‘Reforming seminaries greatly linked to state, social reforms’

ISLAMABAD: Experts at a report launch on mindset of seminary students said that attempts at mainstreaming religious seminaries should go in tandem with the broader priorities of state and society, especially in the education sector.

They said that seminary students, who often fall for sectarian worldview, should be opened to nuanced perspectives.

These thoughts came in the discussion at the report launch of “After Study Hours: Exploring the Madrassah Mindset”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank. The report was based on a survey conducted with 135 students from around 43 seminaries from around 17 districts from all over the country. The discussion was moderated by columnist Khursheed Nadeem.

Dr. Qibla Ayaz, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), said many of today’s international and national developments are somehow linked to madrassah. Yet not much knowledge is available about madrassahs; he suggested that “madrassah studies” be introduced in universities. However, PIPS director Amir Rana contested the idea, saying that already madrassah graduates have been stepping in mainstream educational sector.

The study called for developing interest of students in logic, philosophy, which helps in enhancing their critical inquiry. These subjects are already in the curriculum of seminaries, and therefore will find many supporters. Field researchers Sabookh Syed, Mujtaba Rathore, and Muhammad Younus said it is often difficult to engage with seminary students because of mistrust and absence of culture of inquiry.

The study noted that as in the past, government may mainstream madrassahs by introducing mathematics and science, in 2018. While these subjects are important, students should be taught about the meaning of what they are learning, including in mathematics, and engaged with nuanced analysis. Similarly, students’ interest in the subject of “History” should be explored further, it was said.

Experts noted that madrassah students are tied to sectarian thinking. The parties they like, the magazines they read, and the personalities they idealize – all are sectarian-titled. Participants wondered why so, even though curriculum is the same. One reason could be that because seminaries are supposed to be affiliated with one of the several sect-based boards. Religious scholar Amanat Rasool argued that student consult exegesis of the scholars of their own sects, hence sectarian development from the onset.

At the same time, the study also noted, much of the thinking of the madrassah students is in line with the broader society. The parties they choose are ultimately from the choices provided outside of the seminary. The problem, columnist Harris Khalique said, comes from society at large. He said that madrassah system should be viewed in the context of broader education reforms, which including 28 systems at this point of time. Experts suggested the thinking of madrassah students be compared with those of public-sector students.

Amir Rana one big debate around madrassah is that they are not part of economy in the way students of other sectors are. Harris Khalique said unfortunately, madrassahs have been misused in war economy. If war continues, the problem will persist. Khalid Masud, former chairman CII, reasoned that madrassah education is professional education, not mass education, which is a relatively modern concept.

Dr. Ayaz also added that the recently-released Paigham-e-Pakistan (Message of Pakistan), which denounced militancy in Pakistan, is a major step forward, calling for studying if the thinking of students has changed from it.

Published in Daily Times, January 25th 2018.