ISLAMABAD: The government on Wednesday finally succeeded in breaking the monopoly of five already existing religious boards by creating new ones. It will also assist in the registration process for religious seminaries that had been stalled in the past after existing boards boycotted it.

Education Minister Shafqat Mehmood and Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, during a ceremony awarded registration certificates to representatives of the new boards. These five additional “wafaq” or educational boards for religious seminaries have been notified by Ministry of Education and Professional Training.

The new boards are Ittehadus Madaris Al-Arabia Pakistan for the Deoband school of thought, Ittehad Madaris Al-Islamia Pakistan for Ahle Hadith, Nizamul Madaris Pakistan and Wafaqul Madaris Al-Islamia Al-Rizvia Pakistan for Barelvi and Majmaul Madaris Taleemul Kitab Wal Hikmat for the Shia school of thought.

The new seminary boards are under the regulatory ambit of Directorate General of Religious Education (DGRE) a subordinate department of the education ministry.

Currently, there are five education boards for religious seminaries, one each for four mainstream schools of thought in the country – Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi, Ahle Hadith, while the fifth board belongs to the madaris managed by Jamaat-i-Islami. These boards have been functioning unilaterally since the mid-1960s and the decision to introduce new boards was strongly opposed by seminaries, who termed it as an act to reduce the stature of religious education in the country.

Addressing participants of the ceremony, Mr Mahmood said the gulf between the state and religious seminaries has been filled. He announced establishment of 16 offices across the country to facilitate registration of the madaris, adding, the Federal Board of Intermediate Education will provide 20 scholarships for seminary students.

“The government wants to promote education as much as possible and we will always take the centres of religious education on board,” he added.

Mr Qadri said that the move to establish new seminary boards will strengthen the system of religious education, adding, the matter had remained unattended for the past 40 years.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Middle East and Interfaith Harmony Hafiz Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi said: “We are thankful to the Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa for taking personal interest in implementing the new policy for the promotion of religious education in the country.”

While lauding the government’s decision, Allama Syed Jawad Naqvi, head of Jamia Urwa tul Wusqa Lahore and Majma-ul-Madaris Taleem ul Kitab Wal Hikmat said the previous boards did nothing for promotion of education in seminaries or to enhance their capacity.

“Due to lack of proper oversight, madaris used to be anti-state, causing major threat to national interest, while many madaris were politicised and their strength was used to threaten the state,” he added.

Meanwhile, Minhaj-ul-Quran International has been granted the status of Nizam-ul-Madaris Pakistan. Its Nazim-i-Aala Khurram Nawaz Gandapur announced that religious seminaries will be established across the country by the board.

“Madrassa students will also be taught IT and science, and seminaries would be the centres of inter-Muslim unity,” he added.

Published in Dawn, February 11th, 2021

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