By Tahera Rahmani and Fazlur Rahman
Almost 270 days have passed since the Taliban closed the gates of schools for girls across Afghanistan, however, time and again, there are reports of the establishment of schools for religious education and specifically jihad (Madrassas) seminaries. Since the group came to power in Afghanistan, there has been a significant increase in the establishment of religious schools in the country. According to the Taliban’s Ministries of Education and Endowments, there are currently about 6,000 officially registered madrassas across the country. In addition, the informal activities of 15,716 schools and Darul-Hifaz have been reported.
In 2013, the former Afghan government’s Ministry of Education had partial oversight of 1,300 madrassas. At the same time, there were 13,000 madrassas across Afghanistan, which were not controlled by any government institution, and the officials of those seminaries were not accountable to the Afghan government. These figures were stated by Amanullah Iman, spokesman for the Ministry of Education, in an interview with VOA in August 2013.
So, the fundamental question which arises is what is the purpose of the Taliban behind their unwavering support of Madrassas while they continue to ignore the massive problems plaguing the education sector of Afghanistan in general? And at the same time, what is the strategy of this group for religious education? Here’s the general overview.
Given that most senior Taliban officials have attended religious schools and almost all have graduated from the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Pakistan, known as the Jihad University, it seems that the increase in religious schools and the Taliban’s unwavering support for these centers is the group’s deliberate strategy to train new generations of free combatants in the future probable war and conflicts and build supporters of the Taliban ideology. “We are proud that the Taliban leaders were our students,” the head of the Haqqania Madrassa in Pakistan had said when the Taliban took over in Afghanistan.
Go deeper: Madrassas have served as major centers for nurturing new recruits to fight in Afghanistan conflicts for the past four decades. Religious schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan have played a key role in training and mobilizing fighters against foreign forces and the former Afghan government.
Currently, with the increase in these Madrassas in Afghanistan, it is likely that the Taliban are seeking a way to reduce the need for Pakistani Madrassas and train a new generation of fighters this time at Afghan religious schools instead of Pakistan to be more diligent and loyal, and not be afraid to sacrifice their lives for the ideology of the Taliban.
Taliban officials have repeatedly stressed on the preference of religious madrassas than modern science, saying that the former Afghan Ministry of Education had an incomplete curriculum and that the group would focus more on religious sciences and jihadi education. Adherence to this issue can be also seen in the Taliban’s manifesto of statehood, “The Islamic Emirate and Systems” as it reads: “The educational system must be religious, and non-religious education weakens Islam and Muslims. Many of the problems in Afghanistan have been caused by modern education.”
Abdul Baqi Haqqani, head of the Taliban Ministry of Higher Education, in one of his speeches recently said that Taliban officials do not have a master’s degree or a doctorate, but are “better” than anyone else, because they are religious scholars. He even said that we should not have any expectations from the students who have studied in Afghanistan for the past 20 years (the Republic of Afghanistan period).
Domino effect: With the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, many schools and universities were closed to Afghan boys and girls, but statistics show that many Madrassas have been established in all provinces of the country during this regime and in many cases, school buildings, universities, media and other centers have been converted into Madrassas of religious and jihadi studies.
- Earlier, the head of religious schools department at the Taliban Ministry of Education, Abdul Razzaq Siddiq, said, “The Taliban plans to establish a central large Madarassa in each province, where dormitories will be built for 500 to 1,000 students, and three to 10 small madrassas will be set up in each district according to the needs of the people.”
- In the latest case, the Taliban have turned Zabul province’s Darul Uloom into a madrassa for religious and jihadi education. The Taliban claim that since the province is the center of jihad, a large jihadi madrassa should be established there.
- As per reports, the Taliban on June 14, 2022, announced that students of 3rd and 4th year must leave the central dormitory of Kabul university, and according to some students, the Taliban wants to make room for seminary students and Mosque’s Mullahs.
- On June 1, 2022, the Taliban converted the privately built Mitra TV building owned by former Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor in Mazar-e-Sharif city of Balkh province into a Jihadi madrassa. Taliban officials in Balkh said that 1000 students will be trained here.
- On the same day mentioned above, the Taliban group also converted the Takhar state technical institute to another Jihadi madrassa.
Increasing religious subjects in the university’s curriculum: As can be gauged, the Taliban have not only increased jihadist schools, but are also trying to pressurize other educational institutions to enforce religious education into the curriculum.
- The Taliban Ministry of Higher Education has tripled the number of hours taught on Islamic education and reduced the number of core subjects in each field of study. This is while the curriculum in Afghanistan schools have never been devoid of religious education, and students from grade one to twelve have studied the Qur`an, Hadith, Islamic teachings, and the principles of religion in schools. Learning Sharia and religious subjects under the name of “Islamic culture” is also mandatory in Afghanistan universities curriculum even in medical and engineering faculties.
Take note: It is important to note that among the Taliban leaders, there are those who believe in modern teachings and their importance, and even consider it to be the equivalent of religious teachings. Abdul Salam Zaeef, a prominent Taliban leader and the group’s former diplomat says that modern sciences are as necessary as religious studies. He adds that those who oppose modern education, schools and universities, in fact, are consciously or unconsciously contributing to the backwardness of the Islamic world and the humiliation of Muslims.
Zoom out: Ignoring the problems of Afghanistan’s education sector, depriving half of the country’s youth population of education (the girls) and expanding religious schools/Madrassas in the country will lead to chronic illiteracy and further strengthening of extremism in Afghanistan. In fact, the so-called Islamic education propagated by the Taliban is also not wholesome, as they are enforcing only one particular kind of education and squashing the rest. In fact, sources in Bamyan province said that the Taliban have stopped teaching Jafari jurisprudence at the province’s university. According to these sources, by order of the Taliban in this predominantly Shiite province, teaching Hanafi jurisprudence has replaced Jafari jurisprudence. The Taliban have not yet commented on the news.
This country, however, has long been a victim of extremism, illiteracy and lack of development. If the Taliban continue to do so, by building more Madrassas in the country, it will both provide the force needed to consolidate its power base and remove the longing for democracy and political freedom from the minds of Afghanistan’s future generation. However, the most important thing is that the spread of extremism is not a fire that will only burn this country, but its flames will also undoubtedly spread to many countries and the region.