Table of Contents acknowledgements II

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Table of Contents



Introduction vii

Madrasah Education: A Historical Evolution 1

Madrasahs In Pakistan 22

State And Madrasah Relations: 1947-1999 46

Reforms Since 2000: Action Against The Status Quo 74

Response of Madrasahs and Prospects of Reforms: 98

Rebellion Against State Power 98

Final Assessment 119

Glossary 123

Bibliography 127

Index 136


Thanks to ALLAH, the Omnipotent, the Omniscient, Who is so kind to mankind and Who enabled me to successfully complete this study, and all the respects for His last and Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) for enlightening me with the essence of faith in ALLAH and for all prophets for guiding mankind to the true path of life.

It was indeed a great honor for me, to have Prof. Dr. Hugh Van Skyhawk, Professor of Comparative Religion, Taxila Institute of Asian Civilization, as my supervisor. Without his deep interest and proper guidance this work would have been impossible. He proved to be very cooperative and kind and unswerving in his commitment to see this manuscript through the press. In addition, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) deserves my special thanks because it provided financial assistance to me for this study.

I offer special thanks to all the staff members of Taxila Institute of Asian Civilization for their full cooperation during my research work and the staff of National Institute of Pakistan Studies library and library of Shiekh Zyed Islamic Center Peshawar University.

I am also thankful to the staff of the Press Information Department for the help they provided me whenever I visited the department in connection with this study.

I am greatly indebted to my friends, especially, Irfan Ullah, Yousaf Zaman, Ismail Khan, Iftikhar Ahmad, and Jamshed Iqbal for their moral support and for helping me because of my weak computer knowledge.

I am also very grateful to all my friends, relatives and well wishers, whose prayers enabled me to complete my research successfully.

Sultan Ali


  • CIA Central Intelligence Agency

  • CII Council of Islamic Ideology

  • CZA Central Zakat Administration

  • DMs Dīn-i-Madāris* دین المدارس

  • ECPAK Euro Consultant Pakistan

  • ESRA Education Sector Reform Assistance

  • FATA Federally Administered Tribal Area

  • ICRD International Centre for Religion and


اتحادتنظیمتِ مدارس دینیا

  • JUI Jamiat-i-Ulamai Islam* جمیعت علماءِ اسلام

  • M.A. Master of Arts

  • M.phil. Master of Philosophy

  • ME Middle East

  • MEPI Middle East Partnership Initiative

  • MMA Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal* متحدہ مجلسِ عمل

  • MOU Memorandum of Understanding

  • MPA Member of Provincial Assembly

  • MRD Movement for Restoration of Democracy

  • MRP Madrasah Reforms Project

  • NGO Non-Government Organization

  • NIDMP National Institute of Dīn-i-Madāris

  • NOC No Objection Certificate

  • NRDF National Research and Development Foundation

  • NWFP North West Frontier Province

  • PATA Provincially Administered Tribal Area

  • PMEBO Pakistan Madrasah Education Board


  • PNA Pakistan National Alliance

  • PPP Pakistan People’s Party

  • PZA Provincial Zakat Administration

  • RTI Research Triangle Institute

  • SDPI Sustainable Development Policy Institute

  • SRO Societies Registration Ordinance

  • TIUQ Tanzeem-i-Ittehade Ulama-i-Qabail*

تنظیم اتحادِ علماءِ قبائل

  • TNSM Tehreek-i-Nifazi-i-Shariati-i-Mohammadi * تحریکِ نفاظِ شریعتِ محمدی

  • UGC University Grants Commission

  • USA United States of America

  • USAID United States Agency for International Development


The concept of strict division of knowledge between the religious and the non-religious has been a topic of debate throughout the history of Pakistan. But this concept is rarely noted in the history of Islam before colonial rule in the Subcontinent, Madrasahs in the medieval Muslim world produced a considerable number of distinguished scholars and philosophers, who contributed to worldly knowledge as well. Ijtihad or independent thinking was a notable feature of these institutions. However, under colonial rule in the Subcontinent the sphere of madrasah education was restricted to the study of strictly religious disciplines, especially fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. Pakistan inherited this dichotomy in the education system from colonial India. However, the educational planners and policy makers have been unable to resolve this problem, which is the core of all evil.

Madrasah education has been a subject of critique in learned circles, and calls to reform regularly come from scholars, academics, and public policy makers and even from the ulema themselves. The issue has assumed far greater importance in the light of greater assertion of powers of madrasah leaders in state policy matters. Madrasahs assumed greater importance at the international level also because of their alleged involvement in violence and militancy. The 9/11 tragedy in New York strengthened the global perception that madrasahs produce extremists and breed terrorism.

However, my interest in the subject is as old as my close association with religious leaders and teachers of traditional religious madrasahs since my school days. I have the credit of having studied some of the preliminary books of madrasah curriculum at that time and enjoy relatively good intimacy with them.

Statement of the Problem

Madrasah education is becoming increasingly redundant. It has strayed from its purely educational role and become involved in activities contrary to the manifest objectives. Madrasah reforms are widely believed to be the only remedy to overcome this problem.

Objectives of this Study

The government plan to reform madrasah education is not new. However, the increasing interest of government in the issue is aimed at bringing madrasahs into the mainstream, in addition to diluting the negative perception of the international community regarding the reason d'tre of madrasahs. The madrasahs and the ulema, however, have always expressed serious reservations regarding the sincerity of government in this matter. While no one, including the ulema, is against the idea of reforms, there are, however, wide differences between the government and the ulema in its practical implementation. The present study is aimed at an impartial analysis of the present situation in historical perspective and in the light of the perceptions of the different actors involved. This study will help to understand the problem in a realistic way by addressing the following questions:

1. What reforms mean for different actors?

2. Why are reforms necessary in din-i-madaris?

3. How far are government and the madrasahs justified in their approaches?

4. To what extent are the prospects of reforms only rhetoric?

Reforming madrasahs and, of course, the whole education system has assumed greater importance in the current modern plural society. As a vital sector of the educational system of Pakistan, madrasahs have great potential for making positive contributions to Muslim society and can play important roles in bringing peace and prosperity to the country. Madrasahs have deep rooted relationship with Muslim society and enjoy the great respect of the common man. Madrasahs and religious elites influence public opinion on different issues of religious and socio-political importance.

In view of the vital role of madrasahs in Pakistani society their importance cannot be simply ignored in state policy matters. Therefore, reforming madrasahs in Pakistan actually means reforming the entire society

Review of Literature

While debate regarding madrasahs is not a new phenomenon, what is new is the great significance and intensity it has received because of the changed priorities of the super powers in South Asia, in particular, and the world over. The government has been trying since the 1960s to reform madrasah education and bring it into the mainstream. Different types of studies including books, journals, and articles in newspapers, official documents, and literature published by these madrasahs are the sources of information for this study.

Jamal Malik, University of Erfurt, has carried out in-depth study of madrasahs and government initiatives during the era of the Ayub Khan and Zia-ul-Haq’s regimes. This is perhaps the first comprehensive study on the subject, which has always remained controversial because of the mutually opposed points of view of madrasah leaders and the government. In addition, Malik’s study reveals that the ulema of different schools lack a unanimous approach toward this issue, and that these differences are deeply rooted in society because students and teachers of madrasahs represent different segments of society. Moreover, Malik thinks that some madaris preach militant views and are openly involved in politics contrary to their purely educational roles.1

The Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), an Islamabad-based organization, has several publications to its credit regarding the issue of madrasah reforms. One such study, Din-i-Madaris may Taalim (Urdu) by Saleem Mansoor Khalid, offers the in-depth information on the din-i-madaris in Pakistan together with an impartial analysis of various reform initiatives. The study contains details of problems faced by din-i-madaris and honest suggestions to address them.2 Several other publications and seminars organized by the IPS are aimed at creating motivation among scholars, intellectuals, and ulema for reforming religious education.

Dr. Tariq Rehman in his book Denizens of an Alien World: A Study in Education Inequality and Polarization in Pakistan opines that the present curriculum of din-i-madaris is mostly based on a centuries-old syllabus known as the Dars-i-Nizami. He writes that madrasahs belonging to different schools of thought teach books which refute each other’s beliefs. This promotes sectarianism in the society. He believes that rising militancy in madaris is the result of the Afghan war. The book also contains information regarding the socio-economic background of students of din-i-madaris.3

Mohammad Qasim Zaman in his book The Ulema in Contemporary Islam, has discussed the reform plans and their failures also. He argued that opposition to the government agenda of reforms exists to varying degrees among the ulema. The study contains the dissenting views regarding the issue and the motives behind them.4

A leading book on the subject in India by Yoginder Sikand is an invaluable contribution and perhaps unrivalled among the contemporary works. In his book Bastions of Believers: Madrasah and Islamic Education in India, he has discussed madrasah reforms in historical perspective. This study has valuable information regarding different aspects of reforms. It also carries the detail of reformed madrasahs in India that can serve as guidance for madrasahs in the entire region.5 The article "Religious Education and Violence in Pakistan" is highly informative about the role of madrasahs in the socio-political life of Pakistan. The author believes that a section of the ulema also favors reforms in order to adjust themselves to modern needs. He advises that the religious and social services of the madrasahs should be recognized by the government and they may be assigned due role to ensure peace in the society.6

Other contributions by the same author on the same topic can be found in Robert M. Hathaway’s recent anthology. They contain details of recent government initiatives of reforming Islamic education. These writings make valuable suggestions for policy makers in this regard.7 Several articles by the eminent scholar Mumtaz Ahmad are to be consulted on the topic under study and have been explored for the said purpose.

The reports published by various NGOs, e.g. National Research and Development Foundation (NRDF)8, International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD)9 and Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) are also sources of information for the present study.

The publications of the Zakir Hussain Institute, New Dehli, are of great importance on this topic. They contain valuable studies of the relevance of madrasah education in the modern world and proposals for reforming this vital sector according to current realities.10

The recent study of Saleem H. Ali, Islam and Education: Conflict and Conformity in Pakistan's madrasahs, is one of the latest works on madrasahs in Pakistan. The author has discussed the various aspects of madrasah education, i.e the socio-economic background of madrasah students and violence and relevance of this sector in the modern world. The book also carries the detail of madrasahs in other countries including India, Bangladesh, Malysia, and Indonesia. It contains certain recommendations for madrasah reforms in Pakistan in the light of successful experiments in these countries in reforming their madrasahs.11

C. Christine Fair's recent book, The Madrasah Challenge: Militancy and Religious Education in Pakistan, traces the root causes of militancy in madrasahs and suggests various measures to overcome this problem. The study also discusses the government point of view for reforming madrasahs and also the madrasah approach to the issue.12

Madrasahs are actors in the present study and their points of view are essential for understanding the issue in its real perspective. The monthly Journal Muhhadis of the Islamic Research Council is an authentic source of information for understanding the view points of madrasahs regarding government reform initiatives. It carries interviews and comments of leading ulema on the issue and the response to the government agenda of reforms.13 The monthly Wafaq-ul-madaris, a journal of Wafaq-ul-madaris al-Arabia14 and Al Haq, a monthly journal of the Darul Uloom Haqqaniya Akora Khattak,15 are valuable for understanding the madrasah viewpoint on the subject.

Research Methodology

In this study both historical and descriptive methods have been used. For collection of data primary sources, e.g. field survey, interviews, and official documents have been used. In addition, secondary sources, e.g. books, journals, and articles in newspapers and magazines have been consulted.

Organization of Study

The present research study has been organized into the following five chapters in addition to the introduction and conclusion.

1. Madrasah Education: an Historical Evolution

This chapter contains the evolution of madrasahs from the middle ages to the partition of the Subcontinent.

2. Madrasahs in Pakistan: a Profile

This chapter contains the growth of madrasahs and the wider role they play in Pakistani society.

3. State and Madrasahs Relations: 1947-1999

In chapter 3 the detail of madrasah reforms from 1947 to 1999 has been given. The causes of the failure of these efforts are also discussed.

4. Agenda of Reforms since 2000: An Action against the Status Quo.

This chapter consists of the details of government efforts to reform madrasahs and their implications since 2000. The role of NGOs has also been mentioned in this connection.

5. Response of madrasahs to the State Sponsored Agenda and Prospects of Reforms: Rebellion against State Power.

This chapter is devoted to the viewpoint of the ulema and religious leaders and the causes responsible for their uncompromising stand. Prospects of reforms have also been discussed here.

The final assessment has been given at the end.


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