Home The Muslim World Madrassah in Afghanistan: Evolution and its Future an id="datatop">اردو
Madrassah in Afghanistan: Evolution and its Future PDF Print E-mail
Written by Misbah Abdulbaqi   
 
 
 

Abstract

[Religious schools or madrassahs, present in Afghanistan since 7th century, grew under different rulers and different environments, till the 20th century and have seen many ups and downs. In the initial period, madrassahs were mainly run on the model of such institutions in Central Asia. However, with the passage of time, influence from sub-continent, particularly Deobandi school of thought increased. This reached its peak during Taliban regime while witnessed decline in the current Karzai government. The west, in general, views the madrassahs as hatcheries of violence. However, people of Afghanistan consider these institutes as part of their history and identity. The need is to understand the role of madrassahs in true perspective and make efforts for reforms and modernization where needed. – Editors]

Introduction

Religious education owes its sensitivity to its close relation with the very understanding of religion; its importance can hardly be ignored in conservative societies where it forms the basis of the value framework. In Afghanistan, however, the sphere of religious education has attained significant political and international dimensions in recent years, giving birth to two opposite views about religious educational institutions, or madrassahs. On one side is the traditional Afghan view that madrassahsshould continue to be established and maintained as before, and on the other is the ‘global’ perspective that religious schools are instrumental in spreading hate and intolerance. A third view has recently emerged from a section of Afghan society that might bridge the gulf between these two extremes: these Afghans do not deny the importance of religious schools but contend that, in their present mode, these institutions cannot produce graduates who can provide effective guidance and leadership to society to address its current problems.

 

With a view to enriching this ongoing debate, this article takes a brief look at the history of Afghan madrassahsand the role they played in Afghan society, tracing the relations of Afghan rulers and governments with these institutions up till the current regime. Previous efforts to reform the curriculum of madrassahsare analyzed. The current problems of madrassahsand the government’s response are briefly outlined. Finally, recommendations are presented for addressing the present problems of madrassahs, making them fit to play the important role they were meant to play in Afghan society, and thereby resolving the conflict of opinion between conservative and Western forces over what is to be done about the issues confronting the madrassah.

 

 

Historical Perspective


Religious schools were first established in Afghanistan — formerly called Khorasan — during the last years of the Umayyad Caliphate, when Islam first came to this part of the world. The schools continued to grow in number under different Afghan rulers, and especially proliferated during the reign of the Temur Gorgani dynasty of Herat. Rulers such as Shahrukh (d. 1446), the son of Amir Temur; his wife Gohar Shad Begum; Sultan Hussain Bayeqra (d. 1505) and his minister Ali Sher Nawayee (d. 1501) established many religious educational institutions, the ruins of which still survive in and around Herat. These seminaries produced knowledgeable and prominent religious scholars (Ghubar 2001, 266–280).

 

However, a period of protracted civil strife and wars with invading British forces followed Ahmad Shah Abdali’s creation of modern Afghanistan in 1747. On the surface, religious education continued as it had in earlier periods, but there was limited governmental attention or support to religious schools. Hardly any new schools were established, and research and scholastic activities continued only through the efforts of individual scholars. Afghans continued to obtain their education from these private centers of learning as they had before.

 

This was the situation when Syed Jamaluddin Afghani was born in 1838. Afghani was associated with the court of Amir Dost Muhammad Khan in 1857, and later with his son, Amir Sher Ali Khan, from 1863 to 1878. Afghani tried to bring about educational reforms but failed, initially because Afghanistan was embroiled in internal and external conflicts, and later because, after the wars subsided, some elements of Amir Sher Ali’s court alleged that Afghani had colluded with the traitors and dissidents, including the king’s brother, Sardar Muhammad Azam Khan, who had taken refuge in Iran after his defeat in the war. As the Amir appeared to be convinced of the allegations, Jamaluddin Afghani decided to go into exile in 1868. Before leaving, however, he met the Amir in Kabul and handed him a document describing his vision of reforms. The latter agreed to implement it (Ibid., 592–593).

 

Amir Sher Ali Khan introduced religious subjects in the contemporary education system but did not build new religious schools. The only religious institution to be established around this time was the madrassah at the mosque of Chob Foroshi, Kabul, during the period of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (1880–1901), which laid particular emphasis on fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) (Ibid., 650). In general, religious education continued largely through individual scholarly efforts, as had become customary over the preceding century.

 

In 1920, during the regime of Amir Amanullah Khan (1919–1929), a primary school of jurisprudence called Darul ‘Ulum Arabi was established in Kabul. A few more madrassahswere set up during the reign of Nadir Shah (1929–1933), including Najmul Madaris in Jalalabad and Darul Huffaz Andkhoi in the city of Maimana.

 

A further increase in the number of madrassahs took place during Zahir Shah’s time. By then, these institutions were being overseen by a Ministry of Education. The most prominent included:

  • Darul ‘Ulum Arabi in Kabul (est. 1919);
  • Fakhrul Madaris in Herat (est. 1929);
  • Najmul Madaris in Nangarhar (est.1931);
  • Madrassah Masjid-e-Jame in Herat (est. 1932);
  • Madrassah Asadia in Mazar-i-Sharif (est. 1936);
  • Madrassah Abu Muslim Khurasani in Faryab (est. 1936);
  • Madrassah Takharistan in Kunduz (est. 1939);
  • Madrassah Imam Abu Hanifa in Kabul (est. 1944);
  • Madrassah Roohani in Paktia (est. 1972); and
  • Madrassah Zahir Shahi in Maimana (Date of establishment not available).

These institutions spread over Afghanistan, reaching 20 during the reign of Sardar Muhammad Dawood Khan (1973-78) (Kamgar 1992). Of these 20 madrassahs, 2 were situated in Balkh, 2 in Paktia, 3 in Faryab, 3 in Kabul, 2 in Kunduz, 2 in Kandahar, 3 in Nangarhar and 3 in Herat.

 

Along with these madrassahs, centers for Tahfeez-e-Qur’an or memorizing of the Holy Qur’an were also established, including:

  • Darul Huffaz Andkhoi in Faryab, established in 1941;
  • Darul Huffaz in Kabul, established in 1903;
  • Darul Huffaz in Herat, established in 1940;
  • Darul Huffaz in Memna, established in 1944;
  • Darul Huffaz in Eastern Jalalabad, established in 1974; and
  • Darul Huffaz Kooth in Nangarhar, established in 1974 (Arzaq 1991, 51–73).

The number of madrassahsincreased significantly during 1979-1990. This was the time of the jihad against the invading Soviet Union. The organizations involved in or supporting the resistance movement funded madrassahsboth inside Afghanistan and outside, wherever Afghan refugees were situated. The exact number of madrassahsestablished during this period is hard to determine, especially for those established by nongovernmental Muslim welfare organizations.

 

In the 1990s, the Taliban gradually became stronger in Afghanistan. They paid special attention to the establishment and regularization of madrassahs. Six madrassahswith hostel facilities were built in Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat, Ghazni, and Mazar-i-Sharif, which the Taliban wanted to run on the Pakistani model where madrassahs are being run independent of government control under five autonomous boards representing different schools of thought. Other than these major six, hundreds of smaller institutions were also established and were registered with the Religious Education Department of the Ministry of Education. The Karzai government, which succeeded the Taliban, has not closed these madrassahsdown; nor, however, has it allowed them to operate like their counterpart institutions in Pakistan, as the Taliban had envisaged.
Private Madrassahs
Private madrassahshave existed side by side with public sector madrassahsin Afghanistan from the very beginning. When Afghanistan was re-established as a modern state in 1747, there were two types of private madrassahsin the country. The first type comprised of the halaqat-e-daras,or educational circles. Here, students lived in a mosque where they were taught by a religious scholar (shaykh), surviving on the support provided by the neighborhood. The shaykh, in such an arrangement, held no permanent position, nor was there any formal institutional arrangement or physical infrastructure. Such arrangements, nevertheless, existed in large numbers.

 

In the recent past, scholars who graduated from the Darul ‘Ulum Deoband and some other famous religious schools of India were sought after in Afghanistan. They became instrumental in spreading the influence of Indian Muslim institutions on religious education in Afghanistan. A small number of private madrassahsalso belonged to the Shi‘a sect; here, the students were taught by scholars who had graduated from Qum and Najaf.

 

The second kind of private madrassahswere fewer in number than the halaqat-e-daras. These were formal institutions that employed permanent teachers whose expenses were borne by the rich elders of society. Prominent among such institutions were the Madrassah Imam Fakhruddin Razi and Madrassah Abdur Rehman Jami in Herat; the Madrassah Fakhrul Madaris, run by a renowned religious and spiritual leader, Mian Gul Jan Agha, in the Tagab area of the province of Kapisa; Noorul Madris, run by Noorul Mashaikh Fazal Umar Mujaddedi in Ghazni, where the great scholars of Ghazni have taught Islamic studies; and the madrassahs of Hudkhel, Tarrakhel and Farza in Kabul.

 

These madrassahs operated completely outside the influence of the government. Their graduates generally associated themselves either with mosques, as Imams, or with Islamic teaching. They enjoyed great respect and influence among the general public. The government used their influence to settle religious disputes among the public and also offered them positions in the public sector madrassahs. Thus, many of the prominent teachers in the government-controlled religious schools were graduates of influential private madrassahs.

 

Occupations of Graduates of Public Madrassahs
Entry into Public madrassahswas reserved for students who had passed Class 6 from mainstream schools. Such students were admitted to Class 5 at their madrassahsince they invariably found the courses of study difficult. They stayed eight more years in madrassahsand, alongside the usual religious courses, studied Pashto and Persian (Dari). Arabic was taught to them by the most qualified graduates of Jamia Al-Azhar, Egypt. In addition, English was also introduced during Sardar Muhammad Daud’s tenure.

 

The curricula of these schools, except for minor changes, were on the pattern of the Deobandi madrassahsin India.

 

Qualifying the twelfth grade enabled the students to attach themselves with one of the professions outlined below.

Judiciary and Auqaf Ministry

Ninety-six percent of Afghan laws were based on the Hanafi school of thought, while the rest were derived from other sources, including international laws. All the laws were in accordance with the spirit of Islam.

 

Some of the graduates of the public madrassahs served as judges by taking a few additional courses needed for the discharge of this duty. Only the most gifted of the students got this opportunity. When Kabul was ruled by the communist regime, however, all the graduates from these public madrassahswere not only considered eligible to serve as judges, but were also given precedence for administrative and other judicial jobs. They were also eligible for positions in the ministry of Hajj and Auqaf – the ministry that takes care of religious issues at the central level.

 

Journalism

 

Many scholars who graduated from these schools were able to find employment in journalism. Some joined the magazine publication teams of the Auqaf Ministry while others made their mark working for private magazines.

 

Teaching and Research

 

The graduates also worked as teachers of Islamic Studies and Arabic in middle and high schools. Those who had interest in further study were admitted in the Faculty of Sharia, University of Kabul. The students were also sent abroad for education. During the early period of Zahir Shah’s rule, a certificate from these madrassahswas considered equivalent to a Bachelor of Arts degree. Therefore, graduates of public madrassahswere eligible to enter masters programs at the Jamia Al-Azhar.

 

Some madrassah graduates also entered government service after earning their bachelor’s degrees. Although this option enabled them to earn a livelihood through government service, it seriously curtailed their role as leaders of society. They could not criticize government policies as teachers in government-run madrassahs. They were controlled by the Ministry of Education, which had complete authority over the appointment and termination of teachers as well as financial matters of the madrassahs. The government also exercised control through its role in shaping the curriculum.

 

The situation of the graduates of halaqat-e-madaris was quite different, especially in terms of chances of employment. The main reason for this difference was that they were not trained to hold government positions and had no accomplished skills in reading and writing. They seldom attained the status in society that is reserved for a true ‘alim (religious scholar). However, due to the limited number of such graduates, this issue did not particularly disturb Afghan society.

 

Practically, these madrassahs disappeared in the aftermath of the resistance movement against the Soviet invasion in 1979.

 

Madrassahs and Sectarianism
Sectarianism on the basis of faith or fiqh is new to Afghanistan. The first major sectarian incident occurred in the country during the late years of King Zahir Shah’s rule (1933-73) and came through Pakistan. Sunnis in Afghanistan subscribed to the Deobandi school of thought since most of their scholars were educated at Deoband. A few Afghan students of a Deobandi cleric, Maulana Muhammad Tahir Panjpiri, who was based in the Swabi district in Pakistan and had strict views against bida’at (innovations in religion), returned to Afghanistan and initiated a campaign against what they declared to be un-Islamic practices. The local clerics who were involved in the practices such as shrine worship and Sufism turned against this Panjpiri campaign, which resulted in widespread social disorder. Before this, there had been no clashes between Shi‘as and Sunnis.

 

Another incident of sectarianism occurred when some people, especially in Badakhshan province, became associated with the Ahl-e-Hadith school of thought. Although they were few in numbers, their ill-advised strategies disturbed the peace to a considerable extent.

 

These were, however, minor incidents of sectarianism compared to the kind now being seen in Afghanistan. Millions of refugees have lived in Pakistan and Iran for years, several of whom obtained their education — and imbibed external influences — from the madrassahsthere. A clear example of the transfer of such influences to Afghanistan were the mass massacres conducted by the Taliban and the Shi‘as against each other in Bamyan and Mazar-i-Sharif in 1997 and the following years.

 

Incidents of Afghan sectarian violence have crossed the border into Pakistan as well. The BBC reported on its Urdu website that violent sectarian clashes had erupted between two rival groups in the Bara area of Khyber Agency in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. Both groups were led by religious leaders, one of whom was the famous Afghan, Pir Saifur Rahman, also known as Bara Pir. Dozens were killed. Later, both the groups scattered and their FM Radio channels were also closed down with the help of the local people.

 

Saif-ur-Rahman, now living near Lahore, is a cleric who only accepted his own interpretation of Islam; those who did not subscribe to his interpretation were automatically labeled as non-Muslims. Unfortunately, the number of such intolerant people is on the rise in Afghanistan.

 

Current Situation
President Hamid Karzai, who came to power in Afghanistan with strong US backing, inherited two kinds of formal schools: the 20–25 madrassahsthat had existed from the time of Zahir Shah and Sardar Muhammad Daud, and the newer madrassahs that were established by the Taliban. While maintaining most of these madrassahs, the Karzai government also established a few new madrassahs. According to statistics released by the Afghan government for the academic year 2005–2006, some 275 public madrassahswere working under the Ministry of Education in which 53,167 male students and 5,361 female students were enrolled. The number of teachers was 2,079, including only 53 female teachers .

 

The following table illustrates the distribution by province of public madrassahs and their students and teachers.

 

S. No

Province

No. of Madrass-ahs

No. of Students

Total

No. of Teachers

Total

 

Male

Female

Male

Female

1

Kabul

11

2,137

0

2,137

16

0

16

 

2

Kapisa

6

2,676

0

2,676

109

0

109

 

3

Parwan

21

6,094

1,420

7,514

260

16

276

 

4

Wardak

9

2,121

650

2,771

126

5

131

 

5

Logar

4

549

4

553

23

0

23

 

6

Ghazni

12

740

0

740

62

0

62

 

7

Paktia

4

938

0

938

28

0

28

 

8

Nangarhar

26

6,890

768

7,658

193

0

193

 

9

Laghman

6

1,819

59

1,878

45

0

45

 

10

Kunar

13

2,988

491

3,479

132

2

134

 

11

Badakhshan

9

691

0

691

69

1

70

 

12

Takhar

14

1,892

356

2,248

84

4

88

 

13

Baghlan

19

4,425

19

4,444

143

5

148

 

14

Kunduz

14

2,570

209

2,779

94

1

95

 

15

Samangan

1

85

0

85

5

0

5

 

16

Balkh

2

548

0

548

24

0

24

 

17

Jowzjan

6

262

0

262

21

0

21

 

18

Faryab

16

2,654

122

2,776

93

5

98

 

19

Badghis

1

61

0

61

2

1

3

 

20

Herat

15

4,085

179

4,264

117

11

128

 

21

Farah

6

601

0

601

31

1

32

 

22

Helmand

3

445

0

445

22

0

22

 

23

Kandahar

2

1,078

0

1,078

21

1

22

 

24

Zabul

1

38

0

38

1

0

1

 

25

Ghor

3

611

471

1,082

0

0

0

 

26

Bamyan

2

278

165

443

5

0

5

 

27

Paktika

19

2,958

0

2,958

160

0

160

 

28

Nooristan

10

1,316

233

1,549

88

0

88

 

29

Sar-e-pul

2

114

0

114

4

0

4

 

30

Khost

4

520

215

735

16

0

16

 

31

Panjsher

14

983

0

983

32

0

32

 

 

Total

275

53,167

5,361

58,528

2,026

53

2,079

 

Source: Planning Department, Ministry of Education, Afghanistan.
Notably, of the 34 provinces of Afghanistan, 3 — Daikundi, Uruzgan and Nimroz — do not have even a single formal madrassah.

We have earlier discussed that quite a large number of madrassahshave operated privately in Afghanistan. There is a dearth of reliable statistical data about them. According to estimates, such madrassahsare in the hundreds and include both Shi‘a and Sunni institutions. Shi‘a madrassahsare generally faring better in the current environment and many people believe that they are attracting support from Iran.

Curriculum of Madrassah

The First Curriculum

A regular curriculum for madrassahs was made for the first time in Afghanistan in 1930, introducing an 11-year educational program. A cursory look at the syllabi reveals considerable difficulties for entering students. The courses taught were rigorous and presumed that students were already initiated in reading and writing. The curriculum included Qira’at & Tajweed (Recitation of Holly Qur’an and its correct intonation) Tafseer (exegeses of the Holy Qur’an), Hadith (Sayings of the holy Prophet PBUH), Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Usulul Fiqh( Principles of Jurisprudence), Nahw & Sarf (Arabic grammar), Aqeeda (Beliefs/creed), Arabic literature, logic, Urooz-wa-Qafia (Prosody), philosophy, Hikmat (reason), Usulul Hadith (principles of Hadith), Ilmul-Ma’ani (science of rhetoric), history and ‘Ilm-ul-Meeras (science of Islamic inheritance), besides modern subjects such as calligraphy, mathematics and Persian (Zahir and Ilmi 1960, 83–87).

Although the graduates of these madrassahsreceived good job offers, many held that their education did not equip them with the modern knowledge needed to survive in their time. Thus, Musa Shafiq, who was a graduate of Darul ‘Ulum Arabi, Kabul, and became the Prime Minister of Afghanistan in the final days of King Zahir Shah’s reign, discussed in his essay, “When I Came Out Of The Darkness Of Darul Ulum,” the negative impact on students of the general environment of madrassahs, particularly the curriculum and the teachers (Ibid., 87–90).

The 1954 Revision

In 1954, the curriculum was reviewed. It was decided that students who had already passed Class 6 from the mainstream modern schools would be eligible for admission to Class 5 of madrassahs. Weekly hours were stipulated hours for every subject. The core subjects in the curriculum were religious and included Nazera (reading of the Holy Qur’an), Tajweed, Tafseer, Hadith, Arabic grammar, logic, Aqeeda, ‘Ilmul-kalam (scholastic theology), Arabic literature, principles of Jurisprudence, Qira’at (recitation of the Holy Qur’an), philosophy, principles of Hadith, rhetoric, Tarikh –ul- Tashri (history of legislation in Islam)‘ Ilmul Munazara wal Jadal ( Science of dialogue and debate), astronomy and physics.

 

In addition, some modern subjects were also taught at different levels, such as calligraphy, mathematics, history, geography, petition writing and record-keeping, training of management, and financial affairs. Although the number of religious subjects increased in this curriculum and some modern subjects were also introduced, languages and contemporary science subjects were still excluded.

The Third Curriculum

The syllabi of the madrassahsunderwent a further change during Sardar Dawood Khan’s tenure. The duration of the program was reduced to seven years and students could be admitted to Class 6 in madrassahsafter passing the fifth grade at mainstream primary schools. After completing their education in the seminaries, the students were awarded a 12th grade certificate.

 

The core subjects remained religious and included Nazera, Tafseer, Hadith, Arabic grammar, Tajweed, Aqeeda and ‘Ilmul-kalam, logic, principles of Jurisprudence, Arabic literature, Principles of Qur’anic Commentary, principles of Hadith, science of rhetoric, philosophy and Hikmat (reason), and Ilmul Meeras (inheritance).

Besides these main subjects, Pashto, Persian, Arabic, English, mathematics, history, geography, science, psychology, and methodology of education were also introduced. This curriculum laid special emphasis on English and Arabic. This was the first time that science and psychology were taught at madrassahs.

 

While these changes certainly made the curriculum diverse by combining the old with the new, they also burdened the students, who found English particularly difficult. Owing to its difficulty, the program’s duration was soon increased to eight years. The eight-year program was enforced for a brief period, after which it was realized that even eight years was too short a duration to ensure successful completion of the diversified curriculum. Some madrassahsincreased the duration by two years while the others continued the old way. Consequently, some students graduated after 12 years of education and others after 14 years. This situation prevails even today.

Students who were taught according to the second and the third curriculum complained that they learned neither from the religious subjects and nor from the modern ones because of poor quality of teaching and a generally unsatisfactory educational environment. During the Taliban rule, however, the madrassahsby-passed such issues by copying the syllabi of the Deobandi schools of Pakistan, which did not generally give space to modern subjects.

The Current Curriculum

President Hamid Karzai introduced the fourth curriculum for madrassahsin 2004. According to it, students of madrassahsare taught the same subjects as children of mainstream schools until they reach the end of Class 3. From the fourth class onwards, they are taught the curriculum of madrassahs, which continue to include a mixture of religious and modern subjects. The religious subjects include Nazera, Deeniat (Islamic Studies), Tajweed, Fiqh, Aqeeda and ‘Ilmul-kalam, Arabic grammar, Islamic etiquettes, principles of Hadith, principles of jurisprudence, Hadith, logic, science of rhetoric, ‘Ilmul-meeras, Tarikh-ul-Tashri , Seeratun Nabi (the life of holy Prophet PBUH), Tafseer, Principles of Qur’anic Commentary, philosophy and reason, history of Islam, Arabic language and literature, Hikmatut Tashri (Wisdom behind legislation) and Qawaed Fiqhia (the Rules of Jurisprudence). The new curriculum for madrassahsalso includes modern subjects, such as Pashto, Persian, English, history, geography, mathematics, calligraphy, science, methodology of teaching, examination and evaluation, principles of speech, history of Afghanistan, management and administration, psychology, and sports.

Madrassahs and the Karzai Government

In today’s Afghanistan, it is pertinent to ask why the Karzai government is allowing the madrassahsto exist despite the heavy foreign military presence and the ruthless propaganda being conducted against them by the US and its allies. No doubt, one reason is that religious education cannot be denied in a religious society. In Afghanistan, however, some other factors are also responsible for the continued existence and propagation of religious madrassahs, which are identified below:

 
  • The first and foremost factor is that the government-owned madrassahsare essential as a counterweight to the expected growth of madrassahsin the private sector. The Afghan situation has changed significantly. Afghan religious scholars have examples of militarily active Pakistani and Iranian madrassahsbefore them. Many of these scholars have even worked as teachers and examiners in various schools in Afghan refugee camps and other areas. These scholars successfully ran hundreds of madrassahsat the time of the resistance to the Soviets and continue to run them today. The government had expected that, when the war ended, these scholars would be interested in establishing madrassahsin the private sector, which would operate outside governmental control and retain their militarized character. The Afghan government also feared that such madrassahsmight grow through funds and charities made available to them by different sections of society. This situation could cause problems for the Afghanistan government, especially in the face of intense US opposition to madrassahs. It was this fear of private madrassahsand the consequences their activities might bring about that compelled Afghan policy-makers to take control of even those schools that were established by the Taliban government.
  • In the opinion of influential officers of the government in Afghanistan, Afghan religious scholars became intolerant through the education that was imparted to them at madrassahsin neighboring countries, where students are also trained to become militants and spies . In their way, the best way to stem these tendencies would be to establish peaceful religious institutions within Afghanistan where purely religious education is provided, omitting any violent elements. This would minimize the need for Afghans to go to madrassahsof other countries. In this regard, former Education Minister Noor Muhammad Qarqeen has said that “The reopening of these madrassahsgives a hope that Afghan students will not have to travel to neighboring countries for the sake of education” . It is indeed very sad that most of the violence in Afghanistan is being created by religious seminaries of neighboring countries. This was acknowledged by the Afghan Education Minister Hanif Atmar in the policy statement he made on April 9, 2006, while taking a vote of confidence. He said, “The Afghans have been compelled to go to neighboring countries for the sake of religious education because of their own neglect of their religious seminaries. This tendency is not only dangerous from the educational point of view but also is a danger to the peace and security of Afghanistan” .

Such statements show that the Karzai government aims at self-reliance in madrassaheducation. A conclusion has been reached that Afghanistan needs religious educational institutions. Considering the needs and desires of the common people, a plan has been devised to restructure the existing government-controlled religious schools. After that, the government plans to establish 34 madrassahs, one in each province of the country. Subsequently, the government plans to establish a madrassahin each district. In the words of the Education Minister, “The government has a resolve to establish 34 madrassahs in all the provinces of Afghanistan with the cost of 30 million dollars. These madrassahs would be completed within one to five years time and will admit up to a 2000 students each and will have services of teachers from al-Azhar also” .

Another reason for the continued existence of madrassahsis that the Karzai government does not want to show its secular face to the public. Rather, it is trying to appear extra-sensitive to the protection of madrassahsand shrines. Understanding the potential political fallout of closing down the formerly Taliban-controlled madrassahs, the government has opted for complete neglect and indifference, which leaves the schools in dismal conditions while the government avoids offending public sentiment and other possible difficulties.
Problems and Issues of Madrassah Today
Except for some Shi‘a institutions, nearly all the madrassahsare operating at less than their full potential. Some of their problems are outlined below.

Sectarianism

Sectarianism is emerging as the biggest problem for Afghan society. The current environment is particularly charged in this respect; many Sunni ‘ulema think that the Karzai government and its foreign supporters are encouraging the Shi‘a ‘ulema and madrassahsmore than their Sunni counterparts, because they consider the latter generally as sympathizers of the Taliban.

 

It is a fact that political and social developments in post-9/11 Afghan-istan have created many opportunities for Shi‘a ‘ulema, while, since the Taliban originated as a Sunni movement from Sunni madrassahs, the outlook for Sunni ‘ulema has not lately been as bright. In this changed situation, the number of private-sector Shi‘a madrassahsis on the rise and it is not matched by a similar rise in Sunni madrassahs. Among the clearest examples of this change is the Howza-e-‘Ilmia Khatim-an-Nabiyeen, one of the largest Shi‘a seminaries in Asia that has recently been established in Kabul and is being run by Shaykh Muhammad Asif Mohsini with open Iranian support . This religious educational institution is even bigger than the central Howza Elmiah Qom of Iran.

 

Under such circumstances, it is crucial that the ‘ulema of both sects avoid playing into the hands of imperialist powers. They need to realize that they will continue to live as neighbors even after the international players withdraw their forces from Afghanistan.

Curriculum Issues

The issue of the curriculum is serious in case of the private madrassahs, where there is neither a uniform recognizable syllabus, nor any central authority charged with designing and implementing a syllabus. Even informal mechanisms for standardization are missing; no large central madrassah has been identified by the smaller madrassahsas an example to follow in traditions. This lack of regularization is particularly problematic for the new madrassahs. In the absence of local guidelines, the Sunni madrassahs operate on the model of Pakistani madrassahsof the Deobandi school of thought, while Shi‘a madrassahs look to Iranian institutions in their development of syllabi and curricula. Mainly, the administrators of these madrassahshave been educated in one of these countries.

 

The private religious seminaries face two main problems in their syllabi. Firstly, in Sunni madrassahs particularly, only traditional Islamic subjects are taught, neglecting modern subjects and ignoring national languages and reading and writing skills. The graduates are therefore ill-equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern world. Secondly, despite having ‘studied’ voluminous books, the students lack necessary skills and abilities and even fail to learn Arabic. They remain engrossed in verbiages/margins and footnotes of the books rather than their content.

 

In contrast to this, the formal madrassahshave witnessed a gradual evolution through attempts to bridge the gap between traditional Islamic education and modern Western education. However, the following problems continue to beset them:

 

The present syllabus is of a transitional nature and was implemented by the Karzai government to meet the immediate requirements of madrassahs. It appears that no help was taken from the educationists in designing this transitional syllabus. Neither targets have been set for the completion of the syllabus, nor is there a clear-cut methodology for teaching or for conducting examinations and evaluation. There are, furthermore, no plans to prepare students for rigorous research work mentioned in the syllabus.

  • The transitional syllabus for madrassahs is a combination of the syllabi of mainstream schools and madrassahs. It requires students to study as many as 12 subjects in each grade and, as such, is quite difficult for an average student. Overburdened students fail to adequately learn both the Islamic and the modern subjects. The syllabus is also based on high expectations from the teachers, which, considering their qualifications, do not seem to be rational.
  • The books prescribed under the transitional syllabus are the same ones that have been used in the past. These actually hinder the ability of students to solve problems, inviting far more attention to form than to content. They do not include any exercises for students to practice what they have learnt. It should be acknowledged, however, that this problem is not limited to Afghanistan but spreads across the region. Some of the books in the prescribed syllabus have also lost relevance in the modern age. For example, Hidayat al-Hikmat may continue to have historical value, but it cannot be a substitute for a contemporary text of philosophy.
  • Considering the vital importance of curriculum development, it may be concluded that the required level of effort has not yet been made. This is recognized by the government and the Education Ministry does plan to revise the syllabus for madrassahs. In 2004, the former Chief of the Department of Religious Education in the Ministry of Education, Deen Muhammad Gran, issued a statement emphasizing that the present curricula of religious madrassahstaught for years does no longer meet the requirements of the present time and consequently needs to be revised in the light of recommendations by religious scholars. He also pointed out that a few delegations have been sent abroad for consultations in this regard.”

There is little doubt that changes in curriculum become inevitable with the passage of time. But such changes, whenever made, should be based on solid reasons and should correspond with the requirements of society. Keeping the youth away from religious seminaries of neighboring countries is not a sufficient reason for the time, effort and financial resources that ought to go into reforming madrassahs. The real purpose of madrassahsis to provide leaders of human society. And for such a purpose, the syllabus should incorporate an understanding of Islam, based on the study of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, and an understanding of the requirements of the present time. A person who has religious education but no knowledge of contemporary problems cannot be a religious scholar or a jurist since a jurist (faqih) is a person who not only knows Islam but also understands its application to the issues prevalent in his time.

 

Other Issues

 

Madrassahsin Afghanistan are faced with a host of other problems as well. The following are some of the main issues that the madrassahscontinue to encounter:

 

Quality of Education: Like other educational institutions, the madrassahshave failed to provide quality education to their students. Complaints about poor quality of education existed even during the reigns of King Zahir Shah and Sardar Dawood, when the madrassahshad far better teachers and relatively ample resources. Now, when the lack of facilities is compounded by perpetual warfare, the challenge has worsened.

 

Lack of Infrastructure and Resources: According to the Ministry of Education, only 4 or 5 formal madrassahshave their own campuses, out of a total of 275. Most of the madrassahsare housed in mosques and private homes, which are not suitable for teaching and learning purposes. The madrassahsalso lack proper classrooms, libraries, textbooks and hostels. The students and teachers blame the government for this depressing situation. According to a report of Pajhwok News Agency on September 6, 2005, the administrators of these formal madrassahsare unsatisfied with the Ministry of Education because of its lack of interest in them. The report suggests that the ministry ignores these madrassahsbecause of apprehension that it may be accused of supporting the Taliban and the Al Qaeda movement. Alhaj Sher Hassan, the administrator of a Darul ‘Ulum in the Chak area of Maidan Wardak, is quoted in the report as saying that although his institution falls under the purview of the Ministry of Education, the government has not provided any assistance to it since the fall of the Taliban. The Deputy Head of the province’s Education Department explains that the ministry does not provide funds to the madrassahsbecause it lacks resources itself; there is little money to buy books for the seminaries and the only solution is to seek the help of the wealthy and influential of the community.

 

The report states that the same situation prevails in other provinces as well. Thus, Razia Naseri, the administrator of Madrassah Ayesha in Kabul, complains that her madrassah, which was set up during the final years of the Najeebullah government in the campus of Jamhooriat High School, and was the first such institution for women, is not being facilitated. Instead, the government wants its building to be vacated.

 

The head of Religious Education in the Ministry of Education agrees that these problems exist. However, according to him, the ministry cannot help the situation because of the unwillingness of donors to support the madrassahs. The Islamic countries too do not want to antagonize the global powers and therefore refrain from supporting madrassahs. He also says that the ministry has not requested international nongovernmental organizations for financial support because such requests would certainly be turned down .

 

Lack of Security: The madrassahsalso suffer because of poor security and the volatile law and order situation of Afghanistan. The Allied Forces target madrassahson suspicions that they support the resistance movement. Students are beaten up and questioned. Fearing that the Allied Forces might declare them supporters of the resistance, neither the Afghan government nor the local influentials support the madrassahs.

 

Administrative Issues: The madrassahsin Afghanistan do not work under an organized, integrated system. For formal seminaries, the government has established a Religious Education Directorate, but there is neither an administrative structure, nor any board to support, coordinate and supervise private-sector madrassahs.

 

Modern versus Traditional: There is a wide gulf between the religious seminaries and modern schools. The students of formal religious seminaries study some modern subjects but their counterparts in the informal private madrassahs are confined to traditional Islamic subjects. The lack of modern education seriously hinders their job prospects, especially in comparison to students of modern schools. If the situation continues unchanged, it will further aggravate this divide.

Recommendations

Religious education is a demand of Afghan society . Failure to recognize this demand on the part of the authorities is only going to bring further chaos to Afghanistan. The continuous neglect of the madrassahsand the resultant gap between them and the modern schools does not augur well for the country. To stem this worsening trend, the following measures are suggested:

  • The establishment of private madrassahsshould be encouraged, just like the establishment of modern private schools. This will start a healthy competition and also lessen the burden on the gov-ernment exchequer. The regulation of madrassaheducation is the responsibility of the state. However, this does not mean that the government takes over their control. The idea that governmental control of madrassahscould prevent experiences such as those of Pakistan, Indonesia, and Bangladesh in madrassaheducation must also be checked. Only the national context and needs should determine Afghan education policy.
  • The madrassahs should not be targeted on account of mere allegations that they are collaborating with the Taliban.
  • The financial needs of madrassahs require urgent attention. Since foreign donations are not forthcoming, the government should meet these requirements on its own.
  • A Religious Education Board consisting of eminent religious scholars needs to be set up to improve the quality of education. Particular attention should be paid by this board to the formulation of syllabi and improved evaluation mechanisms. The board should be, both, responsible for award of degrees and registration of madrassahs,and competent to address other related problems of private and public madrassahs. A private board to regularize private seminaries should also be formed, which should be competent for the appointment of administrators on merit.
  • The graduates of madrassahsshould be given entry into universities on special quota to allow for the fact that they are overburdened during eight years of their education at madrassahswhere they have to manage both Islamic and modern subjects at the same time. This will help them to avoid lagging behind in comparison with graduates of mainstream schools and colleges.
  • One of the key areas for reform is syllabus design. Syllabi should be so formulated that they equip students with the following abilities:
  • To continue education in higher educational institutions in different departments, e.g. Shari‘ah, Islamic studies (tafseer, Hadith, da’wah and civilization), comparative religions, political science, faith and philosophy, conceptual economics, sociology, history, psychology, geography, anthropology, law, education, journalism and media, and Pashto and Persian;
  • To specialize in subjects like tafseer, Hadith and fiqh;
  • To guide and lead society in accordance with the principles of Islam;
  • To perform jobs in the Auqaf Ministry, courts, and administrative and technical wings of the Information Ministry;
  • To serve as Imams and preachers in mosques;
  • To teach Islamic studies and the Holy Qur’an to middle and high school students; and
  • To play a constructive role in protecting the ideological sovereignty of Afghanistan from the foreign cultural invasion.
  • Madrassahgraduates should also be absorbed in mainstream, ensuring access to conventional education and employment opportunities. Since the students of madrassahsare generally poor, they should also be given scholarships and financial aid for this purpose.
  • Some religious seminaries should be upgraded to postgraduate level and also encouraged to make research contributions to the subjects of tafseer, Qur’anic education, Hadith, fiqh, principles of fiqh, faith and philosophy, and comparative religions. The seminaries should also be competent to award high school certificates and bachelor’s degrees.
  • Formal religious schools should be opened up for women since the existing ones are not meeting their requirements fully.
  • Experts should be employed to develop the syllabus design. As experience has shown, this task is too sensitive to be performed in haste or entirely by non-specialists. Proper research should form the basis of the future syllabus.
  • The gulf between the madrassahsand the modern schools should be lessened. The graduates from madrassahsshould be accommodated in formal universities and they should be facilitated to study different modern subjects. This will also reduce their problems of unemployment.
Sectarianism should also be curbed. Sunni and Shi‘a scholars should take necessary measures to create a culture of harmony and tolerance between different sects. They should check further social destabilization and present a united front to imperialist forces.

The laws in Afghanistan were drawn from the Majallat Alahkam Alaldlya, a journal published by the Ottoman Empire that compiled and transformed Hanafi fiqh into legal text.

Especially noteworthy is Payam-e-Haq, a publication of the Auqaf Ministry, which published great names like Sakhidad Faiz, Muhammad Jan Ahmadzai and Muh-ammad Yonus Khalis.

This information was provided by the Planning Department of the Ministry of Education

This opinion is based on interviews conducted by the author with many Afghan intellectuals from all major cities of Afghanistan, such as Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The author has drawn this list from the certificates of graduates of that period.

http://afghanistannews.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/afghanistan-taking-back-madrassa-education-minister

Hezbi Wahdat. February 2006. Retrieved from www.wahdat.net/index.pho? page=artilce/ culture.php&id=1602

BBC Persian. April 9, 2006. Retrieved from www.bbc.co.uk/persian/afghanisan/ 2006/04/ 060409_ram-amtar-iv.shtm

Weekly Islah-e-Milli, October 28, 2006, Kabul.

This observation is based on a study of ground realities and interviews conducted by the author with Afghan intellectuals like Ameenullah Mutasssem from the Faculty of Sharia, Herat University; Dr. Ismael Labeeb Balkhi, a prominent ‘alim of Mazar-i-Sharif; Abdulwahid Jaheed from the Department of Islamic Studies, Kabul University of Education; and Mawlana Sakhidad Fayez, Director of Madrassah Abdullah Ibn Massod of Kabul.

www.benawa.com, accessed at August 5, 2007

The current Chief of the Department of Religious Education is Mr. Daeeulhaq Abid, graduate of Al-Azhar University, Egypt.

Pajhwok News Agency, September 6, 2005.

http://afghanistannews.wordpress.com/2007/03/27/afghanistan-taking-back-madrassa-education-minister/

 
Back

Your are currently browsing this site with Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

Your current web browser must be updated to version 7 of Internet Explorer (IE7) to take advantage of all of template's capabilities.

Why should I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7? Microsoft has redesigned Internet Explorer from the ground up, with better security, new capabilities, and a whole new interface. Many changes resulted from the feedback of millions of users who tested prerelease versions of the new browser. The most compelling reason to upgrade is the improved security. The Internet of today is not the Internet of five years ago. There are dangers that simply didn't exist back in 2001, when Internet Explorer 6 was released to the world. Internet Explorer 7 makes surfing the web fundamentally safer by offering greater protection against viruses, spyware, and other online risks.

Get free downloads for Internet Explorer 7, including recommended updates as they become available. To download Internet Explorer 7 in the language of your choice, please visit the Internet Explorer 7 worldwide page.