This was the day when students from various religious madrassahs (schools) of Karachi brought the metropolis to a virtual standstill. It was the first time the religious lobby brought the city to a complete shutdown. The strike had been prompted by the murders of Maulana Habibullah Mukhtar and Mufti Abdus Sami, two scholars from the Jamiat ul-Uloom ul-Islamia, Binori Town, five days earlier. Religious students had already responded to the killings by taking to the roads near their madrassah, erecting road-blocks of burning tyres, smashing window panes of passing vehicles, and setting ablaze a bank and a shop. But the November 7 call was taken as an opportunity to protest against all things un-Islamic.
Hordes of turbaned and bearded students from the roughly 2,500 religious seminaries all over the city assembled at the Binori Town mosque. Brandishing bamboo sticks, they vowed to wage jehad against the infidels. "Give us wide coverage or else," an emotionally-charged young man threatened reporters at the Guru Mandir roundabout. Following this warning, he and his brethren went on to burn down a video shop plastered with posters of Madhuri Dixit, Urmila Matondkar and Kajol. "We will not sit idle," said Abdur Razzaq, a teenager who is enrolled in a madrassah. "Do not think we're weak. We've ousted the Soviet troops and the infidels from Afghanistan. We can do the same in Pakistan.
" Burning with such ambition, hundreds of thousands of students are biding their time in the religious institutions of Karachi alone. The teachers at these schools claim that they are educating these boys to become "ulema" or religious scholars. The most famous is the Jamiat ul-Uloom ul-Islamia, one of the most respected seminaries in the Islamic world. This madrassah, commonly known as the Binori Town mosque, is a veritable mecca of Islamic learning for students from around the globe.
The second largest seminary in Pakistan, this mosque and its affiliates impart comprehensive Islamic education to some 8,000 students at a time. The sprawling marble-floored, red-minaret mosque cum madras-sah is run by a trust established by the late Allama Yousuf Binori. Since its inception, the mosque has been busy spreading Deobandi Sunni ideology all over the world. Initially, its influence was confined to Karachi alone. But gradually, the institution drew the attention of two prominent groups of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami, the Maulana Fazlur-Rehman group and the Maulana Samiul-Haq group. Today, this centre influences the policy decisions of, among others, the Taliban. The institution has developed a reputation all over the Islamic world as a centre of Islamic ideology and it attracts donations from as many as 45 countries, including Britain, France, the Philippines, the United States, Germany and Switzerland.
The funding we get is a blessing from Allah," says Mufti Jamil, a teacher at the mosque. "People give us money out of their love for Islam. Even we do not know how much we get." But all this may not be as selfless as it seems. The graduates, and even students, from this "university" travel to wherever they are needed to serve the Islamic cause, more specifically to wage jehad.
"We impart purely Islamic teachings in our madrassahs, not military training," says Mufti Jamil. But the very fact that important members of the Taliban receive training here, something that is flaunted by teachers at the madrassah, serves to establish a close link between jehad and this institution."We are proud that we teach the Taliban and we always pray for their success as they have managed to implement strict Islamic laws," says Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, a teacher at the mosque.
The current 'Amir ul-Momineen' of Afghanistan, Taliban chief Mullah Omar, personally expressed his grief over the death of the two scholars from the mosque. "They (the Taliban) treat us as state guests," says a proud teacher. "They honoured the recently martyred scholars whenever they visited Afghanistan," he adds.
The centre boasts a huge, well-organised library that houses thousands of books dealing with Quranic translations and other religious issues. Taliban sponsored literature from posters, booklets to encyclopaedias is also abundantly available in the mosque as is the material produced by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Harkat-ul-Ansar and the Sipah-e-Sahaba. Outside in the main hall, from morning to evening, children memorise verses from the Quran while mosque elders engage in discussions about the various tenets of Islam. Meanwhile, notice boards invariably carry an invitation from the Taliban to join in the jehad.
And fired with the desire to wage jehad, wherever it may be, too often they believe that the road to salvation runs through the battlefield. "My aim is jehad," says Mohammad Wakil, one of the several students at the madrassah who claim to live for this purpose. "In my three years here, I have learnt something that I could not have learnt anywhere else," says Abdur Rauf. "Now I want to put it into practice." The madrassahs have much to offer in the way of inspiration for a young adventure seeker. Every madrassah is fed with an ample supply of pro-jehad literature. The institutions receive books on jehad as well as newspapers reporting on war fronts in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kashmir. Once Bosnia was a hot topic of discussion but not any more. Seminary walls are now plastered with posters glorifying the Afghan jehad.
This network of religious seminaries took root and received encouragement during the era of Gen. Zia-ul Haq. Now, there are at least 8,000 registered and another 25,000 unregistered religious schools in Pakistan. In Karachi alone, there are at least 29 such institutions with over 2,000 students enrolled in each. From Korangi and Defence Housing Authority to Nazimabad and Clifton, children from lower income groups study in these institutions.But of late, children from the educated middle classes are also trickling in.
Dar ul-Ifta ul-Irshad in Block 4, Nazi-mabad, is one of the foremost religious institutes inculcating the spirit of jehad among its students. This is the main centre of congregation for aspiring mujahids. The madrassah is so heavily guarded that it is impossible to photograph the main gate. Across the street is a small shop that sells the Dharb-e Momin, an Urdu daily with weekly English editions. Also available are audio cassettes and literature about the Taliban and excerpts of Mullah Omar's speeches.
On an average, enrolment at such a madrassah begins at the age of six and continues until the student is at least 16. During this period, his mind is shaped according to the religious indoctrination imparted by his teachers. "Our parents gave us an initial training but our teachers teach us the real way to Islam which is through jehad," says Razzaq.
This 'spirit of jehad' is a byproduct of life in the madrassah. There are invariably a few Tali-ban in every madrassah who regularly visit the Afghan war zone. They return with tales of valour and recount them to impressionable students. "We do not send our students to Afghanistan," explains Maulana Sami ul-Haq who heads the Jamiat Ulema-e Islam in Akora Khatak—the largest seminary in Pakistan. "They go on their own, following their destiny."
Once, when Taliban leader Mullah Omar needed reinforcements, he sent a call for these students to come and join his lashkar. "Mullah Omar rang me up personally, asking me to grant leave to these students," admits Sami ul-Haq. But he claims that permission was given only to Afghan students. "We do not encourage our students to leave our premises," says Abu Huraira, administrator at the Jamia Islamia in Clifton. These teachers also insist that their institutions do not impart any military training. "Of course, they do not give any military training," says Abdul Aziz, a 22-year-old Afghan. "Once you are in the field you learn everything. All these institutions do is fuel a passion for jehad."
"The western propaganda against us is prompted by their fear of the Islamic forces," says Maulana Haroon Qasmi of the Sipah-e-Sahaba. "It is not that we have swords in our hands. But there is a rekindling of the spirit of Islam." A spirit evident on November 7 when cries of "Inqilab inqilab, Islami inqilab" (revolution, revolution, Islamic revolution) reverberated in the air.