Blasphemy Laws and Female Madrassa of Pakistan
Soumya Awasthi

As Pakistan struggles with establishing democracy while parliament has passed no confidence motion against Imran Khan, the extremists are gradually strengthening their grip on Pakistan Society. This time it is a female madrassa which has caught the eyeballs of the international media.

On March 29, 2022, in a female madrassa at Dera Ismail Khan, three female students attacked their 18-year-old teacher Safoora Bibi and mercilessly beheaded her at the gate of the madrassa. As per Pakistan media report by Aaj TV, "Three female students of madrassa murdered Female Teacher after having a dream where they described her as a blasphemer".[1] Likewise, Dawn newspaper reported that as per the statement made by them at the police station, some religious personality appeared in the dream of one of their relatives- who is a 13-year-old girl- and said the teacher had committed blasphemy against Islam based upon which the religious personality gave directions (in a dream) for beheading". [2] Samaa English TV reported that the girl claimed that she saw Prophet Mohammad in her dream.[3]

As early as January 2022, Pakistan came out with a National Security Policy, which stated that ensuring religious tolerance was one of the tenets. However, all those promises were tall, and that's all in Pakistani pseudo-cracy. Imran Khan government gave a vision to his countrymen of secularism and democracy, though he did so keeping his feet in two boats.

The reason that Pakistan continues to grapple with extremist ideology is the fact that all the leaderships from past to present have been mollycoddling the fanatics of the town for political gains. Madrassas and Mosque culture has pushed the country several centuries behind, rather into the world of jahiliya (ignorance).

Although there are no official estimates of madrassas in Pakistan, various scholars give a figure ranging from 32,000 to 70,000 madrassas, where around 2.5 million students get religious education.[4] The Pakistan Education Statistics 2017-18 Annual Report published by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM) reports around 31,000 registered Deeni Madaris.[5] Around 2000 are all-female madrassas in Pakistan out of these preliminary numbers. These madrassasas are running with an objective of protecting women from getting morally corrupted. There is an emergence of a conservative value system that promotes conventional roles for women in the society.

Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had envisioned a progressive and liberal Pakistani society that accommodated women in politics and constitutional rights. These opportunities for women triggered moral policing among the ulema and clergies towards the female section of the community. The religious organisations took the onus upon themselves to "protect" women from the influences of liberal western values eroding society. For this purpose, female madrassas emerged, which were tasked to impart religious knowledge to women and preserve the traditions within the families. Madrassas became an ideological move to secure traditional value structures. It was thought that once these female scholars return home after four long years of religious education, they become drivers for diffusing spiritual teachings within the larger community, given the strong psychological incentives by eulogising them as the epicentre of society as mothers, daughters and wives. One of the pamphlets from Jamiat-i-Islami madrassa says:

Half of the responsibility for promoting and developing an Islamic Society is shouldered by women. Unfortunately, today's Muslim women are steeped in ignorance and have wandered far from the role they were born to play. To have a positive reformatory impact on society, women with faith, taqwa [God-consciousness] and high moral values are needed.[6]

A Muslim poet Hafiz Ibrahim said, "Mother is a school, if well prepared; an entire healthy society is prepared". The Al Huda International Institute is one of the propagators of the female Islamic education movement, apart from a few others like Minhajul Quran and Mawrid. They are encouraging women to join Islamic education and refresh their social purpose. Therefore, women's education under Islamic religious law is considered essential for societal development.

Al Huda is one of the movements started by Dr Farhat Hashmi, which is dedicated to Islamic education for women of Pakistan. Her organisation has more than 15000 female scholars from all walks of life, and apart from Pakistani citizens, she has followers from the US and Europe. Dr Hashmi's organisation teaches Hadith, Quran, and its relevance in their own lives. The curriculum is identified as the Ahl-i-Hadith branch of Islam. Similarly, a famous Jamia-e-Hafsa, a women's madrassa in Islamabad linked to Lal Masjid, has shown its radical bent of mindset from time to time. Jamia Hafsa has been standing in support of Tehrik-e-Taliban- Pakistan (TTP), and later in 2021, it hoisted the Taliban flag[7] and sang 'Salam Taliban'.[8] Almost a hundred women protesters died in an armed struggle defending Sharia law.[9] Even before this, there have been instances where the female scholars of Jamia Hafsa have vocally supported Daesh and asked Pakistan militants to join Islamic State fighters.[10]

There has been a rise in the number of women volunteers in transnational jihadist groups like the Islamic State, Al Qaeda in Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), and TTP, to name a few. These women have often raised money for the objectives of the group. The women volunteers of the groups like TTP and AQIS are considered to have potential to motivate young boys of the family to join extremist groups.

Most of the female madrassas in rural and urban centres of Pakistan aim to provide some form of education to the female section of the society as a replacement for the non-availability of educational institutions. However, in some places, the madrassas have become an institution for protecting females from getting morally corrupted by western cultural influence. As a result, there has been powerful control over the talibas mind, body and conduct via various modes of teachings and selective imparting of Islamic knowledge. Women studying in madrassas loose their ability to rationalise their acts. These circumstances have made the Pakistan society further backward and orthodox. Which in return is causing harm to those who aspire to lead progressive lifestyles but are under the threat of the draconian blasphemy laws of Pakistani constitution.

Unfortunately, women radicalisation goes unchecked most of the time, which has become firmly rooted in the society that makes it even more challeneging. Therefore, it becomes imperative that women's radicalisation is given equal attention because the female madrassa provides an interface between traditional values and global influences, which results in the extremism of the conventional belief system.

Therefore, these conflicting ideas need to be addressed before spreading their tentacles around the neighbourhood. Also, given that the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan is undergoing domestic turbulence post the no-confidence motion passed against Imran Khan, there is once again the threat of a rise in fundamentalist voices in domestic politics, which is threatening the neighbourhood with Islamic militancy.

Endnotes:

[1]Web Desk, “Three Women ‘slaughter’ female madrassa teacher over alleged blasphemy”, Aaj TV, 29 march 2022, https://www.aaj.tv/news/30282488.
[2]Newspaper Correspondent, “Female Seminary Teacher Killed by her Students”, 30 March 2022, https://www.dawn.com/news/1682482.
[3]Samaa English TV, “Police: DI Khan woman murdered over dream ‘blasphemy”, 29 March 2022, https://www.samaaenglish.tv/news/2022/03/three-women-murder-seminary-teacher-in-di-khan/.
[4]Azmat Abbas, Madrassah Mirage: A Contemporary History of Islamic Schools in Pakistan, Al- Abbas International: Pakistan, 2019.
[5]Pakistan Education Statistics 2017-18 Annual Report, http://library.aepam.edu.pk/Books/Pakistan%20Education%20Statistics%202017-18.pdf.
[6]Massooda Bano, “Female Madrassas in Pakistan: a Response to Modernity”, Working Paper 45, 2010, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, Religions and Development Research Programme, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/57a08b1ded915d622c000aed/working_paper_45.pdf.
[7]Raja Furqan Ahmed, “Flag of Taliban raised in Lal Masjid”, Pakistan Daily, August 20, 2021, https://thepakistandaily.com/flag-of-taliban-raised-in-lal-masjid/.
[8]Anil Kumar, “Taliban Flag hoisted at Women’s Madrassa in Pakistan, Children sing ‘Salam Taliban”, India Today, August 22, 2021, https://www.indiatoday.in/world/story/taliban-flags-hoisted-women-madrasa-pakistan-afghanistan-1843882-2021-08-22.
[9]Zahid Hussain, “How Lal Masjid Changed Militancy”, The Dawn, July 13, 2017, https://www.dawn.com/news/1345068.
[10]Azam Khan, “No Regret Over Supporting IS, says Lal Masjid Cleric”, The Express Tribune, December 14, 2014, https://tribune.com.pk/story/806711/no-regret-over-supporting-is-says-lal-masjid-cleric.

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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