ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's state-owned universities and higher education institutions are adopting an unofficial policy to bar students of madrassah (religious seminaries) from being enrolled in PhD and Mphil courses.
Although there is no written policy or directive from the government for universities' administration, they have adopted a novel way to keep madrassah students away from universities, and other institutions of higher learning, Qari Hanif Jalindhari, secretary of Ittehad Tanzimat-e-Madaris (United Madrassahs Organizations), a joint body of five major madrassah boards in Pakistan, told OnIslam.net.
Under the unofficial policy, madrassah students holding degrees of Shahdat-e-Almia should first appear in entry test before being enrolled for PhD or Mphil courses in Islamic education.
But surprisingly, the madrassah student finds that the test is not about relevant subjects, but about mathematics, science, English literature, and other irrelevant subjects.
It's very much like that if a student of mechanical engineering wants to get admission for higher studies in his field, but he is asked to pass the test of medical sciences, said Hanif, who is also the Secretary General of Wifaq-ul-Madaris Board, the largest madrassah board in Pakistan.
Hundreds of madrassah students have recently been deprived of admission to Mphil and PhD by different state-owned universities.
Shahadat-e-Almia, the highest degree awarded by any of five registered madrassah boards, was declared equivalent to M.A by former military ruler Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in 1980s, enabling madrassah students to get admission to universities for further higher education.
There was no such ban on entry of madrassah students to the universities even during the so-called enlightened and moderate regime of Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
That means the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) government wants to widen the gap between Mr. and Mullah, Qari said, referring to a general assumption in Pakistan that a college or university student is called Mr., whereas madrassah student is called Mullah.
We are trying best to reduce this gap so that the madrassah student too can be part of social and economic mechanism, he said.
But it seems if the current government, which officially claims to have been struggling for reducing this gap has a totally different agenda.
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.
Political and social experts criticized the policy as unwise and perilous.
This is a highly unwise decision, which would have a long-lasting effect on our society, Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political analyst, told OnIslam.net.
There is already a wide gap and misunderstandings between madrassah and school students, which need to be addressed instead of widening them.
The expert said that madrassah students should be made part and parcel of society in line with school and college students.
Madrassahs should be seen as an alternative education system rather than a rival system, he said.
If madrassah students want to do Mphil and PHD at conventional educational institutions, they must be encouraged as it would not only increase coherence but will also open new avenues for them.
Ali warned that the current policy, which is based on discouragement, may prompt the enlightened and moderate madrassah students into hands of militants.
Such policies will exacerbate the already existed sense of alienation among madrassah students, and may drift them towards a negative path, he warned.
But university officials have denied any unofficial ban on madrassah students.
There is no such policy aimed at discouraging the madrassah students, an official at Punjab University Lahore, told OnIslam.net, requesting anonymity.
But, yes, I admit, the current entry test system need to be changed.
Although, a candidate for PhD or Mphil should have basic knowledge about social studies, current affairs, and politics etc, however a candidate for PHD in Islamic studies cannot be an expert on science or mathematics that I admit, he said.
Latif Khosa, governor of the Punjab province, the country's largest and richest province, has also taken note of the policy.
In his meeting with Qari Hanif, Khosa, who is also the chancellor of all the state-owned universities in the province, warned that the policy will yield negative results in future.
I told him (Governor) that keep the window open for madrassah students. Don't push them towards negative activities, Qari Hanif said.
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 of Pakistanis live below poverty line, although the government puts the figure at 18 to 20 percent.
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.