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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The extra-religious functions of madaris : implications for community planning in Pakistan Aijazi, Omer


The current mantra of development advocates macro level, top down approaches which largely ignore the potential for change inherent within existing indigenous grass root social structures. One such indigenous social institution prevalent in the Islamic World is that of the religious school locally known as the madrassa. After 9-11, madaris have been prominently featured in the international media as a potential breeding ground for terrorists and fundamentalists and has become a policy concern for both the American and Pakistani governments. Recent policy interventions have included steps to centralize madaris, curriculum revisions along with a renewed interest in improving existing public and private schools as an alternative to religious schooling. Most of these steps have been rejected by the madrassa community and there is ongoing antagonism between madrassa officials and government authorities. This research examines how madrassa mission and mandate intersect with community development goals as well as with the national project of development and modernity, and how they create linkages and multiplier effects within the local culture and institutions particularly in the absence of social support services. It utilizes a mixed method approach based on ethnographic interviews, mapping, content and discourse analyses and participant observations to uncover the daily patterns of the research participants’ lives in two selected research sites in Islamabad, Pakistan. The research develops recommendations based on the perspective of madrassa students, alumni, administrators, teachers and local community members. The study argues that madaris have the ability to reach out to Pakistan’s marginalized and disenfranchised. It is important for the madaris community to get recognized by the state to gain access to state funding and aid agencies. However the government needs to be very flexible with its policy of reforms and needs to allow the madaris to operate in the academic spaces they deem fit. The purpose and intent of madaris should be preserved and allowed to remain intact. This is where planners and development practioners fit in. They need to mobilize a participatory dialogue between the state and the madaris community and exact this crucial integration of indigenous institutions such as the madrassa into mainstream development policy.

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