Foot of the Classes


Husain Haqqani, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has written an article on Muslim religious schools, or Madrasas, in Pakistan for Foreign Policy magazine.

Haqqani writes that the Madrasas filled a gap left open by poor Muslim states:

As many as 1 million students study in Madrasas in Pakistan, compared with primary-school enrollment of 1.9 million. Most Muslim countries allocate insignificant portions of their budgets for education, leaving large segments of their growing populations without schooling. Madrasas fill that gap, especially for the poor. The poorest countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Yemen, and Indonesia, boast the largest madrasa enrollment.

Haqqani goes on to argue that the religious schools promote a quietist form of Islam, "teaching rejection for Western ways without calling upon believers to fight unbelievers"; but he also believes that the ambient poverty in which they thrive "makes it difficult for the Madrasas to remain unaffected by radical ideas…" Indeed, it was in the Madrasas of Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan that the Taliban movement initially grew.

Is he hopeful that Madrasas can be marginalized? It's a mixed bag:

Legitimizing secular power structures through democracy might reduce the political influence of Madrasas. But that influence is unlikely to wane dramatically as long as Madrasas are home to a theological class popular with poor Muslims. And the fruits of modernity will need to spread widely before dual education systems in the Muslim world will come to an end.