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Old January 2nd, 2002, 09:50 AM
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Pakistan madrasa/school thrives as jihad factory

By JEFFREY GOLDBERG - The New York Times
Date: 10/01/01 22:15

Editor's note: This article was published in The New York Times Magazine last year, long before the attacks of Sept. 11. But the strong insight it offers into what the West now faces in Central Asia is important. A reporter for USA Today visited the sam e school last month when an American military response in Afghanistan seemed imminent. Excerpts from that more current story are inserted in the original article, which has been edited for length.


About two hours east of the Khyber Pass, in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, alongside the Grand Trunk Road, sits a school called the Haqqania madrasa.

A madrasa is a Muslim religious seminary, and Haqqania is one of the bigger madrasas in Pakistan: The school enrolls more than 2,800 students. Tuition, room and board are free. The students are, in the main, drawn from the dire poor. The madrasa raises its funds from wealthy Pakistanis, as well as from devout, and politically minded, Muslims in the countries of the Persian Gulf. The students range in age from 8 and 9 to 30, sometimes to 35.

In a typical class the teachers sit on the floor with the boys, reading to them in Arabic, and the boys repeat what the teachers say. This can go on between four and eight hours each day.

What Westerners would think of as high-school-age and college-age students are enrolled in an eight-year course of study that focuses on interpretation of the Qur'an and of the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Very few (at this Akora Khattak seminary) study anything but Islamic subjects. There are no world history courses, or math courses, or computer rooms or science labs at the madrasa. The Haqqania madrasa is, in fact, a jihad factory.

This does not make it unique in Pakistan. There are 1 million students studying in the country's 10,000 or so madrasas, and militant Islam is at the core of most of these schools.


"O Allah, defeat the enemies of Muslims and make Islam and the Taliban victorious over the Americans in Afghanistan," the 3,500 students say in unison in the school's courtyard. Then they break into a chorus of "Jihad! Jihad!" or "Holy war! Holy war!"

Their words bring a smile to the face of the school's chancellor, Maulan Samiul Haq.

"Osama and the Taliban would be proud," he says.


Haqqania is notable not only because of its size, but also because it has graduated more leaders of the Taliban, Afghanistan's ruling faction, than any other school in the world, including any school in Afghanistan.

The Taliban are today known the world over for their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, their cruelty to women and their kindness to terrorists -- the most notable one being Osama bin Laden.

The Taliban also seem to harbor a deep belief in the notion of a never-ending jihad, which makes the Haqqania madrasa a focus of intense interest in such capitals as Washington and Moscow and New Delhi and Jerusalem, where the experts are trying to und erstand just what it is the Taliban and their sympathizers want.

The majority of Haqqania students come from Pakistan, a fact that also worries officials in Washington, Moscow, New Delhi and Jerusalem. Pakistan's Islamists are becoming more radicalized -- "Talibanized," some call it -- thanks in part to madrasas lik e Haqqania, and Pakistan is showing early signs of coming apart at the seams.

Pakistan also happens to be in possession of nuclear weapons. Many Muslim radicals say they think these weapons should become part of the arsenal of jihad. It turns out that many of the Haqqania students, under careful tutelage, now think it, too.

It is for all these reasons that on a hazy morning in March I presented myself at the office of Haq, in order to enroll myself in his school. My goal was simple: I wanted to see from the inside just what this jihad factory was producing.

The chancellor is a friend and supporter of bin Laden, and he has granted an honorary degree -- the first and only in his school's history -- to Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader.


He keeps three pictures atop his desk, and one in his wallet, all of which show him standing arm-in-arm with bin Laden. He says he uses a red "hot line" phone on his desk to call Taliban officials in the Afghan cities of Kabul and Kandahar.

"Osama and the Taliban will not go lightly," he said. "They are preparing for a fight. That's where we come in."



Haq is also a politician, a former senator who today leads a faction of the Jamiat-Ulema-Islami, a radical Islamic party seeking to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, in Pakistan. The maulana, it is said, would like to see Pakistan become more like the Afgha nistan of his Taliban disciples.

The maulana is in his mid-60s. He has two wives and eight children, he told me, and he seemed, right from the start, a very happy man. He dispensed with small talk almost immediately, in order to let me know that I should feel at home.

"The problem," he told me, through an interpreter, "is not between us Muslims and Christians." I knew where this was going but stayed silent.

"The only enemy Islam and Christianity have is the Jews," he said. "It was the Jews who crucified Christ, you know. The Jews are using America to fight Islam. Clinton is a good man, but he's surrounded by Jews. Madeleine Albright's father was the found er of Zionism."

"I'm Jewish," I told him. There was a moment's pause.

"Well, you are most welcome here," he said. And so I was. The maulana made me an offer: I could spend as much time as I wanted at the madrasa, go wherever I wanted, talk to anybody I chose, even study the Qur'an with him.

He had a point he wanted to make, of course: His madrasa might be Taliban U., but it was not a training camp for terrorists.

Strictly speaking, Haq was right: I never saw a weapon at the Haqqania madrasa. The closest guns could be found across the Grand Trunk Road, at the Khyber Pass Armaments Co., a gun store that sells shotguns for $40 and AK-47s for $70. I never heard a l ecture about bomb making or marksmanship.

On the other hand, when the Taliban were faring badly not long ago in battle against the northern alliance -- the holdout foe of the Taliban in Afghanistan's seemingly endless civil war -- Haq closed his school and sent the students to the front. (He w ould not tell me how many never came back from the front.)


Ten of the Taliban's 12 senior leaders studied here. Their pictures hang on the walls of the courtyard, next to that of Osama bin Laden.

"They are all our inspiration," Haq says. "And soon, we'll be fighting alongside them."


Tens of thousands of students at Pakistan's 6,000 militant Muslim madrasas say they plan to go to Afghanistan to fight U.S. soldiers.

"We give them the knowledge; the Taliban give them the guns," Haq says. "I and all my students will support the Taliban and Osama at all costs. They are the only ones implementing true Islam."


Classrooms were full when I visited Haqqania. There were no televisions, no radios that I could see. The students woke up before dawn to pray in the madrasa's mosque. The dormitories were threadbare and filthy, and there was no cafeteria, per se: Students lined up at the kitchen with their plates and spoons and were fed rice and curries and nan, the flat Afghan bread.

Suffice it to say, the students at the madrasa almost never see women. There were no female teachers, no female cafeteria workers, no female presence whatsoever at the madrasa.

The youngest students interested me particularly. They had not yet been armored in the hard-casing of jihadist ideology, and yet they seemed to incorporate the politics of the madrasa into their play.

Two 11-year-old boys, who came to the school from (nearby) Peshawar, would follow me around wherever I went. They wore pots on their heads, and their version of hide-and-seek was to jump out from behind a tree or some other hiding place, scream, "Osama !" and pretend to shoot me.

I tried to learn what I could about these boys, but they were reticent. The youngest boys were kept under lock and key, in a three-story dormitory guarded by older students, and I was not allowed to see how they lived.

The two 11-year-olds were Afghan refugees, I eventually learned. Compared to a refugee camp, the madrasa is a palace, and they are blessed to be here, where they eat food every single day. No one else -- certainly not the government of Pakistan -- woul d provide them with an education, room and board.

In the school day I would make a special point of auditing classes in which the Hadith was studied, because so much of Islamic thought is found in the Hadith, and also because the Hadith has traditionally been understood to be a text open to interpreta tion, argument and rigorous intellectual inquiry. But such is not the case at the Haqqania madrasa.

In the classes I attended, even the high-level classes, the pattern was generally the same: A teacher, generally an ancient, white-bearded mullah, would read straight from a text, and the students would listen. There was no back and forth. It seemed as if rote learning was the madrasa's only style of learning.

After a time I began to be asked questions in classes, questions about America and about my views. One day, in a class devoted to passages in the Hadith concerning zakat, or charity, I was asked my views about Osama bin Laden. Why did America have it i n for him?

It is unsettling, to say the least, to be seated in a class being held in a mosque, led by a mullah, and attended by some 200 barefoot and turbaned students, and be asked such a question.

I began by saying that bin Laden's program violates a basic tenet of Islam, which holds that even in a jihad the lives of innocent people must be spared. A jihad is a war against combatants, not women and children.

I read to them an appropriate saying of the Prophet Muhammad (I came armed with the Hadith): "It is narrated by Ibn Umar that a woman was found killed in one of these battles, so the Messenger of Allah, may peace be upon him, forbade the killing of wom en and children."

They did not like the idea of me quoting Muhammad to them, and they began chanting, "Osama, Osama, Osama." When they calmed down, they took turns defending bin Laden.

"Osama bin Laden is a great Muslim," a student named Wali said. "The West is afraid of strong Muslims, so they made him their enemy."

Because the students had turned this day's class into a political seminar of sorts, I decided to ask a question of my own. I brought up the subject of Pakistan's nuclear bomb. I asked the students whether they thought it would be permissible, by the la w of Islam, to use a nuclear bomb in the prosecution of a jihad.

"All things come from Allah," one student said. "The atomic bomb comes from Allah, so it should be used."

I then asked: Who wants to see Osama bin Laden armed with nuclear weapons? Every hand in the room shot up. The students laughed, and some applauded.

But, I said, innocent people would inevitably die if the bomb were used. Even if the West, or Russia, is subjugating Muslims, does that give bin Laden and his supporters the right to kill innocent people?

"Osama has never killed anybody innocent," one student, whose name was Ghazi, answered.

"What if you were shown proof that he did?"

"The Americans say they have proof, but they don't give it to the Taliban."

I then presented a hypothetical scenario. "What if," I asked, "you were shown a video in which Osama bin Laden was actually seen murdering a woman. What then?"

There was a pause. A student named Fazlur Razaq stood up: "The Americans have all the tricks of the media. They can put Osama's head on the body of someone else, and make it seem like he's killing when he's not doing it."

I then took from my notebook my secret weapon: the 1998 fatwa issued by bin Laden's organization -- the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders -- concerning the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia.

I read them a passage, the English translation of which reads as follows: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the Al Aksa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim."

Here it is, I said, in black and white: bin Laden calling for the death of all Americans, civilian and military.

"Osama didn't write that," one student yelled, and the others cheered. "That's a forgery of the Americans."

I asked one final question: What would you do if you learned that the CIA had captured bin Laden and was taking him to America to stand trial? A student who gave his name as Muhammad stood up: "We would sacrifice our lives for Osama. We would kill Amer icans." What kind of Americans? "All Americans."

As I left the mosque, Muhammad and a group of his friends approached me.

"We'd like you to embrace Islam," he said. "We love you. We want you to have Islam."


At the Haqqania madrasa, a student who says he has just attended one of bin Laden's training camps pulls out a training manual, called the "encyclopedia."

"Now listen, American, and listen well," says Hussain Zaeef, 21. He reads from Page 12 of the manual: ` "Bomb their embassies and vital economic centers.' That's what I will do to you and your country. I will get your children. I will get their playgrou nds. I will get their schools, too. I will get all of you."


Later that day I met with a small group of students I had grown to like, hoping that, away from their teachers, they would talk a different talk.

Meeting students out of class had already made for a number of interesting moments: I had, for example, been asked for sex. Many of them were convinced that all Americans are bisexual, and that Westerners engage in sex with anything, anywhere, all the time.

Among the young men I spoke with after the Osama colloquy there was no talk of sex. One, a bright and personable student from a village near Kabul, had told me his name was Sayid.

I asked him how his parents felt to have him at the madrasa, knowing that there is a chance he would choose to be a mujahed -- against the northern alliance, or perhaps against India, in Kashmir.

"They support the jihad," he said.

"How would they feel if you were killed?"

"They would be very happy," he said. "They would be so proud. Any father would want his son to die as shaheed," or martyr.

If you fought against the northern alliance, you would be killing Muslims, I said.

"They're Muslims, but they're crazy," Sayid replied.

For Haq, the world is divided into two separate and mutually hostile domains: the dar-al-harb and the dar-al-Islam. The dar-al-harb is the "abode of war." The dar-al-Islam is the "abode of peace."

In the 1980s the Soviet Union epitomized, for fundamentalist-minded Muslims, the abode of war. Today it is the United States that symbolizes the dar-al-harb. How this came to pass, how America, which supported -- created, some would say -- the jihad mo vement against the Soviets, came to become the No. 1 enemy of hard-core Islamists is one of the more vexing questions facing American policy-makers and the leaders of a dozen Muslim countries today.

One school of thought, Samiul Haq's school, says it's the Americans' fault: American imperialism and the export of American social and sexual mores are to blame.

The other school of thought holds that Islam, by its very nature, is in permanent competition with other civilizations. This is the theory expounded by the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, who coined the term "Islam's bloody borders" -- a reference to the fact that wherever Islam rubs up against other civilizations -- Jewish, Christian, Hindu -- wars seem to break out.

Men like Haq deride this view, and yet, in their black-and-white world, Islam stands alone against the world's infidels: Christians (or "Crusaders," in the fundamentalist parlance) to be sure, but Jews and Hindus especially. In Haq's view, the West is implacably hostile to the message of Islam, and so the need to prepare for jihad is never-ending.

"Jihad" is a concept widely misunderstood in the West. It does not mean only "holy war." It essentially means "struggle," and according to the traditional understanding of Islam, there are two types of jihad: greater and lesser. "Greater Jihad," is the struggle within the soul of a person to be better, more righteous -- the fight against the devil within. "Lesser Jihad" is the fight against the devil without: the military struggle against those who subjugate Muslims.

Whenever I meet Muslim fundamentalists, I ask them the same stupid-sounding question: Which is more important to Islam, greater jihad or lesser jihad? The answer, usually accompanied by an indulgent look, is usually something like, "They don't call it `greater jihad' for nothing." The struggle against the external oppressor waxes and wanes, but the fight to suppress the evil inclinations within is perpetual.

But in my conversations with Haq, and with mullahs across Pakistan and Afghanistan, I kept getting a different answer.

"They are of equal importance," Haq said. "Jihad against the oppressor of Muslims is an absolute duty. Islam is a religion that defends itself."

Jihad against the devil without has assumed a place of permanent, even overriding importance in the way these mullahs look at the world. This was surprising to me, because not even the leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, or sympathizers of the Muslim B rotherhood in Egypt, ever answered the question this way.

I asked him if this is what he is teaching his thousands of students.

"My students are taught Islam. This isn't a military school," he said.


Tempers then flare. Several students begin yelling at once, pointing their fingers and gesturing wildly.

One yells out the name of Mohamed Atta, an alleged bin Laden associate thought to have hijacked one of the two jets that crashed into the World Trade Center. Another says he will "kill more than Atta."

A third student then unfolds a picture of the Sears Tower in Chicago.

"This one is mine," he says.
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