Excerpt: Pak Madrassas Emerging as a Religio-Political Cauldron 
Arab interest in Pakistan’s Madrassas has played a potent role in radicalisation of curriculum over the years.
Arab interest in Pakistan’s Madrassas has played a potent role in radicalisation of curriculum over the years.(Photo: The Quint)

Excerpt: Pak Madrassas Emerging as a Religio-Political Cauldron 

(Excerpted with permission from ‘The Islamic Connection’ edited by Christophe Jaffrelot and Laurence Louër, published by Penguin.)

Despite the madrassas attracting attention, there is a dearth of information regarding their financing. In early 2015, the secretary-general of the Wafaqul Madaris talked about 23 madrassas getting foreign funding, none of which were in Punjab or FATA. Another report mentioned 190. However, this report was based on data from the Interior ministry for the year 2013-14 that gave the number of 33 (Qatar 21, Dubai/UAE 7, Saudi Arabia 3, Hong Kong 1, and Bahrain 1).

Despite the statements that talk about the Arab world being the biggest source of funding for madrassas, the extent of this financial aid is not known. According to a senior (un-named) official, an amount of approximately US $700,000 was transferred illegally from two Gulf States in early 2015.

Money Transfer from the Arab World to Pakistan

The term illegal transfer pertains to hawala/hundi or personal means of transfer. This is considered illegal because it is through unofficial sources.

Broadly speaking, there are four methods of money transfer from the Arab world to Pakistan:

(a) official funding that is given by the Saudi government, in particular, to mosques and madrassas whose list is provided by the Pakistan government;

(b) funding by the embassies to local client madrassas or religious groups without the permission of the Pakistani state;

(c) money transferred unofficially by private individuals and charities through hawala/hundi; and

(d) money given to agents of Pakistani groups or individuals by the government or private sources visiting the Middle East and the Gulf.

Arab Interest in Pakistan

Although there is little information about the second category of transfers, the federal Interior minister of the PPP government (2008-13) claimed to have requested Riyadh to withdraw its ambassador who used to distribute funds to groups involved in militancy or had links with militants. There is also little information available regarding which one of the above four is the most preferred method of transfer.

Many available works trace the transfer of funds and the building of influence of Saudi Arabia and Gulf states in Pakistan to the war in Afghanistan during the 1980s. The cooperation that was established to fight the Soviet troops in Afghanistan seems to have generated both Arab interest in the area and funds being sent to the region.

According to Gunter Mulack, 1979 changed the educational landscape in Pakistan. With the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the need to fight a war, 5,000 mosque schools were established and their curriculum re-written with emphasis on jihad. This was also the period that Arab fighters including Osama Bin Laden came to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Furthermore, it is during this period that we can observe the proliferation of Deobandi madrassas.

Role of Arab Charities in Kashmir Conflict

Resources from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf played a significant role even after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. In fact, Arab charities such as Al-Haramain were established in 1988 as a ‘religiously inspired response to consequences of (the Afghanistan) war.’ The links developed between Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the mujahideen, and the charity continued to thrive.

Consequently, Al-Haramain was found involved in the Kashmir conflict. Reportedly, in 1999 the charity sent funds to Ansar Welfare Trust in Kashmir that was considered a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and JuD.

The Saudis contributed for the purpose mainly, as Marie Juul Peterson claims, due to growing consciousness that help had to be extended beyond providing aid to suffering Muslims, to provide assistance to fight their enemies. Jihad was viewed as fard ‘ain (an obligation for individual) as opposed to fard kefaya (an obligation for the entire community).

The timeline of the growth of madrassas and their linkage with Saudi Arabia and Gulf States is divided in three phases:

(a) from the early 1960s to 1979;

(b) 1980 to 2000; and

(c) from 9/11 to date.

The First Wave

The first period is marked with building links that did not necessarily revolve around the lure of money but the power of ideology. In DG Khan, the Deobandi madrassa of Maulvi Ali Murtaza is a case in point. Murtaza was a local cleric from a lower class socio-economic background.

While his brother worked as a hakeem (traditional doctor), Murtaza specialised in religious interpretation and building a reputation amongst local people. His fatwa regarding the eating of crows not being haram was a reiteration of Deobandi scholar Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi’s fatwa. This was the reason his mosque began being referred as the ‘mosque of crows.’

Murtaza belonged to the Naqshbandi order that has ideological affinity with Wahhabism. That is possibly one of the reasons he was attracted towards interacting with Saudi clerics during his many visits to the Kingdom.

His reputation earned him followers, some of whom went and settled in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

There is no evidence that the Saudi government supported Murtaza’s infrastructure but his son-in-law and the current caretaker and imam of the mosque claimed that the followers, some of whom worked abroad, particularly in the Middle East, financed the madrassa and mosque.

Murtaza’s ‘Alleged’ Link with the 1979 Siege

Furthermore, Ali Murtaza repeatedly travelled to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage. He is reported to have undertaken seven pilgrimages and numerous umrahs, yet there is no information available about whom he interacted with, be it the Saudi clergy or others. However, his is the only madrassa in Pakistan that is reportedly linked with the siege in Mecca of 1979.

Apparently, Murtaza took with him about seven of his pupils that were involved in the rebellion. The people of DG Khan were very apprehensive about discussing the case when I interviewed them.

The participation of Pakistanis, which was casually reported in 1979, is indeed an under-researched story. Other Pakistanis that were part of the rebellion were from Sindh. However, Murtaza’s Deobandi background and his image as a man who may not be associated with any form of violence, is a cause for scant information. In any case, more than 30 years after the Mecca incident there is little information available about Murtaza’s ideological leanings.

The fact that he studied in Bhopal in India may provide some clues. Indeed, the Ahl-i-Hadith school of thought developed in India, mainly in Bhopal and Delhi. Of course, his Naqshbandi background is another explanation. After all, Hayat Sindhi, who was Ibn-Abdul Wahhab’s teacher and one of his main ideological inspirations was also from the Naqshbandi Sufi order from Sindh.

Not to be ignored is the fact that the militant organisation Jaysh Rijal at-Tariqa an-Naqshabandiya (‘the army of the men of Naqshbandi order’) was established in Iraq in 2003 to fight the coalition forces and restore the old Baathist order.

Referring to Ali Murtaza and his involvement with the 1979 rebellion, there is a probability that he may have had some links with Juhayman Uthaibi through the Jaamaat al-Tableegh that the latter was associated with during the 1960s. It is noteworthy that Murtaza converted to Deobandism. His madrassa has the reputation of being a Deobandi seminary today.

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