ISLAMABAD: Experts, researchers and educationists have laid stress on madrassa reforms and called upon the Higher Education Commission (HEC) and other relevant government institutions to develop a syllabus for madrassas.
They expressed these views while speaking at the launch of a report of the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) on engagements of madrassa students and reconstruction of national narrative and counter-violent extremism model in Pakistan.
The PIPS conducted a study on madrassa students to analyse their day-to-day activities after their study hours. The study found several habits in madrassa students that distinguished them from university students. They also have several similarities with university students.
The study shared findings on reconstruction of the national narrative and counter-violent extremism model in the country. The narrative and model were developed after extensive discussions among scholars and experts led by the PIPS.
Dr Qibla Ayaz, former acting vice-chancellor of the University of Peshawar, said that he and his team visited five madrassas in Islamabad and Peshawar as part of their study. These madrassas belonged to Deoband, Barelvi and Ahl-e-Hadith sects of Islam. The students of these religious institutions have inadequate interaction with the outside world. They have been raised along sectarian lines. Even most of the students studying in Islamabad madrassas are Pashtuns, he said.
Ayaz said that most of the students selected Holy Quran and Hadith as their favourite subjects because these subjects would brighten their future upon graduation. They can easily get the job of an imam or a teacher of Holy Quran. They have a lack of interest in supporting subjects. Logic and philosophy were taught in some madrassas in the past, but nowadays these subjects do not exist at all.
Ayaz said that students of seminaries had access to social media, especially Facebook and WhatsAapp, but they are very few in number. Most of social media users among the students of madrassas use it to post sectarian messages and religious quotes on their social media pages. They study radical and ideological newspapers and writers.
Ayaz suggested reforms in the syllabus of madrassas in consultation with the administrations of madrassas. He said that subjects of natural and social sciences might be included in the syllabus of madrassas. He said that madrassas should arrange sports events, debates and recreational trips for their students.
PIPS Director Amir Rana said that experts agreed on dialogue among religious leaders, intellectuals and sociologists. To counter violence and extremism, he said, there was a need for a national dialogue forum and the initiative should be taken by the prime minister with the support of the parliament. He said the forum would pave the way for discussions on critical issues. The forum can have support from a counter-extremism research centre consisting of experts on social sciences and religious studies. He said the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) should be assigned this task. He suggested a dialogue between hard-line and moderate religious scholars. He said that such steps in Egypt and Indonesia succeeded in the past. There are 442 religious organisations in Pakistan and almost half of them have tilt toward violence, he said. He called for reforms in the criminal justice system and engagement of the youth and the media.
Lt-Gen (Retd) Talat Masood said that all institutions in Pakistan needed a new look. It is not possible to address violence and extremism unless Pakistan changes itself, he said.
Columnist Khurshid Nadeem said that Pakistan’s national security narrative was based on religiosity. He said that extremism was a manifestation of terrorism. He said the government wanted to resolve the Kashmir issue with India through UN resolutions, but religious parties wanted to resolve this issue through jihad. He said that state recognised and left religious affairs to clergy in Pakistan.