IMAM DERI (Swat), July 21: Seven-year-old Shireena is playing in a stream with some other children at a somewhat unusual pre-noon time on a busy working day. Normally, she stays in her classroom at this hour except during weekends, but today she is not. She is among more than 2,000 unfortunate girls of the area whose parents have decided to take them out of the schools after cleric Maulana Fazlullah issued an edict declaring girls’ education ‘un-Islamic’.

According to some locals, a majority of the girls stopped by their parents from attending schools, were the first in their families to have had the opportunity of getting formal education and Shireena was one of them.

The female education ratio in Imam Deri and the nearby Koza Banda, Bara Banda, Kabal and Char Bagh villages is very low. And things are likely to remain the same with little chances for many families to send their girls to schools after the edict.

Perhaps it was because of the very low literacy rate and vulnerability of the locals to religious propaganda that Maulana Fazlullah chose Imam Deri to build his first markaz — where he wanted to establish his first religious school, his FM radio station and all the facilities to gather people for sermons.

Fazlullah got a befitting response from parents in the area after he declared girls’ schooling un-Islamic.

According to local journalists and some elders, thousands of parents across Swat followed his edict and stopped girls from attending schools.

The maulana has adopted a successful method of putting various villages into competition. He announces a fatwa on his radio station and gives the task to a single village to follow it. Then he announces the number of people from that village who follow the edict and promises them heavenly rewards for taking a step towards the implementation of sharia in the country.

Then he gives the challenge to another village to surpass the first one and the response is always more positive.

“He is playing with the psyche of simple Pakhtuns who want to be ahead of their neighbours in anything that is meant to spread the cause of Islam,” says Hidayatullah Khan of the nearby Kanjo village.

When Fazlullah announced recently that polio vaccination was un-Islamic, he followed the same method and the response was amazing.

On the very first day, parents of about 5,000 children refused to get their sons and daughters vaccinated. The maulana congratulated all those parents on his radio station and appealed to more families to win heavenly rewards.

The next day, the anti-polio teams were denied permission to administer the vaccine to 8,600 children. The third day saw attacks on vaccination teams in many villages.

The same method enabled Fazlullah to collect donations amounting to about Rs400 million for his markaz project, some locals told Dawn. They said the money was never deposited in any bank and, till recently, kept in the basement of the under-construction markaz. They said a large number of women had donated their jewellery for the project.

The radio station has been installed in the building for over a year.

Even after the deployment of 5,000 army and FC men in the Malakand region, the maulana was able to broadcast his recorded messages on Wednesday night, in which he termed the deployment un-Islamic and told the people to wait for his ‘very important’ announcement to be made shortly.

Many people in the nearby Mingora city believe that the maulana will keep on giving edicts on various issues as long as he is in control of the radio station and the markaz.

Fazlullah has vanished from the scene after the army deployment but everything is still in his control.

Though Shireena will tell you how she liked her school and wanted to become a doctor, an increase in girls’ education in the area will remain a dream as long as the maulana is there, issuing edicts, the locals said.

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