Pakistan to root out extremism in madrasahs

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan has pledged to crack down on religious seminaries suspected of fostering extremism following a Taleban school massacre in December that left more than 130 children dead, but the move faces stiff resistance from conservatives.

Amid a wave of outrage after the attack at the school in the north-western city of Peshawar, the government announced a "National Action Plan".

A six-year moratorium on the death penalty was lifted and the Constitution was amended to allow military courts to try those accused of carrying out attacks "in the name of religion or a sect".

The plan also included proposals to keep a closer watch on the country's 13,000 Islamic seminaries, or madrasahs, 97 per cent of which are privately run. With little oversight of what was being taught to the 1.8 million children enrolled, fears grew after the Peshawar attack that some were breeding grounds for intolerance or extremism.

Every evening, one of Islamabad's most exclusive quarters is thronged with young men in traditional white shalwar kameez and prayer caps. They are students of the Jamia Faridia madrasah, tucked among the upmarket homes of diplomats and the wealthy.

It is run by Maulana Abdul Aziz, the cleric of the hardline Red Mosque, which in 2007 was the scene of a week-long military siege against radicals which left more than 100 people dead and led to the rise of the Tehreek-e-Taleban Pakistan (TTP).

Aziz is well known for his controversial views, including praising the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group and saying the Pakistani military's fight against the TTP was "un-Islamic". Last year the Red Mosque's madrasah for girls renamed its library in honour of Osama bin Laden.

The government's efforts to rein in madrasahs have prompted anger from many clerics, who accuse the authorities of maligning religious leaders in a bid to build an "anti-Islamic narrative".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'Pakistan to root out extremism in madrasahs'. Print Edition | Subscribe