The madrassa networks of Sindh

The Friday Times  – July 12 – 18, 2013 |
Ali K. Chisti



In a recent survey carried out by the Sindh Home Ministry, there are 12,545 madrassas in the province, of which 2,161 are sectarian and dangerous.

About 74 percent of these religious schools are in Urban Sindh (Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur). At least 8,191 out of them opened after 9/11. About 67 percent of the madrassas in the province are owned by people who do not have a Sindh domicile.

According to the survey, 6,191 of the madrassas belong to the Deobandi school of thought, 2,811 are Barevli, 412 follow the Ahle Hadith doctrine and 512 belonged to the Shia fiqh.

The most alarming aspect of the study is that the areas with the highest concentration of madrassas are the focal points of sectarianism. One example of that is Karachi’s central district that has more than 813 madrassas. More than 74 percent of all sectarian motivated killings in Karachi are carried out in this district.

Two thirds of the madrassas are owned by people who do not have a Sindh domicile

Mufti Taimoor Afridi owns the Jamia Islamia madrassa in North Karachi, with 381 students mostly from the tribal areas. “These children would have joined the Taliban if they weren’t studying here,” he said. “We are teaching and feeding them. The money comes from local donors.” Mufti Taimoor Afridi recently bought a new 4×4 Vigo worth Rs 3.2 million.

Inside the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s headquarters in Karachi, party head Aurangzeb Farooqi says his group’s madrassas do not promote sectarian rivalry. “We have hundreds of madrassas with thousands of students, and we do not teach sectarianism.”

The population of madrassa students in Sindh according to the Home Ministry survey is estimated at up to 120,000 to 150,000. “We have seen cases in the past where we recovered children chained in a madrassa named Madrassa al Arabia al Uloom,” said Mohammad Rameez Khan, an official of the Sindh Home Ministry. “The parents enrolled the children but the madrassa administration chained them so they wouldn’t run-away.”

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In 2005, Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad promulgated the Societies Registration (Sindh Amendment) Ordinance, under which no seminary can be set up or run in the province without being registered. A new section 21 was included in the 1860 law, with four clauses, that also made it compulsory for all seminaries to submit annual reports of their performance, their expenses and receipts, and audits of their accounts. The law also prohibited teaching or publishing “any literature which promotes militancy or spreads sectarianism or religious hatred”.

But the madrassa networks remain a major cause of concern for the Sindh government. “A majority of sectarian terrorists use these madrassa networks not just to hide but to recruit, pick and even train,” said senior police officer Chaudhry Aslam, who heads the CID.

But any reform of law enforcement moves could backfire if madrassa owners are not taken on board, analysts say. “The biggest problem is enforcement,” said Sharfuddin Memon, former home minister and CPLC chief. “We should also take stern action against hate literature and enforce laws to regulate these seminaries.”

Karachi’s central district has 813 madrassas. More than 74 percent of all sectarian killings in the city are carried out in this district

“There are over 600 madrassas in Sindh which are red flagged and termed dangerous,” said a source in the Sindh Home Ministry. But analysts say it is hard to prove how a specific religious curriculum promotes hatred, violence and prejudice towards various sects within Islam and non-Muslims, especially when the entire state and private school curriculum is designed to promote, inculcate and incite the spirit of jihad and hatred among children as young as five.

There are also concerns about the future about the thousands of students who enroll in these religious schools. “What will these children do after graduation?” asks Mufti Naeem of Jamia Binoria, one of the largest seminaries in Sindh. “There has to be vocational training and some sort of accommodation to these madrassa students or there would be issues at all levels.”

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