ISLAMABAD - Seeking to copy Turkey's school system that combines religious and modern education, Pakistan plans to revamp its madrassahs (religious schools), a move seen as helping ease religious tension the south Asian Muslim country.
We are really impressed by their (Turkish) system, and want to learn from that, Mohammad Ilyas Khan, the secretary of Islamic Ideological Council (IIC) of Pakistan, told OnIslam.net.
It gives an opportunity to the students to choose out of a number of fields for higher education in colleges and universities.
An IIC delegation visited a number of public religious schools, known as Imam Hatip schools, during a visit to Turkey last month.
The delegation also held meetings with Turkish officials on the system to discuss copying it in Pakistani madrassahs.
The presidency of religious affairs has offered us to develop curriculum for our madrassahs in line with Imam Hatip schools in order to offer a variety of opportunities to madrassah students, who otherwise have only one opportunity i.e. to become prayer leaders or teachers at religious seminaries, Khan said.
And we are very keen to avail this offer.
The Turkish model of Imam Hatip schools is fusion of Islamic and modern education as it contains as much arts and science classes as normal high schools do.
Originally founded to educate Muslim imams in the 1920s, the imam Hatip syllabus devotes only around 40 percent of study to religious subjects like Arabic, Islamic jurisprudence and rhetoric. The rest is given over to secular topics.
The network has incubated the elite of the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party which came to power in Turkey in 2002.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- who went on to study economics -- and around one third of his party's MPs attended imam Hatip schools.
Under the current system, Turkish students can opt for Imam Hatip schools only after completing 8 years of mandatory education.
But a bill proposed by the AK party would pave the way for children to opt to attend Imam Hatip schools as early as 10 years of age, as well as enter special vocational schools.
Pakistan plans to develop a liaison with Turkey to copy the model of the Imam Hatip schools in its madrassahs.
A delegation of the presidency of religious affairs Turkey will soon visit Pakistan to meet the heads of all the madrassah boards to discuss the possibility of a permanent liaison between the two sides, Khan said.
There are nearly 22,000 madrassahs in Pakistan, of which the majority offers conventional religious education.
Only a few madrassahs have added computer and vocational trainings to their syllabus.
Nearly 12,000 madrassahs are administered by Wifaq-ul-Madaris Pakistan, which represents the Dubendi school of thought.
The remaining 10,000 madrassahs are administered by Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Pakistan (Brelvi school of thought), Tanzeem-ul-Madaris (Shiite), Wifaq-ul-Madaris Al-Salafia (Ahl-e-Hadit), and Rabita-tul-Madaris Pakistan (Jammat-e-Islami, which does not represent any particular sect).
An estimated 2.2 million students are enrolled by the five madrassah boards across Pakistan.
Western media often blames Pakistani madrassahs for providing reinforcement to Taliban fighters in war-hacked Afghanistan, a charge denied by school officials.
The US Senate Committee on Intelligence has recently blamed Pakistani madrassahs for producing militants to fight the US-led foreign forces in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban.
Many Taliban leaders including Supreme Leader, Mullah Omer, have studied in Pakistani madrassahs, which once were supported and projected by the US and the western world to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in 1980s.
Many Pakistanis believe that madrassahs are the largest NGO in the country, which provide free of cost boarding, lodging and education to poor students.
A large number of Pakistanis cannot afford to send their children to schools due to grinding poverty, particularly in rural areas. Therefore, madrassahs appear to be the only choice for them.
According to World Bank, nearly 34 percent Pakistanis live below poverty line, although the government puts these figures at 18 to 20 percent.
Pakistani officials believe that the introduction of a revised and modern madrassah curriculum can lower the sectarian divide in Pakistan.
There is no place for sectarianism in Imam Hatip schools system. This is the forte of this system, Khan said.
This (system) is a fine blend of Islamic education, not sectarian education, and modern subjects. We want to develop the same system here.
He, however, opines that there is a big difference between sectarianism and different religious interpretation.
There is no harm in difference of opinion vis-a-vis Fiqh (Jursprudince). Religious scholars may have different explanation, but it does not mean that they are rivals.
Our motive behind seeking inspiration from Imam Hatip schools system is to tell our people that they can live united even with diverse opinions.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net