Pakistan'sIslamic schools training terror
By Alastair Lawson
News that one of the London suicide bombers studied at a Muslim religious school?or madrasa?in Pakistan has once again raised questions over the country'ssprawling system of religious education and what it is producing.
Shehzad Tanweer'sfamily said that he attended a madrasa for two months in the city of Lahore. That has led to intense media speculation in Britain that he may have been ?brainwashed? into carrying out the attacks.
It is widely acknowledged that most madrasas are moderate institutions, providing much needed education and board and lodgings for poorer students where the Quran is studied intensively.
But are some of them ?breeding-grounds of terror??
It is estimated that there are now around 20,000 madrasas in Pakistan, compared to around 137 at the time of Partition.
According to the Pakistani newspaper, The News, there are today around 1.7m students who attend such institutions, mainly from poor rural families.
The reasons for the huge growth in the number of madrasas dates back to 1979, when the Soviet Union'sinvasion of Afghanistan led to large amount of money flowing into Pakistan from the West and countries in the Gulf.
Much of this money was directed towards madrasas, and was used by anti-Soviet Mujahideen groups to provide religious and military training for thousands of young fighters prepared to fight the Russians.
Students (talebs) from Pakistani madrassas were often in the frontlines of the Mujahideen groups that drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
Most members of the Taleban government overthrown by the Americans following the 11 September, 2001 attacks in the United States had attended madrasas in Pakistan.
Narrow-minded hardliners trained in madrasas have also been blamed for outbreaks of sectarian violence over the last decade in Pakistan in which hundreds of Shias and Sunnis were killed.
Critics of the madrasas focus on the narrow curriculum often taught. ?Many students develop an intolerant, prejudiced… and narrow-minded view of the world,? says Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid.
He says that a few hardline madrasas in Pakistan employ teachers sympathetic to al-Qaeda, who encourage students to join extremist groups in Kashmir and Chechnya.
?They gradually become radicalised through this process,? he says, ?so that it would be no surprise if they ended up joining al-Qaeda.?
Many conservative Pakistani families in Britain and elsewhere in the West send their children to madrasas in Pakistan for between six to nine months to complete their children'seducation.
?The trouble is that many, like Shehzad Tanweer, find this process disorientating and end up more confused than when they arrived,? Ahmed Rashid says.
(Courtesy: BBC News)