July Issue 2015
All Show, No Go
The well-documented support of Lal Masjid cleric, Abdul Aziz, and Jamia Hafsa students for the Islamic State (IS) in the lead-up to the December 16, Army Public School (APS) massacre in Peshawar last year, heralded the calls for madrassa reform as a part of the much touted National Action Plan (NAP) that was to target militancy “in all shapes and forms.” While the whispers for reforming, and even overhauling, the seminaries were present for quite some time, it took an attack as gruesome as the one on the APS for them to reverberate into an audible sound. The echoes arguably came a decade too late.
Article 10 of the 20-point NAP called for “registration and regulation of madrassas.” However, it was not just the NAP article that was applicable to the madrassa issue. Articles 5, 6, 11, 15 and 18 mention, “Countering hate speech and extremist material,” “Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations,” “Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations…”, “Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab” and “Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists” respectively.
While the aforementioned Article 10 targets the madrassas directly, it is the seminaries’ involvement in fuelling almost everything that the NAP stands for, that the government and law enforcement agencies need to finally address.
An overview of the madrassa curricula uncovers a wide gamut of bigotry, hatred and incitement to violence. From anti-Semitism to anti-Hindu venom, the rhetoric of Muslim supremacy brims over, with calls for American, Israeli and Indian destruction being ubiquitous in all madrassas — blatantly at worst, and under the garb of euphemisms like ‘Yahood-o-Nisara’ (Jews and Christians) at best. Many madrassas repeat the following chant in their morning assemblies: “When people deny our faith ask them to convert, and if they don’t, destroy them utterly.”
When ideas like the utopian Islamic caliphate, extolling conversions of non-Muslims to Islam and calling for killing those who resist Islamic imperialism, are proliferated in public school curricula, let alone madrassa literature, it is evident that Lal Masjid’s support for IS — much like many other local madrassas — hasn’t surfaced in a vacuum. All the ingredients that promote terrorism are spread through perfectly legal means, sanctioned by the government as a part of the nation’s ‘education system.’
According to a cable sent to the US State Department in November 2008 by Bryan Hunt, the then Principal Officer at the US Consulate in Lahore, US$ 100 million worth of annual funding was sent to Deobandi and Salafi clerics in South Punjab alone by Saudi Arabian organisations. ‘Charity organisations,’ like Jamaat-ud-Dawa, for example, are asked to spread the desired ideology through the madrassa networks all over the country. According to the cable, a payment of US$ 6,500 was reserved for the family of a ‘martyr’ back in 2008, highlighting the link between these madrassas and violent jihad.
With Saudi donors constituting the biggest terrorist funding source for radical Islamist groups around the world and in Pakistan, for the state to choke the financing of terrorists it would have to take a stand against its largest petroleum source that regularly bails out Pakistan in exchange for ‘military cooperation.’ A couple of years ago, Pakistan accepted a US$ 2.25 billion bailout for similar cooperation against the Shia in Syria and Bahrain.
Nawaz Sharif, reinterpreting the National Assembly’s verdict against Pakistan joining the Saudi-led alliance in Yemen, exhibits Pakistan’s vulnerability vis-Ã -vis countering the Saudi influx of petrodollars, whether they are meant for the national exchequer or for madrassas that brew terrorism.
Even though Article 11 of the NAP specifically mentions banning glorification of terrorism in the media, its roots can be found in the school and madrassa curricula. With the endeavours to reinterpret the concept of jihad escalating following 9/11, in local literature jihad has only one connotation: Jihad bil Saif — struggle by the sword.
One doesn’t need to dig deep into the madrassa literature to unearth the ubiquity of glorification of jihad (read terrorism), which is unanimously espoused by madrassas. As the government targets the glorification of ‘terrorism’ in the NAP, it criminally misses the point that no eulogy for acts of violence will peddle the act as ‘terrorism.’
It is the acclaim and promotion of armed struggle in the name of religion that needs to be curbed. The very idea of ‘martyrdom,’ the exalted status for those dying “in the name of Allah,” needs to be unflinchingly targeted. For, if someone is willing to die for a supremacist cause, they’d be more than willing to kill for it as well.
Punjab’s militancy hubs have been ignored for far too long. According to the home ministry itself, half of the 12,000 madrassas in the province are unregistered. The Punjab Police says 1,000 of them are foreign-funded and are receiving hundreds of millions of rupees from around the world — over Rs 300 million from Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia alone. In May this year, 43 suspected people were arrested from 13 madrassas in Punjab for involvement in terrorism.
With army operations in the North West, Balochistan and, more recently, in Karachi, well and truly underway, continuing the recent policy of overlooking Punjab would boomerang on the NAP, especially when one considers that the hub of sectarian terrorism can be traced to Punjab.
Beefing up the NAP pointers with fillers like “dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists” without addressing the roots of sectarianism or terrorism is — as has been evident — self-defeating. The lowest common denominator in sectarianism, jihadism and terrorism is takfir (the excommunication of an individual or a sect from the realm of Islam). Considering the volume of hue and cry being raised and promises being floated with regards to sectarianism and terrorism, the absence of any action against takfir in the NAP, makes it a half-baked document stuffed with rehashed rhetoric.
Islamist jihad’s founding principles include declaring an individual or a group to be non-Muslim, proclaiming the inferiority of non-Muslims and propagating the establishment of Muslim rule over non-Muslims, around the globe, as a religious obligation. No surprises that the NAP doesn’t even touch the foundation of militant jihadism.
Taking action against Muslim supremacy would mean the rewriting of, among other things, Pakistan’s own founding ideology as it is generally understood. Outlawing takfir would mean the paradoxical ban on Pakistan’s own constitution, the Second Amendment which excommunicates an entire sect. And challenging ideas like Dar-ul-Islam, the Islamic caliphate and the doctrine of jihad would mean targeting the popular understanding of religion, as propagated by the clergy and the madrassas.
Following the announcement of the NAP, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan nonchalantly said that 90 per cent of the madrassas had nothing to do with terrorism. Ignoring the fact that the minister didn’t feel any need to substantiate the claim, for the federal interior minister to casually accept that, in effect, 10 per cent of the country’s madrassas are actually involved in terrorism, in some capacity, reveals the government’s intent — or lack thereof — regarding the “regulation of madrassas.”
According to a 2008 estimate, there are over 40,000 madrassas in Pakistan with an enrolment of two million students. Ignoring the proliferation of madrassas over the past seven years, roughly 4,000 madrassas with around 200,000 students are involved in terrorism according to the interior minister’s off-the-cuff comments.
When Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed’s rather accurate remarks that the madrassas are the “hub of ignorance” led to a countrywide movement for his excommunication and execution, spearheaded by madrassas and the clergy, one comprehends how the madrassas have become a mafia. When one sees the federal government, and the intelligence agencies, accepting the presence of a pro-IS cleric a few kilometres away from the Parliament and the GHQ, and acquiescing to banners calling for the apostatising of the federal information minister in the federal capital, one gets an idea of how the madrassas and their orchestrators bully national state institutions into submission. That all this is taking place when the government is waxing lyrical on the National Action Plan ostensibly targeting Islamist militancy, and military operations are being carried out across the country, means that Pakistan’s counter-terrorism strategy, as things stand, is all fluff and no substance.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s July 2015 issue.
Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a journalist and writer based in Lahore.