Madrassas in the Valley: Jehad factories or schools for the poor
11 April 2001
The Indian Express
Srinagar: The three-day international Deobandi meet which ended near Peshawar in Pakistan today may not have had any participants from here but its echoes are being heard loud and clear in about 60 madrassas across the Valley. Here the Deoband school of thought is the driving force, the same force that feeds the Taliban in Afghanistan and jehadi groups in Pakistan, including the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. And although Deobandis here deny that these religious schools are potential jehad factories—they insist that students in the Valley are taught not to take to the gun—they admit that much of what is taught here overlaps with the hardline philosophy of the Taliban. They believe that ‘‘the freedom of women, which allows them to work in every field of life with men is the main reason for social degradation’’. That the safe place for women is in pardah (veil) and inside the four walls of the house. Television is the ‘‘spark of hell’’ responsible for moral degradation and watching it is un-Islamic and sinful. So is music, which they consider evil. However, Deobandi scholars here insist that they are imparting education, no more and no less. Interestingly, the man who heads the 143-year-old Darul Uloom Deoband (Deoband University) is a Kashmiri, Alama Anzar Shah Kashmiri, who is also president of all Deobandi madrassas. Though the first such madrassa, the Darul-Uloom Dandipora, came up in Kashmir in the early ’70s, the past decade—coinciding with militancy—has seen a mushrooming of these religious schools. Most of them are in the frontier Kupwara district, the ancestral home of Alama Anzar Shah Kashmiri. These madrassas may be as orthodox as the ones that nurture the Taliban but they don’t focus on jehad. ‘‘We believe that to change a society, you need to reform individuals. When individuals get ready, results come automatically,’’ says Moulana Ahmad Syed Shah Qasimi, who heads the Darul-Uloom Qasimia in Srinagar which has 200 in-house students. ‘‘We are not against jehad. No Muslim can be against jehad. But our aim here is to reform the moral degradation in Muslims through religious education.’’ He says that despite the network of madrassas, a lot needs to be done. ‘‘Eighty percent of our teachers still come from outside the state. Only 5% of our Imams are qualified.’’Another top Deobandi scholar is Moulana Rehamatullah Qasimi who heads the largest Darul-Uloom in the Valley, Darulaloom Raheemia of Bandipore, which has around 500 students. Qasimi claims the aim is to ‘‘impart education’’ and sees no link with this and militancy. So why are the Taliban different despite being Deobandis? ‘‘Whatever the Taliban do in Afghanistan is not the product of the environment of madrassas but the exhibition of Afghan tradition,’’ says Alama Anzar Shah Kashmiri. ‘‘Our madrassas neither produce terrorists nor the education they impart can be a cause for strife.’’ He said that the temperament and traditions of Kashmiris can never lure them to violence but adds in the same breath: ‘‘The communal elements in the Army and other security forces are humiliating Kashmiris rather than trying to win them over. This hurts.’’ Will these madrassas finally turn into jehad factories? ‘‘Let someone do research. In the past decade, nobody can name a single militant who has been a product of any Deobandi madrassa in Kashmir or anywhere in India,’’ says Kashmiri. The madrassa system is a 12-year course with subjects ranging from how to study and recite the Quran to Islamic literature, grammar, logic, jurisprudence and philosophy.