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Pakistan's Religious Parties Oppose Madrassah Reforms

Michael Kitchen

Pakistan's Islamic parties are dismissing government demands for further reform of religious schools, which are suspected to be hotbeds of radicalism.

President Pervez Musharraf told a meeting of Pakistan's National Security Council Monday religious schools, called madrassahs, need more reform to rid them of extremist interpretations of Islam.

The government here, along with Western nations, contend some madrassahs preach armed struggle against any country or institution deemed anti-Islamic.

But members of Pakistan's opposition religious alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal or MMA, say the calls for reform are not needed as the schools are capable of reforming themselves.

MMA Senator Khursheed Ahmed tells VOA Tuesday that Pakistan's madrassahs have evolved progressively adding English, science and other subjects to the traditional religious curriculum.

He says madrassahs should be free of government pressure.

"Reforms must be from the objective of the people and the desires and aspirations of the people, not imposed from outside or imposed under pressure from foreign governments," he said.

He dismisses claims that extremism can be controlled through regulating the madrassah system and notes none of the hijackers blamed for the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, were madrassah graduates.

"They are thinking as if by changing the madrassah, they can change the climate of the Muslim world," he said. "That is totally incorrect, because you know, 9-11, it was a tragedy, … but I want to ask how many of those who were supposed to be responsible for 9-11 were from the madrassah."

The senator contends the Musharraf administration is simply talking reform to please western allies, particularly the United States, who have been targeted by Islamic terrorists.

But Mr. Ahmed says Pakistan's religious schools are a key educational tool in Pakistan, where public schools are under funded and pricey private schools are beyond the means of most people.

Representatives of Senator Ahmed's MMA did not take part in Monday's National Security Council session on madrassah reform as part of their ongoing boycott against what they see as dictatorial powers wielded by President Musharraf.

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