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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Madrasa Mindset - The Source of Talibanisation

Those who are attributing rise of talibanisation in Pakistan to American presence in Pakistan’s backyard are oversimplifying the matter. The over simplification becomes cause of concern when even the anti –Talibanisation elements yield to this view.
Talibanization can be defined as the brand of Islam propounded by certain people ,or groups of people ,completely intolerant to those who do not agree with their views.
There is no harm in propounding, even preaching, a version of one's choice. The problem arises when the stick hits the nose. When dissidents are coerced to subscribe and practice to that affect, and are eliminated in the case of refusal, the intolerance takes the form of shenanigan. It is ,therefore, Intolerance, which is the crux of the matter.
One has to understand the mindset of madrasa students and teachers to comprehend the properties, dimensions and implications of this intolerance in context of the underlying structure of the society in Pakistan. There is no iron curtain hiding these madrasas but the paradox is , thanks to complete compartmentalization between many educational systems prevailing in Pakistan, they are still invisible. If a survey is conducted, hardly one percent of non madarasa class (bureaucrats, armed forces officers, technocrats and other highly educated segments of society) have seen the working of madrasas closely with their own eyes or have got first hand knowledge. It is an altogether different world.
Starting with admissions, the substantial majority of students have illiterate or semi- literate parentage, mostly belonging to lower income groups.(exceptions, of course, are there). In most of the madarasas clean shaved head is an essential pre requisite for enrollment. The student is, practically a social prisoner for eight or ten long years. Since it is a residential system, he stays within the premises twenty four hours. The living style here is poles apart vis-à-vis the world outside. Food has to be eaten while squatting on the ground. Any dress other than local dress, like pantaloon, is strictly forbidden. Even very young children, say below ten, cannot wear shorts. Head dress is mandatory. The newspapers are specific, not marketed for general public. Electronic media is undisputedly disallowed. (Maybe some students manage to have radio-sets). Students have been seen playing volley ball in evenings in some madrasas but the number is too insignificant to be generalized. Life, on the whole, is tediously repetitious, lacking in variety. There are no picnics, no social gatherings, no feasts, no parents' days, no tournaments, no debates, not to speak of things like dramatic societies. The only outing is visiting some affluent houses for reciting the holy book on occasions like death or housewarming. Most of the readers will be shocked to learn that calendar of holidays, here, is not the same which is announced by the state authorities applicable on entire public and private sector. Sunday is working day and as for as other holidays are concerned,-- except the two Eids( two main Muslim festivals)-- it depend as to which sect or school of thought a madrasa belongs to.
The most appalling and dismaying aspect of this alienation is the fact that students ,during this entire period ,come across no such person who belongs to a sect other than that of the madrasa The mosque attached to the madrasa, or vice versa, naturally subscribes to the same sect or school of thought. The teachers, fellow students, majority of worshippers visiting the mosque, donors coming to distribute alms, obviously, support the same religious faction. Social interaction with "others" is almost impossible.
What happens when the student graduates and enters the outside world? First time in his life he encounters members of other sects and Muslims having different opinions and beliefs. He is shocked because he is not used to this. He reacts in whatever way he can. This is how the intolerance is born.
Two main factors have transformed this inherent intolerance into talibanization. The number of madrasas has tremendously increased. According to the report released by Pakistan National Education in October 2006, the number of madrasas has reached 13000.(12979 to be exact). This obviously does not include non-registered madrasas. In Islamabad, for example, the number has increased manifold during last eight years and it is rather intriguing that the posh sectors have proved the most favored places for this growth. Multitude of these students were converted into fighting force by exposing them to use of ultra modern arms for Afghan "jihad" during the despotic regime of Gen. Zia-ul- Haq. After the "jihad" was over, going back from battlefield to regimented life of madrasa was as difficult as returning to barracks for soldiers engaged, for extended period, in martial law duty. The intolerance which was imbibed by the student during his eight or ten years stay in madrasa was transformed into talibanization on getting arms. It is not logical to link this phenomenon exclusively with Afghanistan or what is happening with Afghanistan. American or NATO forces were nowhere in Swat or red mosque!
Talibanization is nothing but extending the living style of madrasa to the world outside madrasa. Size of beard, covering of head, visibility of ankles, breakage of television sets, inability to see females, all of these and other aspects emphasized and implemented by Taliban are exactly what the madarasa-life indoctrinates and practices. It injects all this in blood and keeps on injecting for almost a decade.
The extent of intolerance can be imagined by an example. A cleric, in one of the most widely circulated urdu dailies, in its Friday edition, some months back, issued fatwa(religious decree) that eating food on dining table was "bid-at"(an undesirable practice unfounded in Islam). Imagine the simpleton Pakistani Muslims forbidding their families to use dining table after reading this!
There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Ours is perhaps the only country in the modern world where a number of educational systems, completely alien to each other, are running parallel and compartmentalization is getting more and more crystallized with each new day.

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