Syed Tauqir Hussain Shah
2004-05 International Policy Fellow
Open Society Promotion in Predominantly Muslim Societies working group
Since independence in 1947 the number of religious schools - Madrassahs - in Pakistan has risen from 137 to estimates as high as 45,000. Essentially schools for the poor, they provide free religious education, boarding and lodging.
The author of this study, however, a district administrator and magistrate in the Ahmad Pur East region, believes there are strong links between the proliferation of Madrassahs and a rise in sectarianism and violence. This is particularly true in underdeveloped areas, where many of the underprivileged see local Madrassahs as playing a more effective role than the local feudal political leadership. Despite government programs aimed at regulating the funding of Madrassahs a lack of concerted effort on the part of the institutions involved has resulted in little progress. Laws to curb the problem of religiously motivated philanthropy are conspicuous by their absence.
The current Ministry of Education project to bring Madrassahs into the mainstream is fundamentally flawed, and it would be counter-productive to continue the scheme in its current form. The government needs to offer a viable alternative form of education and bring in a new legislative framework with a special law aimed at regulating Madrassahs.