mixture of Pakistanis and Afghans, as well as students from several countries stretching from Central Asia to China, and a number of Asian and African states also. It is in this university, as is well known, that a large number of officials of the Afghan Taliban movement were taught, and its name means students of Islamic law in the language of Afghanistan. One of the most famous of them was the Pashtun leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, who obtained the title of Haqqani because he had graduated from Haqqaniya University. The leader of the Taliban movement known as Mulla Muhammad Omar also studied there without completing his education. The Rector of the university Maulana Sami Al-Haqq summoned him after his fame had spread in Kandahar before he took power, and awarded him the title of Mulla, which is only granted to those who have obtained the highest degree of learning in Islamic law.
Inside the university there are many spacious, unroofed halls, whose walls have peeled or parts of which are not covered with any layer of cement plaster so that their bare stones are exposed. The floor was covered with mats which are no less wretched than the roof and the walls. Dozens of young students sit on the floor in a large circle, each one with a book in his hand. In front of them the teacher reads and they follow.
In spite of government efforts to restrict this university, an exchange of conversation, even in passing, with any of its students is enough for one to discover how proud they feel to be students in Dar Al-Ulum Haqqaniya, because ten of Taliban s twelve major leaders graduated from it. Some of those who had visited that university before the repercussions of 11 September and the collapse of the Taliban government told us that the students used to hang up pictures of Taliban graduates of the university on the walls of its squares. Those in charge of the Haqqaniya University, when Kabul and its surroundings were under the authority of the Taliban, would feel proud that every minister and official in that movement was a graduate of the Haqqaniya. They considered that the students strove to gain knowledge there because it was unique in giving scholars a jihad education .
The idea of establishing Haqqaniya University in the small mountain town of Akorra Khatak in northern Pakistan goes back to 1947, after Pakistan s separation from India, with the aim of providing an alternative for students who used to study in India s well-established Deveband Islamic University. The school began as a small scholarly circle, but it expanded rapidly, obtained the recognition of many Islamic universities in various parts of the Islamic world, and gained a respected position among Islamic universities.
Although Haqqaniya University refuses government support, the certificates it grants to its students enjoy the recognition of the federal government. Senior government officials witness the graduation ceremonies which it holds for its students. It depends for its financing on donations and the income earned from its religious endowments. Study in it is free, indeed the university also provides food, clothes and lodging for its students.
The Establishment of the Taliban
Sheikh Sami Al-Haqq replies to the description which pursues him as a person who supported the Afghan Taliban, whose Haqqaniya University graduated many of the Afghan mujahidin, as well as students who fought Russia and came to power in Afghanistan, before becoming hunted in the mountains at the present time. Seekers after knowledge in our region are called taliban, which means students, he says. They join Haqqaniya University in order to learn Islamic studies, not for a political purpose. Their main preoccupation was to obtain knowledge.
Regarding the number of Haqqaniya University graduates who participated with the Taliban in the fighting, Sheikh Sami Al-Haqq said that after the partition of India in 1947, everything became closed to the Afghan and Pakistani students who were studying in Deveband. A number of religious scholars met with his father Sheikh Abdulhaqq who was a teacher there, and asked him to open a university in Pakistan that would accommodate the scholars and students of Afghanistan who were studying under him there. After he had established the university, which he called Haqqaniya, these came in large numbers which increased every year. So far 15,000 students have graduated, about half of them Afghans. Most of them fought against the Soviets, and many of them died in that struggle.
Sheikh Sami Al-Haqq denied that there were Pakistani students who took part in the fighting on the side of the Taliban against the Afghan opposition, but he added that many of the world s Muslims took part in the fight against the Soviet forces which he regarded as a great jihad against unjust aggression. Among these there were many Arabs and Pakistanis. As for the fight of the Taliban movement against other Afghan groups, what I know is that no Pakistanis or Pakistani students took part with the Taliban in this fight.
Regarding the variety of nationalities of students at Haqqaniya University, Sheikh Sami Al-Haqq said that the most important aim of this university is to teach the Quran, the Sunna (life and saings of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him), Islamic jurisprudence and law and Arabic studies, and its doors are open to all Muslims, just as the doors of American and British universities are open to everyone who comes to obtain knowledge. Consequently students come from China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan to study the religious sciences, which a Muslim may not be prevented from doing. The Muslims are like one body.
Of the future of Islamic movements in Afghanistan, Sheikh Sami Al-Haqq says, The establishment of Islamic Pakistan was on the basis of the theory of Islam, and the separation of this state from India was on the basis that there government in it should be for God, and the system should be Islamic law. When the English colonialists left, they left us their system which we have been struggling for more than fifty years to change, but by democratic means, through politics and the parliament.
Sheikh Sami Al-Haqq said that the number of students of Islamic law or Islamic sciences in Pakistan amounts to millions at the present time. There are thousands of large and small religious institutes in Pakistan, from Peshawar to Karachi, and from Baluchistan to Waziristan.
A Fierce Attack
The fierce attack on the religious schools was not launched from the United States alone. India also found it a favorable opportunity to accuse these schools of being behind the graduation of Kashmiri combatants who are demanding independence from it. But Washington has not contented itself with leveling accusations like New Delhi, it has exerted massive pressures on Islamabad to limit their activities, and in this framework has offered $100 million worth of financial assistance to control these schools and run them directly by the Pakistan government. It has urged it to make a comprehensive database about these schools, their curricula, the names of students and teachers and sources of finance. At the same time the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Program have pledged the Pakistani government to support a project to establish 20,000 model schools, to be distributed among Pakistan s four provinces, Punjab, Sind, Baluchistan and Sarhad, the North-West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, with mixed religious and modern curricula, to compete with the religious schools.
Those in charge of these schools have not officially been asked to close down and throw their students out, as they are a mainstay in spreading knowledge and eradicating illiteracy which is endemic in Pakistan, whose allocations for expenditure on education are no more than 2% of its budget. Nevertheless they have been asked to abide by several decisions as a basic condition to enable them to continue their activities.
These decisions involve them registering themselves officially again with the Pakistani government, even if they were registered before, and they must not receive any financial assistance from any foreign quarter, or accept foreign students except with the agreement of the Pakistani Ministry of the Interior. A foreign student who joins one must have obtained an entry visa entitling him to study, as well as adding some modern subjects to their fixed religious curricula without choice, like mathematics, computer studies and English language.
The leaders of the Islamic parties reject this law, which they regard as aimed at strangling free religious education in a country whose people are suffering from severe poverty and where the illiteracy rate is more than 70%, at a time when the vast majority of students of religious schools are so poor that they cannot attend government schools, let alone private schools. Former Minister of Religious Affairs Dr. Ahmad Muhammad Ghazi believes that the aim of the law is to develop the curricula which are taught in these schools and add scientific and technological subjects to them. He emphasized that the development plans are not aimed at interfering in the internal affairs of these schools or in their own work, but rather to enable their graduates to fulfill their role, work and lives in accordance with reality. They will not graduate to work only as employees in mosques, but also to be employed in government departments and ministries.
Hot and Cold Chapters
The story of the Pakistani religious schools represents an exciting chapter in the cold war.
The Pakistanis were not the only ones who benefited from them. The Americans also exploited this system when they ensured through them an inexhaustible supply of religious combatants ready to fight the atheist Soviets. Once this aim had been achieved and Washington left the region, the Pakistanis directed this trained human weapon which the Americans had left behind them, to achieve regional aims.
Those in charge of the religious schools voluntarily became an instrument in the hands of others.
According to documents of the US State Department which were revealed recently, the Islamabad office of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) paid the State of Oklahoma s University of Nebraska the sum of $51 million over ten years between 1984 and 1994, to design books to urge jihad. The American university collected an elite of Afghan educational experts to write booklets in Pashtu and Dari (the main languages of Afghanistan) and in Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Dozens of private Pakistani printing presses undertook to print these books several times.
It is widely believed in Pakistan that General Zia Al-Haqq was the prime mover behind the spread of religious schools. But analysts there suggest that preparing the atmosphere for the spread of religious schools in Pakistan was begun by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was the first elected civilian Prime Minister in the history of Pakistan, and who was liberal in his inclinations. In the period when he was in power from 1972 to 1977 the number of religious schools increased and the government for the first time recognized the certificates issued by these schools. Also thousands of their graduates were employed in government teaching posts. It has also become well known that the growth of the Taliban movement came about with support from the government headed by his daughter Benazir Bhutto in the mid-1990s.
At the present time, the government s attempts to restrict the religious schools are arousing the anger of the Pakistani Islamic parties. Maulana Fadl Al-Rahman the Amir of the Jamiat Ulama-e- Islam, has emphasized that any government laws restricting the freedom of religious schools under the pretext of combating terrorism will be forcefully resisted by the people, who will not allow the government to destroy this great educational system. Qadi Hussein Ahmad, Amir of the Jamaat Islami, has warned that his group will not allow the abolition of the educational system based on the spreading of Islamic sciences, emphasizing that without Islamization Pakistan will not exist.
The schools are numerous and their curricula vary, and the ways of running them are according to the religious factions to which they belong, in this country with a population of nearly 150 million people, the great majority of whom are Sunnis. These are divided in turn into three main factions, the Barelvis, the followers of Ahmad Rida Khan Barelvi who takes his name from the Indian town of Bareli. They follow Abdulqadir Al-Jailani, the well-known Sufi, have several orders like the Qadiriya, the Suhrawardiya, the Khashtiya and others, and belong to the Hanafi sect. The Devebandiya are Sunni Muslims who also follow Abu Hanifa in Islamic law. Ahl Al-Hadith are the third group of Sunnis.
Universities and Domes
As we were on our way back to Peshawar after leaving Akorra Khatak, we saw a mosque which was noticeable with its slender minaret and extremely small green domes. Maybe this is what attracted attention to it. We stopped to take a photograph, and saw a notice that proclaimed The Islamic University in Nawshera , beside another notice about the mosque, which was called the Taqwa Mosque.
We asked permission to enter, and one of the students came from the inside and inserted a key in the padlock to which was attached a chain encircling both sides of the door from its double iron panels. We entered to see in the courtyard of the mosque circles of young men in the larger courtyard, and other circles of small children in the smaller courtyard of this mosque. We chose the corridor to enter where the director of the school, who was wearing something similar to Afghan clothes, was sitting in a dusty and extremely modest room. Next to him was a small spirit stove on which he made tea for visitors. We greeted him, and he stood up and returned our greeting warmly, welcoming us in his Arabic, which was unclear in some of its phrases.
He introduced himself. His name was Amir Hamza, and he was the director of this independent university. He told us that the subjects taught there varied between the Islamic jurisprudence of the four Sunni interpretations, the foundations of Islamic jurisprudence, the Jalalayn commentary on the Holy Quran, saying of the Prophet Muhammad, grammar, conjugation, logic, philosophy, literature, recital and memorization of the Holy Quran.
The director of the university told us that it had been founded twenty years ago, that studying in it was free of charge, and that its teachers were volunteers. When I asked about its financial resources, he smiled and said, I don t know where it comes from. It comes like this: people come and leave money, donations, and go without even wanting to get a word of thanks. We have never tried to obtain donations, but they come to us.
This school, or university, belongs to a series of schools with Devebandi curricula. It contains about 300 male students at various stages, who come from various surrounding towns. It teaches pupils to memorize the Holy Quran beginning from the age of at least seven years. It begins teaching them the other curricula, like the sayings of the Prophet, jurisprudence and the remaining religious sciences, after they have reached adolescence.
At the same time, this university grants a scholar s certificate, which is equivalent to a Master s degree.
Religious schools, which are sometimes called school and at other times university, are widespread, so that no town or village in Pakistan can be without one. We set off for a number of these schools, aware that in no circumstances could we cover all of them, for which we would need years of traveling from one place to another. In the town of Swat near Islamabad we visited the building of the Islamic School for Sharia Sciences, the largest in that area. It provides free education for students from primary to university level. This school specializes in graduating imams and Holy Quran memorizers who travel to other villages and towns after obtaining their certificates.
This school belongs to Jamiat Ulama-e- Islam, but its curricula lack the scholarly aspect, while it depends on one school of jurisprudence in its teaching, the Hanafi school. It also does not offer modern sciences like mathematics and science.
Another school is Dar Al-Islam in Rawalpindi, which teaches Islamic law as well as modern sciences. The Iqra schools scattered in various Pakistani towns, and also in Kashmir Province, follow the same syllabus. Most of these schools represent a current of thought which adopts the ideas of Abul Ala Al-Maududi, which is followed by the Jamaat Islami.
The University of Islamic Sciences, in Bannori Town in Karachi, is the largest and most famous of the religious universities in Pakistan. It has foreign students from more than forty countries. Its fame increased after it was classified as a target of the repercussions of the international campaign against terrorism.
It is a local university which belongs to the Devebandi Hanafi school of India, and is one of the universities recognized by the Pakistani government. It was founded in 1954, and has opened about twenty branches in different areas of Pakistan, after the number of its students increased to more than 10,000 male students, and 2,000 female students in a separate section. It is classed as a boarding university, since it provides its students with food and lodging, as well as medical requirements. It also grants financial assistance to needy students, particularly foreigners who have no income.
This university is directed by two consultative councils, the General Consultative Council which is formed of all the professors and teachers in the university, and the Special Consultative Council which is confined to the senior professors.
The levels of study include the intermediate level, which lasts three years, the general secondary level, which lasts two years, the special secondary level, which lasts two years, the higher level another two years, the international level also two years, specialization in Islamic hadith (sayings of the Prophet) which lasts two years, specialization in Islamic jurisprudence which lasts two years, specialization in missionary work and guidance which lasts two years, recitation, reading and memorization of the Holy Quran, and training courses for higher level to study ??? The knowledge which is taught in the university is the science of the Holy Quran, the sayings of the Holy Prophet, terminology, Islamic jurisprudence, the foundations of jurisprudence, theology, the life of the Prophet, Islamic history, conjugation and grammar, rhetoric, literature and its history, logic and philosophy, mathematics, geography, and some languages like Urdu, Farsi and English.
The university contains a number of sections, including a section for Quran recital, which is a compulsory subject that all students must study and master, particularly at the intermediate and secondary levels, the sections for memorizing and teaching the Holy Quran and the section for training courses.
The university also contains a huge library of books and religious reference works, and a separate section for fatwa (legal opinion). The university publishes a magazine in Arabic called Al-Bayyinat.
Circles and Schools
Qari Ruhallah Al-Madani is the name of the Minister of Religious Endowments in the local government of the Province of Sarhad, whom we met in Peshawar when we went to the school which he had inherited from his father and of which he was in charge. He had been given the title Qari because he had memorized the Holy Quran, and he had gained the name of Madani because he had studied in one of the universities of the holy city of Madina, from which he had obtained a Master s degree.
We asked him about how the growth of the religious schools began. Before Pakistan became independent in 1947, he replied, it was with India under British rule. About 150 years before that, there were no religious or modern schools. Education was confined to circles brought together in the mosque. A religious man would teach them writing and reading, before they were transferred to another religious man to teach them other sciences, and so on.
When British colonialism came and wanted to change that way, in which both the poor and better-off people were taught in these circles, which graduated religious scholars. It tried to establish English-style schools, after colonialism had discovered that whoever graduated from these schools refused to bow down to English rule. Colonialism established schools in every part of India. Pakistan at that time was part of India.
Then the religious scholars thought of defying this British system, and in fact established their first school in India, which they called Dar Al-Ulum University in Deveband. Later other schools were established. The original Devebandi school in India is still standing. In Pakistan there are religious scholars who are known as Devebandis .
The Minister said that most of those who write about these schools have not visited them, but obtain their information from here and there.
These schools have been there since before independence, he added, without any fuss being stirred up about them, until the revolt in Afghanistan, when Dawud Khan rebelled against the King. These schools have been open to Pakistani and Afghan students for decades. The Afghans used to come and study, and then go back to their country. They were against Dawud Khan, whose rule was the beginning of Communist influence. These scholars who had graduated from these schools resisted him.
But after the Afghan migration, more than three million Afghans came to us, and settled (first of all because they are Hanafis, and secondly because they are of the same ethnic origin Pashtun) in Pakistan. They studied in these schools, they came, and returned again to their country.
Teaching and Jihad
The Minister of Religious Endowments stressed that the role of the school was confined to teaching only. Jihad or training took place inside Afghanistan. He wondered, how can schools in public streets be places for weapons training? And these schools are open day and night to anyone. How can training be hidden in mosques, when people enter them to say their prayers?
Hundreds of thousands have graduated from these schools, he added, and only small numbers of them went to the jihad. And these went out of their own wishes, they were not directed by these schools. Questions were raised at that time as to whether jihad is an individual duty or a collective one. The students did not ask their families or seek their permission, they went of their own free will. Indeed, the Arabs who went there did not find anyone barring their way or preventing them at that time.
In reply to what is said that the ideas which are taught to these students led them in the end to bear arms and resort to violence, he said, Extremism exists in many countries. What do you say about the government schools in the Arab countries, which have graduated people some of whom went after that to Afghanistan for the jihad? Extremism is the result of political situations. If extremism were the result of curricula or teaching in these schools, which were not born today but decades ago, why did extremism not appear before? In the 1980s for example?
The Minister added that there are negative effects from the Afghan revolt and the war between Iran and Iraq, and there are international situations that have influenced this. It is these which have been influential, not the curricula in these schools, or there would have been extremism before that.
With regard to the events that had occurred a year earlier in New York, these are attributed to extremism. But did any one of those accused there study in religious schools? Not one of them studied in Pakistan. There are others who were accused, and they never came to Pakistan and did not study in these schools.
The Minister does not deny that numbers of Taliban leaders graduated from the Pakistani religious schools in Peshawar, or that Mulla Muhammad Omar, the former Taliban leader, studied for some time in schools in Pakistan. But he stresses that these schools have graduated hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Pakistanis and others, who are not in the least linked to the Taliban or Afghanistan.
The Minister of Religious Endowments said that the number of religious schools in Sarhad Province alone is 1,400, while the number in the four provinces of Pakistan, according to the official government count, is 7,044. All these are financed locally. A school s monthly budget comes to 4.5 million Pakistani rupees. This budget comes from donations from local people, who refuse to take receipts for them, preferring to be philanthropists.
These schools offer medical treatment, education, books and food, and embrace more or less everything. Some of them have begun recently to include modern curricula. For example, Dar Al-Ulum Haqqaniya has a school to teach modern sciences, including computer science. In some schools there are more than 100 computers. This is an answer to those who say that religious schools do not accept modern science.
The Minister spoke of the modern curricula which these schools offer and said that the Devebandi schools, for example, offer what is called the Nazira in the first year. This means partly memorizing the Holy Quran and some prayers, and some mathematics. In the second year these schools offer mathematics as well as memorization of the Holy Quran and prayers, and so on up to the sixth form, when Arabic, Persian and English are introduced within the study curricula of these schools, in addition to social sciences.
The strange thing is that the latest statistics, conducted in September 2002, for the religious schools and their students in Pakistan s four provinces showed that in spite of the fierce attack on these schools recently, the accusations against them since the 11 September events in the United States alleging that they are breeding terrorism, the internal and external blockade and the intervention to change their curricula, the number of students both male and female students in 2002 in the Devebandi schools alone came to 102,865, an increase of about 19,000 students over the 2001 figures.
These statistics, which we obtained from the Minister of Religious Endowments, indicated that Punjab Province contains 2,600 schools in which there are 48,200 students of both sexes, Sind Province contains 2,457 schools with 46, 600 students, Sarhad Province has 1,405 schools with 20,824 students and in Baluchistan Province there are 394 schools containing 5,130 students. In Azad Kashmir there are 133 schools containing 2,261 students.
Mixing of the sexes is forbidden in these schools, but it happens in the mosques where small children of both sexes are taught to read the Holy Quran up to the age of six. When they reach this age the girls are separated from the boys and attached to their own classes.
There are 2,264 male students in all the provinces of Pakistan who are continuing their studies up to a Master s degree, while the number of female students aiming for the same degree is 3,384, in fact 1,120 more than their male counterparts. In the Minister s words, this refutes the allegation that these schools are against the education of girls. He emphasized that these schools have never been influenced by political situations, or by Taliban s ban on the education of women.
At the same time, the Minister insists that the present way of dealing with these schools, under which strict conditions are imposed on them, will have its negative effects in future. The Minister stressed this by saying, We are prepared for any discussion, and ready to answer all questions which may be raised at any time.
What of the Future?
After those days in which we traveled around the wide area of Pakistan looking for reasons for that loud outcry which has been reverberating since the horrifying 11 September and whose aftermath is still reaching us in our faraway places, there is a question which returned with us from there, after we had seen the marginal human beings who live in that neglected corner of the world and strive hard to preserve the slender thread which binds them to life. They only find the most meager possibilities before them, which cannot be regarded as adequate either for modern education or even for that which belongs to other ages. Their lives pass on the margin of the edges of this age, in wretched scarcity, with scarcely any security or health care, in a region devastated by illiteracy, the fangs of poverty and ignorance and all the diseases known and unknown to the world, where safety is nonexistent and reassurance about the future is a luxury of which the dreams of the poor are not aware.
In such circumstances, the question arises about the future of schools which provide food, lodging, clothes, medical care and then education to millions of young people and children. Before any alternative is provided, daggers begin stabbing from every direction at the last resort of human beings crouching in the blaze of that focus of crisis, which has expanded to become an arena for unending conflicts and a source of live flesh which has been allocated for the experiments of dealers in arms and toxic wastes.
The matter does not require a brilliant intellect to discover which way these people will go in such atmospheres of pressure. It only needs someone to come forward to rescue these people from ignorance, backwardness, isolation and an intense feeling of weakness which overwhelms them and makes them into cheap fuel for the war machines of others and their squalid adventures.