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Inside the Pakistan Madrasas, or religious schools

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Posted: Friday, July 29, 2005 10:00 pm

“Ders” or “Dars” is an Arabic word which means to teach or to instruct. Its derivative, “Madrasah” or “Madrasa” means a school. Initially in the Muslim culture, Madrasas were either private or community based institutions where education in mathematics, sciences, history, geography as well as religious education was provided.

During the reign of the British Empire in India and Pakistan, the schools became the domain of the government which provided education in the arts and sciences. And, religious education was left to the community or the private sector and Madrasas became institutions which solely addressed the religious needs of the communities.Taj Khan

The Madrasas that currently exist in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh areas are based primarily in local mosques which only teach the preteen students how to read the holy Quran, offer obligatory prayers and perform other religious duties.

Taj Khan

Most of the students who attend these Madrasas are also simultaneously attending other schools which provide secular education. Sometime around adolescence, most of the students opt for one or the other. Due to the heavy workload in school, most of them drop the Madrasa and continue their secular school. Those students who want to specialize in religious education continue on to larger Madrasas called Jamias, which provide more in depth religious education similar to the Christian seminaries.

Since 1917, when the Soviet Union was created, most of the Muslim countries considered Soviet Union to be Godless government which did not merit cordial relations. Support of the Muslims was with the Western governments of the U.S. and United Kingdom.

There was a ring of U.S. spy and military basis around the southern boarders of the USSR mostly located in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey. These bases provided the first line of defense for the U.S. Turkey had the first strike missiles whereas Pakistan had the secret U2 spy fleet. It was the base in Pakistan from which Gary Powers flew which was shot down by the Soviet missile and became big scandal in the ‘50s.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Muslims joined the U.S. in opposing and finally destroying the Soviet Union. The millions of refugees from Afghanistan poured into Pakistan and Iran. Since opposing the Godless Communist was considered the religious duty by the zealots, the CIA capitalized on the opportunity and provided training and equipment to the willing students of these seminaries and destitute of the refugee camps to fight the Communists in Afghanistan.

These students and refugees who fought the Soviets were called Mujahidin — the holy warriors. These warriors were recruited not only from the Madrasas but also from the Afghani refugee camps and from the cadres of those who were destitute and unemployed in Pakistan. It was all done with active support of the governments of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, as well as United States. Although the training of the students from Madrasas has stopped, the supply of warriors from sources other than the Madrasas has not.

After the Soviets were defeated in Afghanistan, the same zealots who were fighting the Soviets turned their guns on the ones who initially provided the guns. These new breed of holy warriors are now called the Jihadis, which is a new word invented for holy warriors to differentiate them from the Mujahidins who were our allies and active supporters.

Whether they are called Mujahidin fighting the Soviets or Jihadis fighting us they are not holy warriors. These warriors used violence to enhance the political agendas. Using violence to support political agenda is not holy war. Specifically, killing innocent civilians cannot be a classified as holy war. At best it should be classified as an unholy war.

Initially, the Mujahidin were equipped and trained by the government of Pakistan and the CIA of the United States. Now the Jihadis have gained enough knowledge about the weapons of warfare that they do not need the active support of any government. The process which was started in the ‘80s is self-sustaining. They can recruit, train and finance on their own. It appears that clandestine supply of warriors and supporters is unlimited.

History tells us that war against terror takes more than military solution. It took IRA in Northern Ireland over 50 years to finally start laying down their arms. It is not the military defeat of the IRA that caused this change of heart. It took years of political maneuverings. It will take similar political will to solve the current problem of supply of Jihadis. Military might alone may not be enough.

Taj Khan of Lodi is a consultant and retired engineering manager for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.



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