The Madrasa in Perspective- Evolution of Fundamentalist movements in South Asia- Waleed Ziad- Articles from the News, March 2004



From �The News�, Pakistan

March 21, 2004

Jang Group

Madaris in perspective 

By Waleed Ziad

Chapter I

J ihad namaaz ki tarah farz hai - Jaysh Mohammad (Jihad, like Prayer, is a religious obligation) reads a message scrawled on a crumbling wall in an outlying area of Karachi. It has become a familiar sight to most Pakistanis. To some, it inspires fear and disgust, the face of a backward, old, and entrenched religious order which has outlived itself. For others, it inspires hope, a face of pure conservative Islam finally returning to challenge the corrupted Westernised elite.

In truth, it is neither.

If we scratch the surface of the fundamentalist phenomenon, it becomes all too clear that the story of militant religious groups and 'Islamic politics' in Pakistan is not a case of Huntington's clash of civilizations, nor the quintessential conflict between 'traditionalism' and 'modernism'. It is one of political ineptitude and corruption, as well as economic and social frustrations and a humiliated group struggling to assert itself and find a niche within the society. This is not the cry of an 'old Islamic order' infringed upon, but rather a conscious transformation of ideology to present a political agenda in the guise of an ancient value system. Equally, it is the warped political face of a post-colonial class struggle between the disenfranchised poor and an indigenous ruling elite fashioned by our colonial forbears.

In these three articles, we trace the process which forged a 'religious establishment' and endowed it with the militant mentality we all know so well today. The first article answers the question: Who are the modern 'ulema' and what historical circumstances spawned the contemporary madaris (plural of madrasa)?

The second covers the process through which the self proclaimed 'ulema' entered the realm of politics, and, over the course of the second half of the century, constantly changed alliances and refashioned their ideologies to survive in a hostile environment which had little need for them.

The third article is an overview of the origins of modern militancy: how the Afghan war and the 'Islamic' veneer of the Zia regime brought the 'ulema' into the spotlight, leading them to adopt militant 'jihad' as their raison d'etre for the first time.

The breed of Quran reciter cum 'mujahid' that is so familiar to us now was never an established norm. The term reciter rather than scholar is more accurate, because many modern madaris are less concerned with exegesis and fiqh than with the rote learning of Quran and dogma. The militant 'ulema' today claim that the madrasa institutions exist to wage a military jihad against all forms of colonialism and injustice, and to teach 'religious studies', while the 'Islamic' parties claim that it is their duty as leaders of the 'ulema' to guide the nation towards 'righteousness'.

How and why did this ideology come about?

The story takes us back to the eighteenth century, in the days when Mughal power was waning and foreign incursions had ruptured the fabric of traditional society.

The intellectual leadership of Muslim India, in pre-colonial times, was provided through a system of privately and publicly financed madaris, each with a highly organized and sophisticated curriculum, which offered both traditional religious and secular education. The curriculum included not only the purely legal sciences rooted in scripture (hadith, fiqh, and tafsir) but mathematics, grammar, logic, philosophy, astronomy, and medicine, among others. The madaris trained both the jurists as well as the administrative cadre of the government.

British rule in the subcontinent heralded the end of this institution. One of the stated goals of the British colonialists was to break this indigenous center of power and thus curtail the influence of the traditional intelligentsia. This is best expressed in Macaulay's oft quoted Minute on Education in India written in 1835: "We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions we govern -- a class of persons Indian in blood and colour but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and intellect." He went on to say that although the British ruled the Indians, they would not be able to rule their minds until their culture had been devalued. One weapon of choice was altering the system of instruction in the educational institutions.


Image:Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay - Project Gutenberg eText 13103.jpg

Baron Thomas Macaulay

With the establishment of colonial western-oriented institutions of learning, and as a colonial mindset spread amongst a new indigenous elite, the madrasa system was gradually sidelined. An intentional rift was thus created between what was considered legitimate education, geared towards furthering colonial designs, and the madrasa education, which was dubbed antique and superfluous. State sponsored grants to ulema institutions dried out, and the prominence and effectiveness of the madaris declined accordingly.

Naturally, all seeking advancement under the colonial regime and with the financial resources to do so, would choose the colonial institutions, while the poorer, more isolated communities enrolled students in the madaris.

Following the 1857 War of Independence, the religious institutions in Delhi, including the major mosques, were seized by the British. Madaris were razed, and most of the ulema were either forced to or chose to leave the city. It is important to note that apart from isolated instances (such as Syed Ahmad Shaheed at Balakot) the ulema were not the source of violent resistance against foreign encroachment, and played a marginal role in the rebellion. The displaced ulema who reestablished themselves in provincial towns acknowledged that British rule would be permanent and that they needed to function within a new and potentially hostile environment.

At this time, a number of schools of thought emerged among the ulema which led to the establishment of madaris across the subcontinent, in the hope of internally reviving the Indian Muslims through education, while steering clear of politics and militancy. The more prominent included Deoband (1867), which strove to create an independent cadre of learned Muslims, Bareilli, which focused on preserving a traditional form of rural Islam, and Ahl-i-Hadith, which was Wahhabi in its ideology.


Deoband madrasa

Towards the end of British rule, the traditional madrasa system had virtually lost its place in modern society. The colonial institutions now trained the administrators and leaders, while the madrasa was confined to teaching purely religious subjects, particularly rote learning of Quran and hadith. As British legal codes were adopted by the state, the intricacies and the implications of the science of fiqh were gradually abandoned. The madrasa of the mid 20th century produced only qaris and imams, who were not regarded by the secular ruling elite as capable of functioning outside their limited ritualistic spheres.

Deoband and the other madaris needed to assert themselves in a society which no longer had a functional role for the ulema. An increasing number of these schools of thought set up their own political parties to represent their interests in the political arena. Thus, the history of the madaris in the 20th century has been one of constantly changing alliances and ideologies striving to assert influence on a national scale. They became progressively less liberal and more dogmatic in their views, with emphasis given to scriptural authority (naql) rather than the use of critical thinking (aql).

By 1947, and to an increasing degree thereafter, madaris catered mainly to the lower and lower middle classes. Since funding was provided through endowments and the general quality of education was low, madaris could easily be established in remote areas and fees were minimal. The madaris therefore became the spokespersons of the silent masses, and often set themselves up in opposition to the colonial educated ruling elite.

As products of the colonial experience, we often point to the madrasa religious establishment as a vestige of the past, holding us back by keeping us mired in religious conservatism. However, it is this very same colonial ideology, that, by sidelining the traditional educational establishments, inadvertently succeeded in creating the concept of a 'religious establishment' in Islam, akin to the Church of medieval Europe. There was no concept of a clergy in Islam as historically the state was led by the secular Sultan. The ulema were not spiritual leaders but rather professors of law, popularly respected for their opinions on various matters. By continuing to sideline the madrasa system we inadvertently sideline religious studies and Islamic law. Leaving these disciplines in the hands of the current madaris, we are guaranteeing that the 'ulema' will be able to win the minds of thousands of uneducated (and educated) Pakistanis, convincing the nation that the use of nail polish rather than poverty alleviation is one of the most pressing issues in Pakistan today.

Waleed Ziad is a political analyst and Economic Consultant in Montreal.He has written on the politics and history of fundamentalism for publications worldwide.




 Ideologies for sale

Everything from 'ulema' alliances to rhetoric to ideology is mutable if the political situation demands it


By Waleed Ziad

In 1880, Maulana Mohammad Qasim the revered founder of the Deoband Madrasa, had outlined principles governing the university, dedicated to reformed Islam. A free exchange of opinions was deemed essential, and the institution was to remain wholly apolitical, geared towards helping Muslims survive peacefully in a changing environment. "If it gain fixed income, like land holdings, trading interests, or pledges from nobles, then the madrasa will lose the fear and hope that inspired submission to God... The participation of the government and the wealthy is harmful."

Ironic indeed that by the 1980s, popular Deobandi factions had founded political parties and were being financed by the Pakistan government, the army, and foreign interests, some had adopted the Wahhabi doctrine, while many became involved in outright militancy.

To many outsiders, the 'Islamic' parties appear to be monolithic unwavering entities steeped in dogma, holding steady to values which their forefathers had espoused. In this article, a closer look at the history of 'Islamic' politics reveals a different picture. The parties, like soldiers of fortune, have constantly shifted alliances, and their ideology and rhetoric has followed, taking twists and turns whenever politically (and financially) expedient.

As we have discussed in the article titled Madaris in perspective, by the mid 20th century the madrasa curriculum had lost its general utility to society.

As early as 1919, a group of Deobandi ulema had entered the political arena and founded the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind (JUH) to represent the interests of its constituents, deviating from the aversion to politics which the madrasa's founders had expressed. At Independence, the Pakistani wing became known as the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) (or versions thereof), and remained the largest and most influential of the religious parties. In following years, the two other leading schools, the tasawwuf-oriented traditionalist Bareilvi and the Wahhabi Ahl-I-Hadith, decided they needed political representation, and formed, respectively, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) and the Jamiat Ulema Ahl-i-Hadith (JUAH). Before partition, another bourgeois intellectual ulema movement led by Mawlana Mawdoodi, the Jamat Islami, emerged in opposition to the backwardness of the declining madrasa establishment.

Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi

The political parties representing the madaris strove to incorporate their cadre of 'religious scholars' into the modern milieu. While the elite and future bureaucracy were enrolled in the Colonial educational institutions, the majority of madrasa students hailed from rural NWFP, Kashmir, and poorer areas of the Punjab, sons of landless peasants, laborers, artisans, or rural imams. It must be kept in mind that these students were and still remain economically deprived and any means of employment or empowerment is welcome.

Over the next 50 years, the religious parties latched on to a vast array of issues, altering their ideology whenever they saw a niche for themselves as the 'divinely ordained' lawmakers of Pakistan. They wished to set up a system of parallel political and 'ulema' leadership, which would make the 'ulema' indispensable for the new republic. In the early years of the country, the 'Islamization' (a mysterious term no one quite knew how to define) of Pakistan became the main slogan, complete with an 'Islamic' Constitution to govern it. Not knowing quite what this meant, the religious parties chose superficial but visible symbols that they felt would appear as a contrast to Western norms: women's dress, banking, alcohol, and forms of punishment. These were taken entirely out of religious and historical context and backed up by absurd faux jurisprudence. Of course, having allowed the 'ulema' to monopolise the religious texts, no one else felt competent to challenge these views.

Everything from 'ulema' alliances to rhetoric to ideology was mutable if the political situation demanded it. In fact, with each election, we can clearly see that the JUI, the JUP, and the JUAH espoused whichever beliefs were in vogue at the particular moment, and expressed these in traditional Islamic terminology. To assert themselves as the true representatives of the 'Islamic order', the JUI, for example, made supposedly 'heretic' elements (especially the Shias and Ahmadis) the main targets of their rhetoric. In fact, almost every political or religious group that has not been allied with political Deoband has been declared kafir by their political leadership.

In an era of industrialisation, Ayub Khan believed that the madaris ran counter to progress. When he tried to curtail the independence of the madrasa institutions, the JUI allied themselves with the opposition, and 'the struggle for Islamic democracy' became the slogan. Ayub Khan's 'kufr' was evidenced in his support of 'un-Islamic activities' such as allowing the sale of alcohol, according to the JUI leadership.

Then, in the early 1970s, rallying behind Bhutto, the JUI blithely called for a 'Socialist Islamic State', meanwhile denouncing Maudoodi and the Jamat Islami as kafirs. In fact, allied with the generally non-religious Pakistan Labour Party, they even called for a 'ban on capitalism'.

When the socialist experiment failed and Bhutto established himself as dictator, the JUI once again took up the slogan of 'Islamic democracy and constitutionalism'. Socialism, Islamic or otherwise, was dubbed the great evil. It was considered politically expedient for all the 'ulema' groups, regardless of ideology, to unite against the Bhutto regime with the PML opposition. Mufti Mahmud, head of the JUI, declared the alliance to be a 'jihad against kufr' (this time Bhutto). Now allied with the Jamat Islami, the JUP, and other parties whom they had ruthlessly lambasted in earlier years, they formed the Pakistan National Alliance. Political and ideological differences conveniently faded away. At this time, much of Mawdoodi's internationally oriented and politically activist ideology was adopted by the other religious parties.

During the Zia regime, democracy conveniently faded to the background when the 'ulema' realised they were able to nominally share power with the military elite. At the onset of the Afghan war, it was decided by the powers-that-be that the most effective means of organising resistance to the Soviets would be through declaring the movement a religious war. The various religious groups leaped at the opportunity for political and military prestige, and even the most benign groups set up madaris as mujahideen training camps in the NWFP, declaring 'Islamic Jihad' to be the new ideology. The rest is history. The sequence of events leading to the adoption of the Jihad ideology is covered in the article titled The jihad industry.

Now, the MMA has managed to bring together former arch rivals, Wahabis, Sunni Hanafis, and even Shia under a united Islamic banner. The nature of the rhetoric, while in substance changing, has remained regressive, attributing the problems of the nation and the Islamic world to obscure phenomenon, and rallying for reforms which are in visible opposition to Western norms, (assumptions made through ignorance of laws and methods of jurisprudence.) With the failure of socialism, democracy, industrialisation, and a host of other 'isms', these groups offer a new patented solution in a neat package which includes a ban on music and 'indecency', and all other 'ailments afflicting the society'.


The historically dynamic and progressive nature of Islamic law was brought about through the use of ijtihad and reason. This has been lost to us as the self proclaimed 'religious' groups, more concerned with political survival, have hijacked scriptural studies, and have found it more expedient to supplant it with ignorance. We need to reclaim our heritage from them.

Waleed Ziad is a political analyst and Economic Consultant in Montreal.He has written on the politics and history of fundamentalism for publications worldwide




The jihad industry

Over time, the 'ulema' establishment was indebted to the Zia regime. Zia received an Islamic legitimacy and neutralized the 'ulema', while the 'ulema' aimed at 'escaping their perceived backwardness'

"Deoband and other madaris, as well as the political parties which emerged from them, were originally created for the purpose of waging jihad, and we are merely following in this tradition," claims a leading Jaysh Mohammadi activist quite convincingly. A very basic reading of history, however, reveals that the founders of Deoband spoke out against violent resistance, and the doctrine of jihad al sayf (the struggle of the sword) only began to play a major role as late as 1979, with the advent of the Afghan War.

The third chapter of our story is one quite familiar to most of us, either because we witnessed it first hand, or because we feel the repercussions of it in almost every day of our lives.

July 1977, 'Operation Fair Play' was put into effect, the coup led by Zia ul Haq which overturned the Bhutto regime. To co-opt and pacify the 'religious' opposition which now called for a return to 'Islamic democracy', and to create a government which would act as a foil to the PPP, Zia chose to portray his regime as truly 'pious'. For the first time, the desperate 'Islamic' parties were directly brought into the ruling class. The bond was engineered by the Jamat Islami's Mian Tufayl, and referred to by Mawdoodi as the 'renewal of the covenant' between state and Islam.

United under a single banner, Deoband's Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, the originally anti traditionalist Jamat Islami, the Berelvi Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, and later the Wahhabi Jamiat Ulema Ahl-i-Hadith put aside their irreconcilable differences in the face of an opportunity to become entrenched once and for all in the ruling establishment. As quickly as it had come, the call for Islamic democracy became silent. Zia played to their demands, implementing a few cursory laws which were considered 'Islamic' ie. superficially opposed to Western norms, and establishing the odd official advisory committee on religious affairs.

In late 1979, the event was to take place which dramatically changed the nature and scope of the 'ulema' parties, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It was decided then that the most effective means of organizing resistance would be through declaring the resistance movement to be a religious war against the atheistic Soviet specter. It just so happened that the four leading Islamic madaris, in particular Deoband, controlled the madrasa establishments in the Frontier and Afghanistan, and the Deobandi establishment in Pakistan, since the late 19th century, had strong ties with Kabul. They were the government's inroads into the politically inhospitable Afghan frontier.

This called for a physical integration of the madaris into the public sector, in the hopes of creating stronger links between the 'ulema' and the Zia regime. Official zakat funds in 1980 were channeled into the madaris, and the curriculum was reworked by a 'National Committee for Dini Madaris' in 1979. A policy known as the 'Ittihad al Madaris' served to co-opt the diverse ideologies into a singular force under the regime's umbrella cum pocketbook. On the political front, the government nominally included the 'ulema' in policy making and organised 'ulema' conventions. Over time, the 'ulema' establishment, from both the political and educational ends, were indebted to the Zia regime. Zia received an 'Islamic' legitimacy and neutralized the 'ulema' in one fell swoop, while the 'ulema' aimed at 'escaping their perceived backwardness and winning social recognition'.

The ulema leaders and students brought under Zia's influence produced an army of loyalists. The number of madrasa students and madaris grew exponentially. While in 1974, they comprised 18 per cent of all registered educational institutions, by 1983 over 40 per cent were madaris -- 70 per cent in the front line North West Frontier Province. The expansion of madaris graduates conveniently created for Zia a lower class labour force, which, given few other economic opportunities, would readily fight in Afghanistan and implement his domestic divide and rule policies.

In the early 1980s, numerous madaris, particularly those in the NWFP were converted into mujahideen training camps. Out of the four major parties came militant splinter organisations which would further theirs and Zia's political designs, aimed either at fighting jihad against the Soviets or against 'heretics' like the Shias and Ahmadis within Pakistan.

On the Afghan front, JUI's Harkat al Mujahideen (formerly al Ansar) and the Jaysh Mohammad are now household names. The JUAH spawned the Lashkar-i-Tayyaba, another popular favorite, and the JI had their own Al-Badr and Hizb al Mujahidin. Even the originally passive, traditionalist Barelvis formed the Lashkar-i-Islam al Barq.

The largest of the Frontier madrasas is the Haqqaniyah of Akora Khattak, from where, according to its director, Sami al Haq, "groups of students leave to participate in the Holy War for a month or two or more and when they come back, others leave." Between 1980 and 1981, Haqqaniyah expenditures increased by an astonishing 107 per cent, most of which came from the Provincial Zakat Council funds, and the number of enrolled Afghan students increased from 37 per cent to 60 per cent.

This was about the time that ideology and history was consciously rewritten.

'Al Haq', the monthly periodical of the Haqqaniyah Madrasa, made barely any mention of jihad prior to 1979. The majority of articles dealt with various aspects of religious practice, with the occasional diatribe against the Shias. Come the Afghan War, and the magazine became a war reporting journal. Articles abounded on the primacy and necessity of jihad, and on the noble exploits of the mujahidin, often making allusions to the victories of the early battles of Islam. It resurrected long forgotten heroes of the struggle against colonialism, tying their struggles with the jihad in Afghanistan.

Haqqaniyya Madrasa

They all looked alike, dressed in the same brilliant uniform, as if they had been molded in this fashion, willing to give their lives for God, sustained by the Divine Writ, intoxicated with the spirit of jihad, consumed in worship; it seemed almost as if Sayyad Ahmad Shahid's caravan had just returned from fighting against its enemies. (A reference to the 18th century religious reformer cum freedom fighter who had fought against the Marathas.) The Afghan War was declared to be part of an ulema-led tehrik of jihads spanning 300 years of Indo-Pak history.

Now that the madaris had a fixed a source of income and an established role in society, they were kept in place even after the retreat of the Soviets from Afghanistan in 1989. After the Afghan War was over, many of the mujahidin needed to reestablish a cause that would keep them occupied. Due to international events, in particular American support of Israel in Palestine, and the invasion of Iraq during the Gulf War, as well as US support of India's role in Kashmir after 1989, much of the militant aggression shifted against the United States.

In an effort to further their influence and generate 'employment' for the students and former mujahideen, Kashmir, Chechnya, and Bosnia became targets of mujahidin activity. In the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban Order, which was in reality a pro-Pashtoon militia/government, was often considered to be the model of a just Islamic State.

The transformation was complete. Factions of initially peaceful and morally upstanding schools for religious revival through education shifted their attentions towards an often reckless militancy. We can search through the annals of history to determine the sources of this 'jihadi' mindset, but the truth is, it was just another ideology adopted for short term political gains, and fueled with the frustrations of a disenfranchised and impoverished lower class.

-- Waleed Ziad

Waleed Ziad is a political analyst and Economic Consultant in Montreal.He has written on the politics and history of fundamentalism for publications worldwide.


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