Madrassas In Pakistan: Essential For Literacy And Economic Elevation

All the Madrassa (madrassas, plural) in the west are considered dens of terrors and are held responsible for inciting extremism and terrorism. This picture presented today is not entirely correct as madrassas educational system has a rich history In recent times, however, some of the madrassas have indeed been used for the negative purposes intentionally or unintentionally but reformed and modern madrassas are required in Pakistan to educate the highly illiterate young population and channel their energies into more productive activities which are better for Pakistan as well as the peace and security of the region and the world.

The madrasa began more than a thousand years ago in the rich cultural centers of civilization such as Baghdad, Fez and Morocco (Madrassah Education: What Creative Associates has learned, 2008). It has similar arrangement such as Aristotle Peripatetic School of 335 B.C. and is based on similar principles of Jewish Beth Midrash and Yeshiva schools, it is important to note the etymology of words Beth midrash and madrassa.

Madrassa is credited with educating the top Muslim scientists, scholars, philosophers, mathematicians, chemists, theologists, physicians and astronomers in the medieval times. It has produced scholars and scientists such as Abu Nasr Al-Farabi, Al-Battani, Ibn Sina(Avicenna), Ibn Battuta, Ibn Rushd, Al-Khwarizmi, Omar Khayyam, Thabit ibn Qurra, Abu Bakr Al-Razi, Jabir Ibn Haiyan, Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi,  Ibn Al-Haytham, Ibn Zuhr, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Al-Baitar

These medieval madrassas taught grammar, poetry, philosophy, medicine, mathematics and astronomy (Farooq, ‘Objectification’ of Islam: A Study of Pakistani Madrassah Texts, 2010). This system of education expanded to the subcontinent by the Muslims. During the 18th to 19th centuries, Mullah Nizamuddin of Farangi introduced a standardized method in the subcontinent, the Dars-i-Nizami.

Madrassas in Pakistan are a private system of education to those who are unable to attend public or private schools because of distance and/or the unviability of educational facilities. Madrassas are funded through government grants, donations from the local communities, student fees, local government grants, fees and payments from religious occasions. Even though madrassas do receive funding, it is irregular in nature. Unless offered as private education, madrassas in Pakistan are regarded as NGOs. Some madrassas offer religious instruction, boarding and lodging. Instruction is liberal to conservative dependent on location and socio-cultural environment. Instruction can vary from personal knowledge to a more structured approach that includes curricula and a syllabus. Madrassas are more receptive in rural areas because they acclimate to the socio-cultural environment and hence satisfy the needs of tribal communities. Madrassas are synonymous with rural education as the availability of private or public school in the rural areas is scarce.

The quintessential component of reforming education in Pakistan is by utilizing these madrassas that serve millions of school age children. Madrassa education is the only way of education for millions of poor children of the country and continuous damaging words against this system will do no good. Yes, there are some defects in the system but these can definitely be removed with constant effort. There are madrassas in areas that are unreachable by Islamabad and it is these areas where education is needed the most. The curriculum of madrassas can be modernized through the simple introduction of a balanced curriculum and including the teaching of English Language which is also one of the official languages of Pakistan.

Scholar / Scientist Time Period Contribution
Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (872 – 950) Persian scientist, mathematician and philosopher, considered as one of the preeminent thinkers of medieval era.
Al-Battani (858 – 929) Also known as Albatenius. Arab mathematician, scientists and astronomer who improved existing values for the length of the year and of the seasons. He produced several important trigonometrical relationships.
Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (980 – 1037) Persian philosopher and scientist known for his contributions to Aristotelian philosophy and medicine. His books ‘The Book of Healing’ and ‘The Canon of Medicine,’ were taught till 1650 A.D.
Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369) Arab traveler, geographer and scholar who wrote one of the most famous travel books in history, the Rihlah.
Ibn Rushd

(Averroes)

(1126 – 1198) Arab philosopher and scholar who produced a series of summaries and commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works and on Plato’s Republic.
Al-Khwarizmi

(Algoritmi or Algaurizin)

(780 – 850) His works introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals and the concepts of algebra into European mathematics. The origination of the word Algebra is attributed to him.
Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131) Persian mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and poet, known for his scientific achievements and world renowned Rubaiyat (“quatrains”).
Thabit ibn Qurra (826 – 901) Arab mathematician, physician and astronomer; who was the first reformer of the Ptolemaic system and the founder of statics.
Abu Bakr Al-Razi  (Rhazes) (865 – 925) Persian chemist and philosopher, who was one of the greatest physicians in history. His books “On Surgery” and “A General Book on Therapy”, were taught in the medical schools of Western universities

He is considered the father of pediatrics and a pioneer of ophthalmology.

Jabir Ibn Haiyan  (Geber) (722 – 804) The father of Arab chemistry known for his highly influential works on alchemy and metallurgy. His other contributions included in the fields of astronomy, geography, engineering, physics and pharmacy.
Al-Kindi

(Alkindus)

(801 – 873) Arab philosopher and scientist, who is considered the ‘father of Islamic or Arabic philosophy’. His works in cryptography, mathematics, medicine, mathematics. Optics are profound.
Ibn Al-Haytham (965 – 1040) Also known as Alhazen. Arab astronomer and mathematician known for his important contributions to the principles of optics and the use of scientific experiments.
Ibn Zuhr (1091 – 1161) Also known as Avenzoar. Arab physician and surgeon, known for his influential book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet).
Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406) Arab historiographer and historian who developed one of the earliest nonreligious philosophies of history. His book The Muqaddimah is often considered as the first works dealing with modern historiography, sociology and economics.
Ibn Al-Baitar (1197 – 1248) Arab scientist, botanist and physician who systematically recorded the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages.

Famous Muslim Scientist who attended Madrassa School System

Pakistan government met with severe opposition while introducing Pakistan Madrasa Education Board Ordinance of 2001. The implementations of such reforms have taken a backstage in recent years but these Madrassas reforms are needed and can be achieved by census among the Ulemas and policy makers. There are three major aspects of the madrasah reforms; firstly teaching of English language, secondly curriculum update and thirdly teachers; we will discuss each of these here:

Often times it is considered in Pakistan that teaching English language means westernization however we think that teaching English language does not mean to follow Western idealism but rather be in line with the information presented, consider the following facts

  • 359 million of the world population speak English as their first language and approximately 1 billion of the world population speaks it as the second language hence keeping pupils from such an important language actually restricts them from communicating with the rest of the world and be competitive and understand other point of view
  • Importance of Internet cannot be more emphasized as it is the digital gateway to information and a new avenue to trade and commerce and since approximately 55% of the most visited websites have content in English hence it is imperative to learn this language.

Observe how the madrassas in West Bengal introduced the English language and how it influenced the introduction of sciences and mathematics. It is clear that these madrassas have graduated students who are successful and knowledgeable and will someday be the doctors and engineers for their communities.

Besides using English as the medium of instruction it is important that the curriculum be improved and upgraded to include Comparative Studies. Comparative Studies introduces logical thinking. This logical thinking can be applied towards Islamic research oriented studies as well as sciences and mathematics. The introduction of Comparative Studies helps to illustrate the true image of Islam as a peaceful, tolerant and compassionate religion.

The teaching of Islam exemplifies interfaith harmony, compassion and tolerance towards other religions and minorities. Madrassa curriculum that will favor these ideals will encourages students to be tolerant towards those not of their community or sect. It is important to note that being tolerant is defined as the act of forbearance with one who is not like you, not shunning or adopting their cultural behavior. If madrassas teach religious tolerance they will have students who are less apt to be a part of violent acts, acting out in society or in the class.

The madrassa school teachers are not well trained or well versed in physical subjects hence in order for these high qualities to be exemplified through madrassa curriculum, as outlined in preceding paragraphs, only certified madrassa teachers who hold a degree in B.Ed. from an academic institution can be allowed to teach in madrassas. As the state of Pakistan improves and increases madrassa teacher institutions, madrassas will grow prosperous in the number of graduates and become the epitome of fine academics.

Here are some direct suggestions for curriculum update:

  1. It should include Comparative Studies (at least all main religions) to build logical thinking among students so that they can invest their time in Islamic research oriented activities and be able to present true image of Islam anywhere in the world.
  2. There should be a dedicated chapter for interfaith harmony, compassion and tolerance towards other religions/minorities.
  3. Religious sectarian divides should be discouraged right from the beginning of a student’s education. This is the need of hour.
  4. Madrassa teachers qualification needs to be enhanced in conjunction with modern requirements.
  5. Curriculum should be standardized across the board and reviewed constantly by government.
  6. The vast majority of madrassas fall outside government control, so those should be regulated without any delay.

Madrassa reforms are of utmost importance for the betterment of the Pakistani society and crucial for creating religious tolerance as well as improving the overall academic prospects for every student in Pakistan. A nationally regulated madrassa reform will increase graduates from madrassas who will be more likely to participate in the economic prosperity of Pakistan.

Madrassa education is the only form of education for millions of poor children of the country. Through a concerted and consistent effort, a balanced madrassa education will promote a positive and productive academic environment for these neglected Pakistani children. They are the future scientists, engineers and mathematicians of Pakistan and the need to protect them as the national treasure is of vital importance more than ever. It is through them that Pakistan will grow in prosperity.

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