Madrasas, schools that teach young children strict Islamic basics and often viewed as incubators of militant Islam by Westerners, are likely to keep growing and remain relatively unchanged, even under current reform efforts. That is one of the conclusions of journalist Husain Haqqani writing in the magazine Foreign Policy (November/December).
Haqqani notes that madrasas are not only a phenomenon of Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, the poorest countries, such as Yemen, Somalia and Indonesia, often boast the largest madrasa enrollment. An estimated 6 million Muslims study in madrasas around the world. Twice that number study in maktabs or kuttabs, small Koranic schools attached to village mosques.
Most Madrasas–which provide room and board for young students–are predominantly quietist in tradition, “teaching rejection of Western ways without calling upon believers to fight unbelievers… But even the quietist madrasa teaches a rejection of modernity while emphasizing conformity and a medieval mind-set,” writes Haqqani.
There are many calls for reform by politicians within Muslim countries (who often seek Western aid in this effort). But Haqqani is skeptical about such prospects, believing the schools will not change as long as they are “home to a theological class popular with poor Muslims.” The proposed recipe for reform is to add contemporary subjects, such as math and science, along with traditional Islamic subjects. But just as madrasas survived the introduction of Western education during colonial rule, they will likely withstand the new wave of reforms.
As one student told Haqqani, “In haddith [commentary on the Koran] there are many references to how many times Allah has multiplied the reward of jihad. If I knew how to multiply, I would be able to calculate the reward I will earn in the hereafter.”
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