July 27, 2006

Pakistan asks Indian state to help reform madrasas

By Bappa Majumdar

KOLKATA (Reuters) - Pakistan has sought the help of an
Indian state to revamp its system of madrasas after accusations
some of the Islamic schools teach religious hatred and are
breeding grounds for militancy.

The Pakistani mission in New Delhi has written to the
government of the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, ruled by
communists for nearly three decades, seeking to study the
state's success at reforming its Islamic schools.

Madrasas in the state teach religious tolerance and include
Christian and Hindu students in the classrooms as well as
teaching subjects such as science and information technology.

"We have read about the madrasas of West Bengal and
hopefully we can replicate them in our reforms program,"
Mohammed Khalid Jamali, a first secretary at the Pakistani High
Commission in New Delhi, told Reuters late on Thursday.

"We have written to the West Bengal government to gather
knowledge about religious tolerance practiced in the madrasas,
the curriculum and the successful reforms program," he said.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has vowed to clean up
the religious schools.

After the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings of London's
Underground trains, he ordered all foreigners be expelled from
madrasas in Pakistan because their presence was giving the
country a reputation as a breeding ground for militancy.

At least one of the four suicide bombers was believed to
have spent time at a madrasa.

Nearly a quarter of West Bengal's 80 million people are
Muslims but the state has seen very little religious violence
compared to other parts of India.

Many put this down at least in part to reforming the

Half of the state's 1,000 madrasas -- attended by about
400,000 students -- are now government-run and officials plan
to take control of the rest in coming years.

West Bengal's madrasas teach Islam and Sufi literature as
well as science, and also plan to introduce foreign languages
such as French, in addition to the Arabic, Urdu, Hindi and
English already taught.

There are 12,000 madrasas in Pakistan, mostly providing
rudimentary schooling, free religious education, shelter and
food to about one million boys from poor families.

Critics say many madrasas provide a hardline interpretation
of Islam, adhered to by members of groups such as the Taliban,
al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. They also accuse
some schools of being a front for these organizations.

West Bengal's government said it was eager to help

"I got the letter two days ago and we are happy to know
that Pakistan is keen to learn about our system of education in
madrasas. We will try and help them out," Abdus Sattar, West
Bengal's education minister, told Reuters.