June 1999 News


Militants fighting in Kashmir enjoy support in the Madrassas

16 June 1999

By Owen Bennett Jones in Islamabad

Islamic schools in Pakistan have been playing an increasingly important role in the ongoing military clashes between India and Pakistan, over the disputed region of Kashmir.

The militants enjoy widespread support in Pakistan, particularly in the madrassas or Islamic schools.

11th century teachings

Hundreds ofchildren sat cross legged on the ground at one such madrassa, rhythmically chanting the Koran which they were learning by heart. As dusk drew in, the minarets of a mosque glistened softly in the fading light. Many of the boys would live in the madrassa from the age of six until sixteen.

University lecturer, Pervez Hoodboy, believed the madrassa would give them a very narrow education. "They are providing an education which is basically unchanged from the eleventh century," Mr Hoodboy said. "There is no science, very little arithmetic instead, all the emphasis is on Koranic studies.

"It produces a student with a particular mindset. One who does not question, and who can by easily motivated into fighting to death," he said.

Jihad 'the only way'

Syed Chirauddin Shah, the mullah who ran the madrassa, looked on with pride as a ten year old boy recited the Koran. He said he controlled their lives 24 hours a day, giving them discipline and a full religious hearing. And should the boys want to fight in Kashmir, he said he would not stand in their way.

"When it is necessary for the safety of the country or for the protection of Islam, then when we allow them to do so, our students are ready to make every sacrifice," he said.

Not surprisingly, militant Islamic groups in Pakistan are enthusiastic about these schools. Twenty two year old Asheval Ghauri, a trained fighter, said he wanted to go to seek martyrdom in Kashmir. He was full of praise for the madrassas. "They are playing quite a role and they teach us that jihad fighting is the only way," he said.

Narrow version of Islam

In a typical Pakistani state school,students sat outside in the blistering heat for a maths lesson. The teachers said they could barely cope with the number of pupils they have. State schools are chronically under funded and many parents think it is better to send their children to a madrassa where they could at least be sure their offspring get food.

Former Pakistani cabinet minister Abida Hussein admitted the madrassas were growing in influence. "The numbers of young people coming out of the madrassas (are)increasing...children of the humble stand the poorest," she said. "What they teach them is a very narrow version of Islam and a whole lot of hatred, and to that extent it does cause a great deal of concern."

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