DURING the past two decades, several attempts by successive governments to standardise and regularise madressahs have met with little success. Religious leaders in the country have staunchly resisted any government attempt to oversee their institutes. The present government too is making an effort to do so, but it remains to be seen whether it is able to achieve this monumental feat. However, it has recently emerged that since late 2019, around 5,000 seminaries have registered with the federal education ministry’s Directorate General of Religious Education. The directorate has 16 regional offices that coordinate and plan the registration process of the seminaries in their jurisdictions to help them set up bank accounts, admit foreign students, introduce vocational training and make the transition to mainstream education. The authorities hope that 5,000 more seminaries will be registered with the DGRE by the end of the year.
The education authorities believe there are 35,000 seminaries in the country. However, according to some estimates, their numbers could be as high as 60,000, which we would mean thousands of madressahs would not be under any kind of scrutiny. Over 25,000 of the 35,000 known seminaries are said to be affiliated with five designated madressah boards of different sects. A number of madressahs are reportedly registered with the provincial governments, but as cooperative societies under colonial-era legislation. Though the DGRE chief has claimed that all factions of the religious leadership and the five designated madressah boards were on board, the relatively slow pace of registration of madressahs since 2019 indicates there is resistance to government regulations. It is noteworthy that Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who heads a large network of madressahs in the country, and representatives of Minhajul Quran, which is headed by Dr Tahirul Qadri, were not part of the consultation process with the DGRE. But, if matters progress smoothly, the reforms would enable monetary regulation by the government, curb terrorism financing and discourage connections with extremist outfits. Though not all madressahs harbour extremists, it takes only a handful to undermine state authority and inflict violence on society, drawing concern both from within the country and internationally. Secondly, madressah students would be able to avail mainstream education benefits and be more prepared for the professional world. However, for this exercise to be effective, consistency is needed in pursuing the required changes but in a manner that does not alienate the religious leadership whose cooperation is crucial to madressah reforms.
Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2021