When madrasa challenges state

Pakistan’s plan to tackle terrorism will fail if it refuses to bring madrasas under the scanner.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: February 14, 2015 7:54 am
Nawaz sharif, pakistan prime minister, nawaz sharif on kashmir, indo-pak relations The Nawaz Sharif government says madrasas are sacrosanct and will not be investigated.

After the adoption of a National Action Plan and a constitutional amendment to tackle terrorism through military courts, the clerics in Pakistan are worried. Records show many terrorists with a madrasa background, some used also by a state that has lost several essential attributes of normality.

The Nawaz Sharif government says madrasas are sacrosanct and will not be investigated, but a growing body of facts in the media says madrasas are involved in terrorism through the training of killers and “excommunication” (takfir) of the Shia community. The state itself apostatises Ahmadi Muslims but baulks at takfir of the Shia counted as

Muslims in the census. Most madrasas have gone on record — they may deny it — in calling the Shia kafir. Their fatwas have been used as handbills prior to Shia massacres.

The document that arraigns the madrasas of Pakistan comes from India in the shape of a collection of fatwas for apostatising the Shia. The compiler was the head of the Lucknow madrasa Nadwatul Ulema, the late Manzur Numani. The compilation is titled Khumeini aur Shia kay barah mein Ulama-e-Karam ka Mutafiqqa Faisala (Consensual Resolution of the Clerical Leaders about Khomeini and Shi’ism), al-Furqan, Lucknow, 1988. Numani was funded by Saudi Arabia to write a book against Imam Khomeini and collect fatwas of takfir of the Shia.

A number of clerical leaders of Pakistan cosigned or confirmed the fatwa against the Shia in 1986. Among them were two well-known names: Muhammad Yusuf Ludhianvi and Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai. Both were to die in the sectarian upheaval that overtook Pakistan during the Afghan civil war of the 1990s and the jihadist reaction to the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

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Fatwas of apostatising are on record as having been issued from time to time from all the prominent madrasas of Pakistan. Darul Ulum Haqqaniya Akora Khattak of Maulana Samiul Haq issued its own fatwa apostatising the Shia in 1986, saying that eating food cooked by them, attending their funerals and burying them in Sunni graveyards stood banned. Another fatwa from Jamia Ashrafia, Lahore, whose leader Maulana Muhammad Malik Kandhalwi, known to be a relative of General Zia-ul-Haq, declared the Shia kafir because “they held that the Quran had been tampered with and gave Hazrat Ali a status equal to Prophet Muhammad, claiming that angel Jibreel had made a mistake while taking wahi (sacred verse) to the Prophet”.

The above fatwas were circulated in Quetta, Balochistan, in 2003 before the massacre of the Hazara Shia there on two occasions. Since no madrasa is required by the state to register all the fatwas it gives out to the people, the information given by the Hazara leaders on TV fell on deaf ears. However, the compilation of all the Shia-related Pakistani fatwas in Lucknow in 1987 is available for scrutiny by the military courts.

There are more than 25,000 officially accepted madrasas in Pakistan — they may be double that number — not all of them registered with the government. According to one source, Balochistan alone has 10,000 madrasas! The big killers that Pakistan wants to catch and hang belonged to these madrasas at one time or another.

The biggest challenge for the government and the military courts is the Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) madrasa, whose head Maulana Abdul Aziz was under summons in January from a court that he defied. In 2007, al-Qaeda owned up links to it and created the Ghazi Force, which savaged the military personnel of Islamabad-Rawalpindi with suicide attacks.

The killer behind the Ghazi Force, named after the founder of the Lal Masjid, was Qari Husain Ahmad Mehsud, who had graduated from madrasa Jamia Faruqia of Karachi, which was founded by Mufti Shamzai, who went on to found Jamia Banuria too, the biggest factory of sectarian killers, till Shamzai himself was killed. And Mehsud was killed by a drone because he trained the son of an air force officer to attempt blowing up Times Square in New York.

Many terrorist organisations now banned by Pakistan were born in madrasas. Jaish-e-Muhammad was founded by a graduate of madrasa Jamia Banuria of Karachi, Maulana Masood Azhar, the same man who was caught in India but was “exchanged” for a hijacked Indian airliner. He was the disciple of Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the terrorist mullah who was murdered in the sectarian war between 1980 and 1990. Now, terrorist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is headed by another disciple of his, Malik Ishaq, who was bailed out by a scared judiciary and is now being kept in jail by the government.

Pakistan tells the world it doesn’t know where Azhar is today. (His madrasa in Bahawalpur is flourishing as one of the watering holes of Taliban killers roaming in Pakistan.) Another Banuria graduate, Maulana Azam Tariq, was gunned down by rivals after he was “mistakenly” elected to the National Assembly. The headquarters of the biggest killer outfit, Sipah-e-Sahaba, is in Jhang. It is banned, but is alive and kicking in southern Punjab, where you can win elections only after a pact with the Sipah. Jhang has been the epicentre of sectarianism in Pakistan and Jhang was where Syeda Abida Hussain, a Shia farmer, won elections against the founder of the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Haq Nawaz Jhangvi. In 1990, Jhangvi was murdered, and Hussain thought she could meet and condole with his widow. The widow replied: “No need for you to come. You can recite Sura Fateha on the phone; I do not need your assistance. My brother Osama bin Laden looks after all my needs. You must have heard of him. He is a very famous rich Saudi, much richer than all of you kafirs put together.” (From Hussain’s memoir, Power Failure).

No one knew bin Laden in 1990. He left Peshawar after 1991, when the Afghan warlords tilted into their internecine war, and returned from Sudan only after Pakistan had installed the Taliban in Kabul in 1996. It was in Afghanistan that the various Pakistani madrasas touched base with him and swore allegiance to the “Shaikh”, including the Lal Masjid clerics of Islamabad and sundry Islamist nuclear scientists and doctors of Pakistan, which then led to the killing of Shia doctors all over the country.

Nobody ever thought that madrasas in Pakistan would become powerful enough to challenge the state itself. In 2015, they have become the most powerful civil society element capable of challenging the state to self-correction. The ideology of Pakistan has finally wrenched the “monopoly of violence” from the state and established the clergy as the arbiter of state behaviour. Lawyers, military personnel, doctors, teachers serving in the state sector, journalists and the unemployed, supplement the power of the seminarian boys, who form the frontline against the state without knowing it.

The state today is too weak to enforce the Action Plan against terrorism. Like the Middle East, it is no longer able to undo the textbook biases drilled into the common man’s mind. Education is heavily tilted in favour of irrational conduct. Spending on education — the Islamic world neglects education, from Pakistan to Algeria — is of no use unless the state ideology is changed.

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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