In many news articles around the world the madrassas of Pakistan are mentioned as being the breeding ground for terrorism. But in many cases this has become an unfortunate and all too common misconception. The term madrassa in Arabic literally means school. In many Middle Eastern countries there are two options for schools. The first option is for the student to attend a public institution, which does not provide a substantial education for the student to succeed after graduation. The second option is a madrassa where the student receives a strictly religious education. In this respect, the madrassa is similar to a private religious school in the United States. However madrassas differ from these because the madrassa teaches the student only topics related to Islam rather than expounding on other subjects such as English, science, or math. Along with teaching themes of religious piety, service of others, and general religious knowledge the madrassa also places an emphasis on jihad.
To many, when the word jihad is mentioned violent and bloody scenes instantly come to mind. What many are not aware of is the dual meaning of the word jihad. When translated from Arabic to English the word purely means to strive or struggle. The struggle that Muslims around the world engage in has nothing to do with violence or hatred towards other human beings. Rather, this is an internal struggle for the individual to continually submit themselves to Allah. However, the second definition of jihad does call the individual to violence, but only under the strictest of conditions and it is usually not tolerated by many Muslims. Much of the common curriculum teaches students the importance of religious piety, as well as religious purity but also the superiority of Islam over other forms of education. This thinking can promote fundamentalism and has created ties between some madrassas and the many terrorist groups such as the Taliban.
Recently some members of the u’lama, or Islamic legal scholars, have begun looking at reforming the madrassa curriculum. The reformation of curriculum would include adding subjects such as English, math, science, and other areas of education commonly taught in many other countries. This proves to be a difficult task because each madrassa is individually operated and not affiliated with any other school. Many members of these madrassas and the surrounding communities argue that reforming the schools will weaken their original intent to teach the truths of Islam. This is believed because to many these secular subjects could lead the students away from Islam and cause them to become liberal in their thinking (Sikand). But many believe reforming the school’s curriculum to include modern topics such as math and English will lower the risk of producing terrorist ties and help the student to become a more successful member of society.
Many agree that madrassa reformations are necessary. Yet, a reformation may prove to be easier said than done because of a limited education and the many different styles of administration for each madrassa. However, these are not the only obstacles standing between the students and a pure religious education. There are many other challenges which include finances and the influence of the Western world on Islam. Ultimately, a reformation may be needed to keep the education and promotion of terrorists outside of the realm of madrassas within Pakistan and the surrounding countries.
Sikand, Yoginder. "The Indian madrassahs and the agenda of reform." Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 25.2 (2005): 219-48. Ebscohost. Web. 19 Jan. 2010. <http://http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.uwec.edu/login.aspx? direct=true&db=sih&AN=19019649&loginpage=Login.asp&site=ehost-live>.