Pakistan is still trying to get a grip on its madrassa problem

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Source: The Washington Post

In a country that has more than 20,000 religious schools, Pakistani investigators say the madrassa where Tashfeen Malik studied the Koran doesn’t stand out as being especially radical or linked to past violence.

But experts here can’t say the same about every other madrassa in the country. Religious schools provide Koranic teachings to 3.5 million children and young adults in Pakistan, and officials and analysts think that a small but significant number of these institutions act as incubators of radicalism.

Malik’s killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. — in an act carried out with her husband — has refocused attention on the roots of Islamist extremism here.

The Al-Huda Institute, where Malik studied, is relatively obscure and not known for being confrontational, although four female students at its affiliate in Ontario did leave Canada to try to join the Islamic State, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

But observers trace some of the strong currents of religious radicalism in Pakistan back to similar institutions. Critics argue that the government has fallen short on its promise to police the madrassas and that the most extreme among these institutions have allowed a radical and violent view of Islam to grow here, even beyond their walls.

If Malik was radicalized in Pakistan, it was because she was exposed to ways of thinking that these schools have helped to promote.

“They require people to isolate themselves from modernity — television is wrong, eating McDonald’s is wrong, mixing with [the] opposite gender is wrong,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based columnist who specializes in education issues. “And once you establish that isolation, then dehumanizing people is easy . . . and if you leave someone there, you have left them on a cliff.”

Wednesday was the first anniversary of a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar that killed more than 150 teachers and students. The attack galvanized the government and public around a significant military response as well as reforms to clamp down on extremist views. Madrassas were not excluded.

In January, the government released a 20-point action plan, which included the “registrations and regulation of madrassas.” But even though much of the plan is now being implemented — helping to reduce the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan this year — the government remains conflicted over how aggressively it should, and can, confront the country’s powerful network of Islamic religious leaders and teachers.

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Categories: Asia, Islam, Pakistan, The Muslim Times

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