GETTING students of madressahs involved in politics is a bad idea, primarily because seminarians should be concentrating on their studies, while their involvement in politics is bound to radicalise the political discourse. This is why the prime minister’s orders to Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid to prevent students of madressahs from joining the PDM’s scheduled march on Islamabad is a good idea. However, it is also true that the move smacks of hypocrisy as when Imran Khan — then a fiery member of the opposition — was besieging the federal capital in 2014, he himself had a bit of help from religious elements. It should be remembered that supporters of cleric-politician Tahirul Qadri, in their thousands, had staged an ‘Inquilab’ march and dharna, coinciding with the PTI’s protest campaign in Islamabad. Many of Mr Qadri’s supporters were students of madressahs and schools affiliated with the cleric’s religious and political organisations, though at that time Mr Khan did not seem to mind the inclusion of seminary students in politics. Where the current PDM protests are concerned, the head of the Deobandi waqf that administers that school of thought’s seminaries has denied students will participate in political activities of the JUI-F, one of the central component parties of the anti-government alliance and the leading Deobandi political force in the country.

It should be noted that in the Pakistani context, where religion and politics are almost inseparable, it would be next to impossible to implement any restriction on seminarians participating in political activities. For example, religious parties — such as the JUI-F, Jamaat-i-Islami and more recently Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan — command tremendous street power, and other ‘secular’ political forces are at times also keen to tap into this reserve of ready recruits for political events. Ideally, as stated above, madressah students should focus on their education, while political elements should not try and exploit this segment of society to achieve their goals. This applies to parties staging protests now, as well as those who have leveraged these resources in the past.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2021

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