The PTI-led KP government recently granted funds to Darul Uloom Haqqania on the pretext of development and mainstreaming of madrassa students. The move was met with extreme public obloquy with political opponents calling it a bribery to in return for the political consolidation and wellbeing of the party. The PTI-led government has also been accused of funding Taliban. However, the arguments these critics raise have no clear base, and they are very vague in their reasoning. The main reasons they seem to give are as follows; Some of them oppose granting funds to the Madaris as they consider them a bothersome remnant of collapsed “Jihadi-factory” outfit, citing that the madrassa was used as a Mujahideen’s training ground during the Cold War. To them such institutes should be eliminated as these are still providing irrelevant and detached from true Islamic education. They also provide bases of sectarian violence. Some are against madrassa Darul Uloom Haqqania in particular because the institute once hosted prominent Taliban Leaders. The very factor that claims to assassinate the popular leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto. Instead of lashing out at the KP Government for funding Madaris, one should see it for what it is; an attempt to animate an educational network that could potentially hold the future for Pakistan’s underprivileged youth Others consider it as an act of personal and political gain by ‘the Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak. Who wants to cement his political strength by getting the blessings of Maulana Samiul Haq and curb the formation of clergy led rival congregation of religious parties. Before we can comment on these criticisms, we would stand to gain from delving a bit into the history of madaris and the role they’ve played from the twelfth century till today. Nowadays, Madaris in Pakistan are often regarded as backward and irrelevant, out-dated sources of information, which only serve to propagate a detached and twisted interpretation of the concept of Jihad in Islam. But from the 12th to the 18th century, the Madrassa had a pivotal role in producing individuals who became the backbone of one of the longest-lasting and most successful empires mankind has ever seen; the Ottoman Empire. Their rule is considered to be a golden age for education, scientific advancement and invention in the Islamic world. These institutes contributed to the advancement of medicine, science and technology in general, be it algebra, astrology, astronomy, Law and jurisprudence, architecture, and engineering. In fact, it was scientists from this empire alone who ended the traditional Aristotelian linking of Astronomy and Philosophy, allowing it to become a mathematical science instead of something you might expect from some hippie guru. Historically, Madaris weren’t just confined to religious studies, but instead were full-fledged universities with dedicated laboratories for the research of medicine and for experiments in the fields of chemistry and physics, and even observatories for the study of the planets and stars. In a research paper about Ottoman Madaris prepared by Foundation for Science, Technology, and Civilisation (FTSC), they state: “The approach of the Ottoman state towards the Madrassa can be summed up by the views expressed by Ottoman administrators; in official documents, they indicate the purpose of education in the first instance involved “the pursuit of science and wisdom (hikmet) followed by an explication of virtue, talent, religion and the serîat, as well as the development of human faculties and capacities. The Sultan (head of state) was held personally responsible for ensuring this was carried out.” In addition to religion and science they were taught law and (kelâm), philosophy (hikmet), jurisprudence (fikih), inheritance (ferâiz), the tenets of faith (akaid), and Legal theory and methodology (usûl-i fikih) were also pursued. After Mehmed II the teachers of these Madaris were required to be knowledgeable in religious studies and in rational sciences which included logic, philosophy and mathematics. Remains from archaeological expeditions showed that Hospitals, Observatories, and laboratories were often found adjacent to these Madaris. In short, education at the time was fuelled almost exclusively by Madaris. With the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the start of colonial rule, these once glorious institutes began to deteriorate. The validity of Madaris as educational institutes took another hit in the 80’s, as, in Pakistan, these institutes were being funded by the Americans to produce, print and spread anti-Soviet sentiment, often in the form of text books. These books promoted a Jihadist outlook, and were printed in Pashtu, and Dari, the two local languages of KP and Afghanistan. The institutes were also being used to mould and shape Afghan refugees into mujahideen soldiers to act as proxies to fight for the Americans after the Soviets had taken over Afghanistan. Since the ousting of the Mujahideen, or at least their perverted remains in the form of the Taliban, there has been no attempt at the government level to engage with these institutes and introduce a modern curriculum and re-establish them as the sort of educational institutes they were during their glory days at the time of the Ottoman Empire. There is no doubt that these institutes are the easiest and cheapest way of educating under-privileged children. Jamia Haqqania alone boasts 25,000 students, and for a majority of Pakistan’s under-privileged children, if they are being educated at all, it’s in a Madrassa. This shows that Madaris still play a prominent role in or society, even 600 years later. Madaris, if used correctly, can be an overwhelming force for good in educating the underprivileged of Pakistan, provided a little re-tooling, and sufficient funding. Madaris, if utilised in this way, would be more effective in educating the poor than, say, a government school system, purely because the infrastructure for this system is already there, and they already have the trust of the people in the towns and villages that they are operate in, and already have an established number of students, possibly in the millions, who already attend them and rely on them as a source of education. As it stands, most Madaris run solely on donations and tiny token fees, and have no significant funding. They’re already an easily accessible, cheap point of access for education for the underprivileged in society, but they need help, and modernisation. This grant to Jamia Haqqania shouldn’t be viewed as a pointless waste of money or bribery, but instead, as a new beginning for Madaris all over the country, and, if everything goes well, possibly even across Pakistan. And just because madaris were used for decidedly nefarious purposes in the 80’s, it doesn’t mean that they’re simply a force for evil. We’ve already proven that they weren’t always used for this sort of thing, so don’t let the actions of corrupt governments and some desperate Americans who decades ago turned this long-standing bastion of Islamic progression into some sort of stereotypical Jihadi centre. Don’t let the actions of a few define an entire race of institutions. Besides, the grant given to Jamia Haqqania was exactly that; a grant, not in the form of cash, but only released as per the invoicing of the construction of three new school blocks, each with five floors, for the school’s new expansion from 10th grade to intermediate, meaning A level equivalency, or 12th grade, as confirmed by a PTI memorandum, and by Maulana Yousaf Shah, one of Maulana Sami-ul-Haq’s spokespersons. This means that the Madrassa is getting no money directly. It is absurd to assume that PTI would give funds to a school for political favour. There are so many other methods that political parties in Pakistan adopt to gain political favours. Expansion of an educational institution has been never preferred as a political bribery. Instead of lashing out at the KP Government for funding madaris, one should see it for what it is; an attempt to animate an educational network that could potentially hold the future for Pakistan’s underprivileged youth. The writer is ex-banker, economist, business writer and an entrepreneur. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, March 11th 2018.