New Pakistani Prime Minister May Rein in the Country’s Islamic Schools

Pakistani Muslim students attend a madrassa to learn the Quran, in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 15, 2018. Religious schools in Pakistan, most of them in mosques, are the only source of education for millions of children. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Like several Pakistani leaders before him, Prime Minister Imran Khan came into office vowing to reform the country’s 38,000 madrassas — the Islamic seminaries that for decades have educated the poor while also promoting sectarianism, extremism and hatred for the West.

After taking office in August, Khan said reforming the madrassas was a priority of his government. He wanted to give the estimated 3.5 million children currently enrolled in madrassas an opportunity to pursue mainstream education.

“Madrassa students should be able to become doctors, engineers, judges and generals,” Khan said in his inaugural address.

“Imran Khan’s wish is not his alone,” said A.H. Nayyar, a physicist and independent educational expert based in Islamabad. “Reforming madrassas has been wished for a long time by many rulers, but all failed.”

Madrassas attract mostly poor students in a country where the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child recently found that around 22.6 million children, particularly girls from traditional families, don’t attend school.

The narrow religious education that madrassa students receive, said Nayyar, “does not make them eligible for any societal function other than clerical leadership.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, on Jan. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

In October, the prime minister laid out his reform plans at a meeting of religious school leaders, saying he wanted to eliminate private schools, which are largely attended by well-to-do Pakistanis, improve the public education system that educates the country’s poor and introduce a nationwide curriculum that madrassas would also need to follow.

“It is of utmost importance that we have a uniform education system without discrimination in the country,” he told the clerics.

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Source: Religion News Service