IN the aftermath of the explosive growth of madressahs during the Zia era, the state has been grappling with ways to regulate seminaries. This need became all the more acute following the events of Sept 11, 2001, especially when militancy started to rear its ugly head in Pakistan in a big way in the late 2000s. Indeed, while not all madressahs are involved in extremist acts, the sheer number of unregistered seminaries in the country means that unless the state has an accurate database of such institutions, monitoring and regulating them will be very difficult, allowing radical elements to misuse unregulated madressahs. In this regard, Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood has said that his ministry and religious scholars have agreed to register all madressahs, and prevent these institutions from being misused, spreading hatred and encouraging sectarianism. While several governments have struggled with this tricky subject, it is hoped that the PTI-led federal administration is successful in coming up with a mechanism that can regulate seminaries, and help fuse their religious curriculum with modern and vocational subjects. Mr Mahmood said that 30,000 seminaries would be registered, adding that seminarians would be given vocational and technical training. The government at a cabinet meeting held later resolved to put in place a uniform syllabus for schools and madressahs in the country. While the move itself may prove challenging to implement, and will not be without provincial misgivings, insofar as it means bringing the madressahs into the fold of mainstream education, it is a wise decision.
Indeed, Pakistan has paid dearly for letting madressahs function without any oversight. Militant and sectarian groups have misused seminaries while hard-line clerics have raised small armies through networks of madressahs and their associated fundraising arms. While seminaries that restrict themselves to academic learning are acceptable, the state should clamp down on those that are used as fronts for militant outfits, which is why it is essential for the rulers to know how many madressahs are functioning in the country, what and who they are teaching, etc. Additionally, it is the need of the hour to equip seminarians with technical and real-world skills to ensure that once they graduate from their institutions, they have the qualifications to apply for decent jobs and make a positive contribution to society. Otherwise, with no opportunities for career advancement, dejected madressah graduates can become an easy prey for extremist outfits.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2019