Hard (and disturbing) information about schools in Pakistan – the madāris

Summary:  Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea was about the power of education, especially in the Third World.  It’s an inspiring story (even if somewhat fictional) based on ancient western wisdom.  But we’re not the ones applying it today in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Train up a child in the way he should go,
Even when he is old he will not depart from it.
— Proverbs 22:6

“Give me a child until he is seven, and you may have him afterward.”
— Jesuit saying, based on the teaching of Francis Xavier (co-founder of the Jesuits)


  1. Inside Jihad U. – The Education of a Holy Warrior“, Jeffrey Goldberg (writer), New York Times Magazine, 25 June 2000
  2. Inside the Madrasas“, William Dalrymple, New York Review of Books, 1 December 2005

These are both excellent examples of first person investigation into this important phenomenon, also providing valuable background information.

(1)  “Inside Jihad U. – The Education of a Holy Warrior“

Inside Jihad U. – The Education of a Holy Warrior“, Jeffrey Goldberg (writer), New York Times Magazine, 25 June 2000 — “In a Pakistani religious school called the Haqqania madrasa, Osama bin Laden is a hero, the Taliban’s leaders are famous alums and the next generation of mujahedeen is being militantly groomed.”  Excerpt:

Very few of the students at the Haqqania madrasa study anything but Islamic subjects. There are no world history courses, or math courses, or computer rooms or science labs at the madrasa.  … The Haqqania madrasa is, in fact, a jihad factory.  This does not make it unique in Pakistan. There are one million students studying in the country’s 10,000 or so madrasas, and militant Islam is at the core of most of these schools.

… I presented myself at the office of the chancellor of the madrasa, a mullah named Samiul Haq, in order to enroll myself in his school. My goal was simple: I wanted to see from the inside just what this jihad factory was producing.

… One day, in a class devoted to passages in the Hadith concerning zakat, or charity, I was asked my views about Osama bin Laden. Why did America have it in for him? It is unsettling, to say the least, to be seated in a class being held in a mosque, led by a mullah, and attended by some 200 barefoot and turbaned students, and be asked such a question.

I began by saying that bin Laden’s program violates a basic tenet of Islam, which holds that even in a jihad the lives of innocent people must be spared. A jihad is a war against combatants, not women and children. I read to them an appropriate saying of the Prophet Muhammad (I came armed with the Hadith): “It is narrated by Ibn Umar that a woman was found killed in one of these battles, so the Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him, forbade the killing of women and children.”

They did not like the idea of me quoting the Prophet to them, and they began chanting, “Osama, Osama, Osama.”

… Maulana Haq — maulana means “our master” — is a well-known Islamist with pronounced anti-American views. He is a Deobandist, a follower of an Islamic movement born in India in the days of the British Raj; it was a movement devoted to anticolonialism, and its outlook is not dissimilar to that of Wahhabism, the austere, antimodernist Saudi variant of Islamic fundamentalism embraced by Osama bin Laden. The chancellor is a friend and supporter of bin Laden, and he has granted an honorary degree — the first and only in his school’s history — to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader. Samiul Haq is also a politician, a former senator who today leads a faction of the Jamiat-Ulema-Islami, the J.U.I., a radical Islamic party seeking to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in Pakistan.

… Haq’s secret was not that the Haqqania madrasa is a training camp for terrorists. And the secret of the Taliban — the secret of Talibanism — is not found inside the Shrine of the Cloak of Muhammad. The secret is embodied in the two 11-year-olds cocking their fingers at me, and in the taunts of the students in the mosque who raised their hands for Osama bin Laden, and in the person of Mullah Haji Muhammad, my 17-year-old minder in Kandahar who has no interest in any book but the Koran, and in the hundreds of thousands of young men like him at madrasas across Pakistan and Afghanistan. These are poor and impressionable boys kept entirely ignorant of the world and, for that matter, largely ignorant of all but one interpretation of Islam.

They are the perfect jihad machines.

(2)  Excerpt from “Inside the Madrasas“

Inside the Madrasas“, William Dalrymple, New York Review of Books, 1 December 2005 — Subscription only (and well worth the money!).  Excerpt:

… I traveled along the Indus River to Akora Khattack in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Here, straddling the noisy, truck-thundering Islamabad highway, stands the Haqqania, one of the most radical of the religious schools called madrasas.

Many of the Taliban leaders, including Mullah Omar, were trained at this institution. If its teachings have been blamed for inspiring the brutal, ultra-conservative incarnation of Islamic law that that regime presided over, there is no sign that the Haqqania is ashamed of its former pupils: instead, the madrasa’s director, Maulana Sami ul-Haq, still proudly boasts that whenever the Taliban put out a call for fighters, he would simply close down the madrasa and send his students off to fight. In many ways, then, Akora Khattack represents everything that US policymakers most fear and dislike in this region, a bastion of religious, intellectual, and sometimes—in the form of the Taliban—military resistance to Pax Americana and all it represents.

… Maulana Sami proved, however, to be an unexpectedly dapper and cheery figure for a man supposed to be such an icon of anti-Western hatred. He wore a blue frock coat of vaguely Dickensian cut, and his neatly trimmed beard was raffishly dyed with henna. He had a craggy face, a large outcrop of nose, and the corners of his eyes were contoured with laughter lines. I was ushered into his office and introduced to his two-year-old granddaughter, who was playing happily with a yellow helium balloon.

I remarked that there did not seem to be much evidence of the Haqqania suffering from the crackdown on centers of radicalism promised by President Musharraf. Sami’s face lit up:  “That is for American consumption only,” he laughed cheerfully. “It is only statements to the newspapers. Nothing has happened.” 

So,” I asked, “you are not finding the atmosphere difficult at the moment?”

“We are in a good, strong position,” replied Sami. “Bush has woken the entire Islamic world. We are grateful to him. … Our job now is propagating Islamic ideology. We give free education, free clothes and books. We even give free accommodation. We are the only people giving the poor education. … The people are so desperate.  They are fed up with the old ways in Pakistan, with the secular parties and the army. There is so much corruption. Musharraf only fights Muslims and follows the wishes of the West. He is not interested in the people of Pakistan. So now everyone is looking for Islamic answers — and we can help provide that. Only our Islamic system gives justice.”

For better or worse, the sort of change in political attitudes that Sami ul-Haq has overseen from his madrasa in Akora Khattack is being reproduced across Pakistan. An Interior Ministry report after September 11 revealed that there are now twenty-seven times as many madrasas in the country as there were in 1947: from 245 at the time of Independence, the number shot up to 6,870 in 2001.1 A significant proportion of these are run by, or connected to, the radical Islamist political parties such as the MMM …

A mere 1.8% of Pakistan’s GDP is spent on government schools. As a result, 15 percent of the schools are without a proper building; 40 percent without water; 71 percent without electricity. There is frequent absenteeism of teachers; indeed many of these schools exist only on paper.

The article discusses the education provided in the madāris, compares education in Pakistan to that in India, the edcuational background of al Qaeda terrorists, and the history of education in Islamic history.

For more information

Posts about Islam:

  1. America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
  2. Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009

About our long war with Islam:

  1. Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
  2. Can we defeat our almost imaginary enemies?, 10 December 2009
  3. Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
  4. RAND explains How Terrorist Groups End, and gives Lessons for Countering al Qa’ida, 15 January 2010
  5. Stratfor’s strategic analysis – “Jihadism in 2010: The Threat Continues”, 17 March 2010
  6. Stratfor: “Jihadism: The Grassroots Paradox”, 21 March 2010
  7. Stratfor: Setting the Record Straight on Grassroots Jihadism, 1 May 2010
  8. Hatred and fear of Islam – of Moslems – is understandable. But are there hidden forces at work?, 3 August 2010
  9. Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?, 4 August 2010
  10. Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America, 6 February 2011

See posts about al Qaeda by clicking here.

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