Profile of a madrassa

Print edition : August 04, 2001

THE Haqqania madrassa is one of the thousands of religious schools in Pakistan, but the largest among them. It has 2,800 resident students. It is funded by wealthy Pakistanis and other Muslims living in the Gulf countries. Haqqania trains its students to become muftis or priests.

At the Haqqania madrassa near the Khyber Pass in Pakistan.-

The students, ranging in age from eight to 35, learn by heart the verses of the Koran in their Arabic original. The curriculum also includes Islamic case law, the history of Islam and the interpretation of the Hadith, or the word of Mohammed.

Several Taliban leaders have been recruited from among Haqqania's students. Although they are not trained to handle weapons, its chief, Mullah Samiul Haq, says he considers as his objective the transformation of each of his students into a jehad fighter. During the civil war in Afghanistan, some of his students were sent to fight alongside the Taliban.

Life at Haqqania is strict: the students are forbidden from laughing or shouting, parents are not allowed to visit them and the campus is out of bounds for women. The only extra-religious activity allowed is an occasional game of cricket.

At Haqqania, indoctrination seems total and effective. Asked whether nuclear weapons should be deployed in jehad or not, all the students in a classroom raise their hands in approval. Any negative theory or question relating to the Taliban or Osama Bin Laden is immediately rejected: "The Americans know how to manipulate images. They could put Osama's head on someone else's body and try to make us believe that he killed someone, even though it is not true."

The art of discussion is not of much use here. At a Hadith class, a mullah with a long, white beard reads out the texts. None of the students asks a question and no exercises involving the texts are carried out.

According to the official point of view, Haqqania offers a wonderful educational opportunity for numerous poor or orphaned children. President Pervez Mush-arraf has said: "Very few of these schools resort to military training techniques. Most are driven by humanitarian goals: to feed and provide shelter for these poverty-stricken boys."

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