Stressing on the need for revisiting education standards at religious madrassas across the country, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Thursday said religious seminaries must offer more than theological education to pupils.
His remarks came during a seminar in Quetta titled Human Resource Development for the youth of Balochistan – Opportunities and Challenges. In a rare criticism of religious seminaries by a sitting head of the armed forces, General Bajwa’s comments are as significant as they get. The Pakistani military has been for long accused of maintaining a soft spot for religious outfits, with many claiming that pupils educated at some of these hardliner religious seminaries go on to become recruits for terror organisations like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
Madrassa students should also be provided worldly education
The security forces have been keeping a close watch on religious madrassas for several years in order to curb, if any, the feed of recruits to terror groups, but General Bajwa’s speech is the first time a serving army chief has questioned the scope of madrassas.
The army chief said although he was not against madrassas, the education that they provided was inadequate, for it did not prepare students for the needs of the modern world.
“I am not against madrassas, but we have lost the essence of madrassas,” he said, adding that the country needed to “revisit” the religious school concept. The general said he had been told that there were about 2.5 million students enrolled in madrassas belonging to the Deobandi sect, questioning their future.
“So what will they become: will they become Maulvis (clerics) or they will become terrorists?” The COAS said it was impossible to build enough mosques to employ the vast number of madrassa students – in a reference to employment opportunities such students find in mosques as prayer leaders and teachers of the Holy Quran.
“We need to look (at) and revisit the concept of madrassas…We need to give them a worldly education,” General Bajwa stressed, adding that education was holding back a nation of 207 million people, especially in madrassas.
The army chief’s remarks are certain to draw flak from religious quarters, but it must be noted that his observations and suggestions cannot be farther from truth. Employment opportunities are hard to come by even for students graduating with mainstream degrees from the best of universities across the country, so graduates of madrassas stand little chance to compete with their peers equipped with skills that that are right on the money for recruiters.
Resultantly, many of these madrassa graduates descent into the chaos of unemployment and become vulnerable to extremist ideologies, trends and subsequently, actions. Therefore, it is the need of the hour for all stakeholders to sit and contemplate the fate of madrassas and their students in order that they become positive contributors to the country’s progress.