Madressah reform: a superficial view

By Muhammad Ali Siddiqi

THERE is a misperception in Pakistan that the threat from the madressahs can be eliminated if the students there get a dose of modern education. In other words, the madressahs would turn out better, non-militant students, if, in addition to the traditional curriculum, the students were taught modern subjects like science, mathematics, economics, IT, etc. This is not only a superficial view, this could be counterproductive, even dangerous.

The ability to operate a computer does not change one’s attitude to life. If one is a militant, then the computer only makes one more well-equipped; it does not make one a pacifist. This point needs to be understood.

Madressahs in the subcontinent have traditionally performed a useful and vital function. They have taught students traditional courses in Islamic subjects and helped produce imams and muezzins for mosques. At a higher level, some of South Asia’s great Islamic scholars were madressah products. They had nothing to do with politics of violence.

The US-led resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan turned out to be seminal, for the madressahs started serving both as recruiting centres for the army of mujahideen and as ideological motivational and training centres.

Today, not all madressahs are controlled by parties and groups having a militant, anti-western “ideology”. Most madressahs still perform a traditional and useful function. It is the madressahs preaching militancy that are the subject of this discussion.

In his remarkable book Islam: chund fikree masayel, Dr Manzoor Ahmad, a former vice-chancellor of the Hamdard University, bemoans the fact that Islam has been turned into an ideology. Since by its very nature, every ideology is totalitarian, it rejects whatever is outside it. So, because Islam is now an ideology, says Dr Ahmad, it must reject everything modern, even if it is for the good of the people and does not violate Islamic values.

Can the madressah students be “de-ideologized” and if so how? Under the present system — given the nature of the curriculum and the restricted mental horizons of those who teach — the madressahs have turned into ideological schools, where students are brainwashed into becoming indoctrinated robots lacking a will and an intellect of their own.

They may be taught the traditional course, but what they are not taught are values that go into the making of a refined human being — an individual who is a citizen of planet earth, who abhors hate and revenge, and who has an abundance of love that looks at all human phenomena, including individual and social conflicts, with understanding. He respects every human being and considers human life sacred. He loves both the wronged and the wrong-doer. He may hate sin but he does not hate the sinner. He believes in salvaging the sinner rather than in punishing him and making a spectacle of punishment. These are values higher than those that modern education promotes.

Teach a brainwashed madressah student a subject like aerodynamics or marine biology, and he would still remain beholden to Mullah Omar, because he would continue to view the world through the prism of the “ideology” as taught by teachers who themselves have had no exposure to humanities.

One reason for this tragedy is the absence of literature from the syllabi of most madressahs. Indeed, he has a poor understanding of the purpose of education and its effect on society if he does not understand the impact of literature on the development of human mind, outlook and personality.

Our elders were aware of this truth and made literature, especially poetry, an essential element of home education for all. That was the reason why Islamic learning and poetry went hand in hand in South Asia. Most Islamic scholars were themselves poets. As for those parts of the subcontinent which now constitute Pakistan, sufi poets thrived, especially in Sindh, and they still have millions of adherents and admirers. That was the reason why, in our parents’ time, a person not well-versed in Urdu and Persian poetry was considered uncouth.

In middle class families, a child’s traditional education began with a dose of Persian poetry. Hafiz, Saadi, Jami, Nizami, Baydil and Amir Khusrau, if not Rumi, were compulsory reading. As for Gulistan and Bostan, one remembered most of them by heart. (Incidentally, Gulistan was part of the curriculum at Deoband, and Arab students seeking admission to Deoband were supposed to have learnt Persian up to Gulistan.)

Seen against the humanistic traditions of Islamic education in South Asia, today’s madressah curriculum is a tragedy, for the madressah products are unable to interact with the educated middle class on a footing of equality. Not just because they do not know English, but also because they have missed out on a vital part of middle class upbringing in the subcontinent.

Those who teach at madressahs must themselves be well-read in poetry, drama and fiction, besides history — not just Islamic history. History is a continuous process, and no nation or people has, or ever had, a monopoly of knowledge. Babylon and Egypt, Greece and Rome, Cardoba and Baghdad, and modern Europe and America are names that indicate the continuation of a process that began with the dawn of civilization and shall continue.

Nations received a legacy from the past, improved on it and passed it on to the next before departing from the scene. But their contributions last. Paper and block printing invented by the Chinese, “Arabic” numerals by the Hindus, algebra by the Arabs, and combustion engine and nuclear energy by modern western civilization will forever remain part of human heritage.

Ask a madressah teacher what Islam’s role in history has been, and most probably he will have difficulty in saying anything beyond referring to Muslim conquests. According to this view of history, Muslims have done nothing besides being locked in perpetual conflict with the non-Muslims. This is in contrast to historical facts.

As Fred Halliday points out in his 100 Myths about the Middle East, “...the overall history of the Muslim world has been one of interaction through trade and cultural exchange with the non-Muslim world: east to India, south to Africa and west and northwards to Europe.”

Knowledge that makes one view peoples of other cultures and civilizations as perpetually hostile to Muslims and destructive human beings is anti-knowledge. A man with such “knowledge” is to be pitied because he lives in a world of his own in which others are perpetually engaged in a plot to destroy him and the values he believes in. He suspects others for no other reason than that he does not know and underland them.

As Iqbal said while giving his idea of Pakistan to the 1930 Allahabad session of the All-India Muslim League, “A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities”.

Today’s world has not come into being through science; it is the liberation of human mind from the shackles of church and political despotism that has unleashed forces which developed the sciences and the arts.

Reformation and renaissance were not scientific revolutions; they were revolutions in human relationships. The developments that followed have shaped our world.

Those developments in some cases were destructive, like the two world wars, but other movements — the consolidation of democracy, the age of enlightenment, the socialist movements, the colonial powers’ rivalries, the rise of communist power, the Afro-Asian peoples’ fight for freedom, and the collapse of communism — have given the individual the freedom he was long denied. To view modern societies which have come into being through this historical process as infidel societies against which one must be at war is as much ridiculous as it is suicidal. The madressah needs the modern teacher more than a modern curriculum.

Society’s little brothers

AMONG the unsung heroes of the tragedy of July 7 was the population of CCTV cameras in London and Luton, which played a key role in the identification of the bombers — and have provided chilling images of mass murderers in action.

The cameras were introduced in a few places over 40 years ago amid public scepticism and warnings that they would lead to a Big Brother society. Since then they have grown and grown, and London is now the undisputed capital of CCTV cameras, with more than any other big city on earth.

The surprising thing is that no one seems to be worried about them. And if they were, it would only take a fresh episode of Crimewatch — in which a gangster is caught red-handed by the cameras robbing a building society — to change their minds. Of all the weapons of surveillance, CCTV cameras have proved the least controversial.

If the mayor of London were to hold a referendum on having one in every street in the wake of the suicide attacks, he would probably win with a large majority. They have become such familiar landmarks that some artistic troupes perform plays and other entertainments in front of them, presumably to keep guards inside the building a bit happier in their work.

— The Guardian, London

Politics of the pipeline

By Afzaal Mahmood

IN ORDER to move the peace process forward, Pakistan and India must keep up the momentum created by the convergence of views on the Iranian gas pipeline and the Delhi accord of July 13 and work on a framework agreement to be concluded by the end of this year.

An Indian delegation will visit Pakistan next month to continue secretary-level talks on the multi-billion gas pipeline project. After the signing of a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan, it would be converted into a multilateral agreement by including Iran. The two sides have also agreed that once the basic issues pertaining to the project have been satisfactorily resolved by the three countries concerned, they will enter into a ‘framework agreement’. In this regard, the Indian side is expected to submit a draft text to the Pakistani side before the next meeting of the joint working group.

In order to keep the other options open for their common quest for piped gas, India has been formally invited to a steering committee meeting of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline project due to be held later this month.

The most significant development with regard to the Iranian gas pipeline project is that Islamabad and New Delhi have pledged their commitment to push forward the project despite US objections. During their first structured discussion on the issue held in New Delhi recently, both countries agreed that the gas pipeline project was crucial for their economic growth pegged to move at eight to nine per cent every year.

Economic and population growth has resulted in rapid increase in energy demand in South Asia. According to the projected requirements of energy in the year 2025, Pakistan and India will need 500 million units of gas per day. At the moment, Pakistan is self-reliant in gas, but by 2010 it will start experiencing gas shortage as gas production will begin to decline and will go down considerably by 2025 unless new finds are discovered.

At the same time, demand for gas in Pakistan is increasing by seven to eight per cent per annum and further delay in the completion of the pipeline projects will create serious supply problems in the country. That is why even the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline is economically feasible; and Indian inclusion will only increase its viability.

During the Iranian oil minister’s visit to Islamabad, Pakistan and Iran agreed on July 7 to start construction of the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline by April 2006. The two sides decided to invite India for trilateral talks after signing a memorandum of understanding under which Iran would provide to Pakistan a comprehensive data sheet about the price, quality and quantity of the gas it would supply through the IPI. It was also agreed that the project’s technical issues would be solved in the remaining 10 months so that Iran could make the final contract to sell its gas by next April. It is estimated that after the initiation of work on the pipeline, the project will take at least three years to complete.

The $4 billion gas pipeline would be about 2,670 km long — 1,115 km in Iran, 705 km in Pakistan and 850 km in India. The Pakistani investment in the project would be around $1 billion, an amount which can be raised from the surplus liquidity available with the local banking sector. Pakistan, Iran and India are likely to set up separate consortiums to develop the proposed gas pipeline in their respective territories.

Since India’s burgeoning industry is desperately looking for natural gas, the cleanest and cheapest fuel, India has shown interest in the Turkmenistan, Iran and Qatar gas pipelines not as alternative options to each other but for multiplying gas supplies. That is why India has expressed interest in participating in the Qatar pipeline project and to attend the steering committee meeting on the Turkmenistan pipeline. At the moment, India produces about 50 per cent of the gas it needs and imports 7.5 million tons of liquefied natural gas a year as its economy guzzles more and more fuel to keep growing.

It is not without significance that despite US public opposition, both Pakistan and India have shown their resolve to push forward with the Iranian gas pipeline project. Since India is far better placed than Pakistan to resist American pressure, it is all the more creditable for Islamabad to demonstrate that it can do what is in the national interest even if it has to stand up to Washington and defy its wishes.

During his visit last month to the US, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri reportedly told US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it would not be possible for Pakistan to abandon the Iranian gas project for a number of reasons. Pakistan would earn up to $600 million a year from the pipeline which is close to about $700 million a year that Islamabad receives from Washington.

The gas pipeline will also allow Pakistan to import gas worth about $1 billion every year from Iran by 2010 to meet its domestic and industrial requirements. Also, the pipeline will create a major industrial infrastructure in Pakistan, generating new jobs for the people. And perhaps most importantly, a gas pipeline to India across Pakistan will add a huge economic incentive to the strengthening of bilateral relations between the two neighbours. Responding to Pakistan’s concerns, Ms Rice is reported to have urged the Pakistani delegation to look at other options like the pipeline from Qatar or the Central Asian republic of Turkmenistan. But the problem is that bringing gas from Qatar would double the cost while gas reserves in Turkmenistan are still unproven. Moreover, political instability in Afghanistan is another cause for concern that has to be sorted out before a pipeline is routed through that country.

According to Ms Rice, who has publicly opposed the Iranian project, bringing Iranian gas to India through Pakistan is against US laws. The Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996, known as ILSA, forbids more than $20 million of investment in Iranian oil and gas projects. The violator can be deprived of US economic assistance and may also face sanctions. Pakistan’s argument, however, is that it will not be violating any US law by agreeing to participate in the Iranian gas pipeline because Islamabad will not make any investment in Iran’s oil infrastructure, which ILSA forbids. The Iranian side of the project will be financed entirely by Iran and a group of multinational investors that Iran will be required to put together.

It may be added that no US president has so far moved to impose penalties under the ILSA since it was enacted in 1996, despite a considerable foreign investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry. It is reassuring that Ms Rice has indicated that the United States would not use the threat of sanctions to make India and Pakistan abandon the Iranian gas pipeline. It may also be added that on the eve of Indian prime minister’s US visit, the influential American think-tank, the Carnegie Endowment, suggested to the state department that it remove objections to the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project.

There is no question that the Iranian gas pipeline project has created a major foreign policy challenge for the US as it tries to balance its interests in South Asia with its objective to contain Tehran. The Bush administration is faced with a classic foreign policy squeeze — on the one hand, it strongly supports friendly relations between Pakistan and India (which the Iranian gas pipeline will certainly promote) and, on the other, it is openly opposed to the Iranian gas pipeline because it scuttles its efforts to isolate Tehran.

US officials view the Iranian gas pipeline, which will deliver Iranian gas to India across Pakistan, as a clever move by Tehran to use its natural resources to gain leverage in South Asia and defeat US designs to keep it isolated. But the fact of the matter is that by opposing the Iranian gas pipeline the US is working against its own stated objective: better relations between Pakistan and India.

However, for the project to move forward, Iran needs to be flexible on the issue of price. In view of the larger energy game being played on the world stage, Iran has to demonstrate that it is keen on strategic cooperation with Pakistan and India by supplying gas to the two countries at a reasonable price.

The benefits and symbolism of the gas pipeline by far surpass those of any CBM undertaken by Pakistan and India. The pipeline project can serve as a durable CBM by creating strong economic linkages and business partnerships among the three countries in general and between the two South Asian neighbours in particular.

The potential for economic and developmental gain from the gas pipeline will help Islamabad and New Delhi reassess their policies and move away from their old mindsets. Economic collaboration between them is bound to have a major impact on the ongoing peace process, leading to the transformation of the composite dialogue and the resolution of bilateral conflicts.

The writer is a former Ambassador.

Terrorism: what sanity demands

By Naima Bouteldja

FRONT-PAGE horror stories of extremist preachers filling the heads of young British Muslims with suicidal thoughts are a crude but effective means of helping to create the environment necessary for authoritarian action.

They also help to sell newspapers. So it is that, since the tragic events of July 7, Fleet Street’s fundamentalists have focused on “mad” Omar Bakri Muhammad, “bad” Abu Qatada and, of course, the tabloid favourite: the one-eyed, hooked-handed Abu Hamza.

Caught in the spotlight are some of the very thinkers Muslims and non-Muslims need to hear. First there was Yusuf al-Qaradawi, widely regarded as a moderate and one of the most respected scholars in the Muslim world. But because Qaradawi has given qualified support to Palestinian suicide bombing, parts of the British media have linked him to the London bombs and demanded he be refused entry. His unreserved condemnation of the London bombers goes largely unreported.

And then there’s Tariq Ramadan. On Sunday, the Swiss-born Muslim academic is due to address young Muslims at a conference at London’s Islamic Cultural Centre, sponsored by the Metropolitan police. His message will be unambiguous: the authors of the London bombs were criminals, and we should not accept their justifications, whether ideological, religious or political.

The Sun is campaigning to have Ramadan barred from the UK as an “extremist Islamic scholar” who is “banned from America and France” and has “suspected links with terrorists”. It warns that the “soft-spoken professor” is “more dangerous” than Hamza and Bakri because his “moderate tones present a ‘reasonable’ face of terror to impressionable young Muslims”. These claims are being repeated as fact by other papers, TV pundits and politicians.

In reality, Ramadan is renowned across the Muslim world as a reformist thinker and is despised by traditionalists for his progressive interpretation of Islamic sources. Along with millions of non-Muslims in this country, he supports the right of Palestinians and Iraqis to resist occupation but has never supported suicide bombings.

He has no links with any terrorist group and is not banned by France. When his visa to teach in the US was revoked last year days before he was due to take up a professorship, British MPs, US academics and human rights lawyers rushed to condemn the Bush administration.

So where are conservative journalists getting their misinformation about a man Time magazine recently rated as one of the top 100 thinkers of the 21st century — and whose hosts include Bill Clinton, Vaclav Havel, Mikhail Gorbachev and the archbishop of Canterbury? Part of the answer can found in France, where his status as public enemy number one was sealed by an article he wrote on the eve of the second European Social Forum in Paris in 2003.

He accused a group of high-profile French scholars of allowing their support for Israel to dictate their positions not just on the Iraq war and Palestine, but also on domestic policy issues relating to Islam and the problems of suburban French ghettoes.

Overnight Ramadan became the victim of a media smear campaign and was branded an anti-Semite. The press suggested that a terrorist bloodline passed directly to him from his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood; Ramadan was denounced as a “fork-tongued fundamentalist” who seduced people with liberal rhetoric in French but called for violence in Arabic.

The hysteria has spread to the political level. Last January the organizers of a conference in the Netherlands were “strongly advised” in private by the French embassy to cancel Ramadan’s invitation, on the grounds that he was “dangerous”.

The attacks on Ramadan are not motivated by fear of religious extremism — this is no rabble-rousing cleric with a perverted take on Islam — but by the cultural imperialism that grips France’s republican white majority and the influence of Ramadan’s challenge to it among France’s five million Muslims, especially the youth.

By asserting that “anything not explicitly forbidden by Islamic principles is permissible”, Ramadan’s interpretation of Islamic scriptures and western liberal democracy charts a clear path for European Muslims to live an authentically Islamic life and fully participate as European citizens.

Through the civil liberties enshrined in liberal democracy, Muslims can enjoy the freedom to religious conscience and expression, and the freedom against being forced into practices that Islam explicitly forbids, such as supporting or participating in unjust wars. Ramadan takes on those traditionalists who equate Islam and Arab culture as synonymous. “There is only one Islam,” he has stated, “but it can be culturally African, Asian, European or American.”

For third-generation Muslims who are torn between the liberties and discriminations of French society and the traditionalist and spiritual stance of their parents, Ramadan’s guidance has been a revelation. They have learned that to become a genuine French citizen one does not have to renounce one’s faith. But more fundamentally, he has challenged the dominant French assimilationist model, rooted across the political spectrum, that to be truly French, Muslims must abandon the right to their own identity. Ramadan follows in the footsteps of revolutionary thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X in attacking notions of the West’s superiority and its seemingly immutable values.

The tragedy is that by shutting down debate in Britain, scholars and clerics such as Ramadan, Qaradawi and even Bakri cannot seriously be questioned in public debate by Muslims and non-Muslims on the vital issues of identity, citizenship and shared and contested values. Figures such as Ramadan would quickly silence the voices of segregationism and extremism. This issue goes well beyond Ramadan; it is about the very future of western Muslims and their fellow citizens living together in peace and mutual respect. — Dawn/ Guardian Service

Values conundrum

By David J. Rothkopf

A DEBATE over values is colouring the most important relationship on the planet. It is a debate that transcends in importance even the chasm between the US-led West and radical Islam. This debate is the one that is at the fault line in the relationship between the United States and China.

In recent weeks we have seen new fissures emerge in the relationship. The two giants are eyeball to eyeball on the commercial playing field, and not only has neither blinked but both are seeing just how complex their problem really is.

On one front, US tech companies are grappling with how much market share their souls are worth as they have been asked by the communist leadership to help censor the Internet in exchange for a better shot at tapping the Chinese market. Naturally, when this behaviour draws criticism, both the Chinese government and the companies argue that it is a private-sector deal and an internal affair for the Chinese government to decide.

Meanwhile, American legislators are reacting in horror as a Chinese national oil company makes a bid to buy US-owned Unocal. Consequently, even as we urge free-market reforms in China, we send the message that we’re still undecided about how free is free at home.

In many respects the big question in this growing confrontation is not whether the values of one side will win out but whether we end up with an international system in which all are required to play by common rules.

The conundrum for China and the United States is made much more complex by the fact that they are increasingly interdependent. Indeed, we are becoming battling Siamese twins, linked together by financial and trade arteries that cannot be severed without endangering both parties. China plays an important role in helping to fund America’s national debt. U.S. trade and investment play a similarly important role in helping to fund China’s growth and stability.

The solution to US-China tensions comes precisely in understanding how tightly linked these two powers are. Old-fashioned competition and confrontation are simply not options. If we determine that our divergent values argue for weakening the international system of law, selectively applying it when it is in our interest, trying to preserve our double standard of “home” and “away” rules, then it will erode decades of progress in this area.

On the other hand, if we embrace interdependence and the change it brings - and consistently apply all our principles as uniformly as possible - then we are likely to build on that progress and create a more stable, law-guided and free international community.

The first step is recognizing everyone’s hypocrisy. China (and U.S. companies operating there) cannot seek to profit from the global system and then be surprised or offended when repressive practices have political consequences or produce a backlash. The United States cannot seek Chinese capital to underwrite its debts or promote free markets in China and then argue that we won’t take certain kinds of Chinese money, thus embracing protectionism at home. Especially when the arguments being used are so flimsy and inconsistent with our treatment of other countries. (For example, how hypocritical is it to assail Chinese acquisition of a US oil company when almost all other oil companies are deeply involved with the corrupt, often dangerously hostile or unstable ruling elites of the Middle East?) Of course, in the end, we all value survival above everything else. We should recognize that the issues at the core of U.S. concern over the Unocal deal and the pressing needs that lead the Chinese to pursue it are the same ones behind our problems in the Middle East. They are centred on the competition for energy resources.

If we were all to recognize our joint interest in finding alternatives to dependence on these scarce resources and apply the collective resources of the world’s leading powers to that search, then our future might be defined by our shared sense of values - more than by the frustrating differences that currently threaten the interests of both the United States and China. —Dawn/Washington Post Service

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He was a deputy undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration.


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