Monday, June 20, 2011

Addendum to 'The Muslim Woman' essay: excerpts from Muhammad Farooq's 'Disciplining the Feminism: Girls' Madrasa Education in Pakistan


Since the events of 9/11, madaris have gained much attention from the world, mostly because of the alleged link between the Islamic religious education and militancy. Reports and popular writings revolve around the madaris for boys, providing information on various aspects of madaris. However madaris for girls have been ignored in this discourse. The Islamization activities of the female students of Jami Hafsa attached to Lal Mosque, Islamabad, and the delayed response by the state, culminating in army operation in July 2007. Fundamental questions regarding the nature of religious education of the girls, remained to be answered. The present study implies Michel Foucault's concept of total institution analyzed the education and training the girls' madaris are imparting and trying to tame the feminism through ironing out the docile bodies.

Contemporary discourse brought madrasa, the centuries-old institution of Islamic learning, to limelight and more or less define them as political entity with particular reference to Pakistan and try to discover the covert or overt relationship between Islamic madrasa education and militant extremism. The madaris are accused of promoting religious fanaticism and sectarian violence with Pakistan, and of 'breeding terrorists' for international jihad. On the other hand, modern feminist writings by Pakistani scholars concentrate on analyzing the public school texts books to find out gender bias, which reinforces patriarchal ideologies. Both the discourse ignore girls' madaris and their curriculum (formal and informal). Curriculum is a necessary ingredient for carving out peculiar self and personality that is demonstrated by the girls of madaris in Islamabad in March 2007. 

In recent months, many articles and reports have pointed out with alarm the increase in the number of Madaris in Pakistan during the past two and half decades. It is hard to count the exact number of madaris in Pakistan. After independence, gradual increase has been observed in madaris. In 1947, Pakistan has 137 madaris or according to another estimate 245, which increased up to 401 in 1960. In 1971 they were 893 and eventually 3000 in 1988. They are multiplying in number since then. According to the Ministry of Education, the number of madaris in 2001 was 6,996, which rose to 10,430 in 2003, a 67 percent increase in two years, while some 1.5 to 1.7 million students are attending these institutions. International Crisis Group's (ICG) recent report (2007) quotes Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao, that the total number of madaris
is 13,000, of which 12,006 are registered under the Societies Registration Act of 1860. Pakistan's Federal Minister of Religious Affairs recently claimed that the total number of madaris registered under old law or new ordinance is 14,072 (till May 28, 2007). Nearly 1.5 million children are attending the seminaries. The fact that the government data is oblivious to the gender difference, makes it difficult to quantify their socio-educational impact. However, the most important question is not that of quantity: how many girls' madaris are working or how many girls receive religious education; rather it is a qualitative question what is the content and type of the religious education, which our girls receive.

The events of Lal Mosque and Jami Hafsa invoked the interest about the kind of education the girls are receiving from the madaris. This paper presents the study of one of madaris boards' curriculum - Wafaq ul Madaris (Deobandi) - for girls. It argues that focusing on boys' madaris only makes incomplete sketch of madrasa discourse, hence there is a need to pay some attention on Pakistani girls' madaris to complete it. It analyzes the working of disciplinary processes these madaris use as a total institution, crafting docile bodies and inculcating a specific form of womanhood through creating a religious self among the girl students...The final section presents an analysis of girls' curriculum which aims at for disciplining the feminism among the girl students and inculcating them the patriarchal notion of man's superiority...

Educating the womanhood and disciplining the feminism

Pakistan's Deobandi 'Ulama have a particular agenda in mind while designing the girls' curriculum. Men decide what women ought to be studied and what kind of information they need. If compared with boys' curriculum, one can see that girls' curriculum is substantially different. During the last two centuries a religious change took place among the Indian Muslims, the Islamic discourse visibly shifted towards this-worldly rather than other-worldly religion to preserve religious identity in a non-Muslim majority society. The reformist Ulama perceived a heavy responsibility for themselves in order to develop a strong religious self in the Muslims tradition by available means. The Muslim women became one of the most appropriate vehicles for 'this-worldly' shift in religion and for creating a new Muslim self. With the dissolution of Muslim power in India, they were seen as 'the central transmitters of Islamic values' and as 'the symbols of Muslim identity' rather being measured as 'threats to proper conduct of Muslim society'.

After Partition, when girls’ madaris emerged, the movement took a new turn. A host of value-oriented literature became part of the curriculum and instructions in adab are given through formal education.  Instead of self-studying, now, young girls material to instruct them about the Islamic values in the classrooms. Certain books find place in the reading list while others are studied partially in the girls’ madaris with more stress on the Qur’an and Hadith. Consequently, this tailoring of  Dars-iNizami led to enlimit the scope of the knowledge acquired by the graduates. At the end, they have knowledge on those issues  which are women-related like, marriage, divorce and inheritance. The inclusion of selected portions from Hadith books in the curriculum or the teaching of Siar-i-Sahabiyat (biographies of the female companions of the Prophet, Peace be upon him) and the like, are being taught to girls and criteria for this selection were made with the aim of creating an Islamic femininity among the women.

The tradition of teaching Persian language still flourishes in Deobandi madaris though at a much reduced level starting from the year 6 with  Karima and then it continues with the teaching of the other medieval Persian texts. Now the Persian in no longer the language of state or literature, at least in Pakistan, nor it is necessary for training bureaucrats but still it is very dear to madaris because of their sheer love to conservatism. In addition to Karima, Fariddudin Attar’s Pand Nama, Nam-i-Haq and Gulistan-i-S‘adi are major Persian texts, which both the boys and girls have to study during their middle level. However, Bustan and many excerpts of Gulstan (only five chapters are included: 1 to 4 and 8) are excluded from the scheme of study. These books are considered ‘safe’ and moralistic.Those sections of Gulistan’s which contain love stories and project profane love are excluded from the curriculum, for example chapter 5 which deals with the delicacies of love, because studying these kinds of texts would corrupt the students’ minds. Nevertheless, the standards of morality remain medieval and patriarchal. Karima of Sheikh S‘adi tells about, on the one hand, the  virtues of silence and hospitality, humility, contentment, patience and veracity and condemns ignorance, avarice and falsehood. While praising the fidelity as characteristic peculiar to men, S‘adi tries to convince the reader that women are deceitful and tempting and inferior to men:

Infidelity is the nature of women, Do not learn [follow] the wicked conduct of women.

Pand Nama and Karima, both inform us that women are unfaithful so wise men must suspect them – masculine is superior. All these texts not only  reinforce but also indoctrinate them with the patriarchal concept of man’s superiority.

Another well-known book which is a part of girls’ curriculum is  Bihishti Zewar  (Heavenly Ornaments) of Maulana Thanawi. Many scholars, like Barbra Metcalf and Mareike Winkelmann, include this book in the genre of value literature. Nonetheless, the Deobandi madaris are teaching it to girls under the caption of fiqh
(law). Basically, the book was written in a reformist tone for personal grooming of the Muslim women. To further the reformist agenda, the adab literature was the best and the cheapest way to reach the target population, as it did not need proper institution for instruction. For years Bihishti Zewar has remained a favorite with the Muslims of the Subcontinent. Among Muslims, it is a popular practice to present this volume to a new bride. The motivation behind this gesture is that as the young woman is going to take up the new social roles, so she should be well versed in the rites, rituals and traditions of Islam.

Bihishti Zewar, one of the important texts on  girls’ curriculum of Deobandi madaris, indoctrinates the young girls that women are socially subordinate to the men of their families and informs them that they are possessions of men. In the opinion of Maulana Thanawi, “in order to manage women (emphasis added), it is necessary to teach them the science of religion” was the basic cause for writing this book.

The book argues that ingratitude towards a husband is as much a sin as ingratitude towards God. It induces woman that she should obey  her husband’s will  in all the matters, concerning her life and call the white black if he asks so. The book instructs women that they must learn above all to relate to her husband as they relate  to God, with obedience and gratitude. They are responsible for their husband’s disposition and are expected to keep them happy. The book advises the women:

Never think of him [husband] as your equal, never let him do any work for 
you…. If he comes to you and begins to massage your hands or feet, stop 
him; you would not let your father do this service, and you husband’s rank is 
higher than your father’s.

The book induces women that they are entitled to haquq (rights) if they submit to men - woman’s power is in her submission. In the same token Maulana Thanawi, as a reformist, believes that the observance of  customs is responsible for deprivation of women from their rights which they are  entitled to. Women were regarded “as guardian of virtue.”

By attacking customary practice stridently, and by justifying women’s subordinate position in the Islamic doctrinally established social hierarchy, the book represents an attempt to engage women in the construction of an “ideal Muslim” women. Subordination was made palatable by emphasizing women’s own choice in religious observance and representing this subservient location as separate yet complementary to men. The book enlightens women that virtue lies in their observance of doctrinally defined role. It would be a privilege for them.

Cultural stereotypes suggest that women lack ‘aql – reason and the last pages of  Bihishti Zewar affirm it. Women do not discourse logically. They quickly overwhelm with emotion, especially anger. They reach on conclusion without any investigation. “They do not measure any thing – not money, not time, not quantity. They talk too loudly. They do not protect their valuables or their honor.”

For determining a woman‘s social place in the hierarchy of relations, age and gender play very important parameters. As  a child, a girl has to observe particular reverential patterns in her relations to elders. She must be careful in her conversation, dress, address, obedience to elders and must accept advice of an elder without
questioning and must observe hierarchy of eating patterns and seating in a room with elders. In relation to husband the book advises her to treat him as a majazi khuda(impersonate God). Subservient to male authority is her power and privilege, the book instructs woman.  

Siar-i-Sahabiyat (biographies of women companions of the Prophet Peace be upon him) of Maulana Abd us-Salam Nadwi and Qasas un-Nabiyyin including the book 8 of  Bihishti Zewar not only form the major part of value education but also necessary for carving ideal womanhood among the young girls. The adab literature
for girls’ education is taken for granted that the apotheosis of virtue is in fact a good man. A book on adab tells that “Muslim women even today can rise to high position of respect in society if they follow the great lives of the women companions.”

Adab literature praises the great scholarly qualities of the female Companions, and narrates the virtues of pious women and discusses  their moral qualities, their extraordinary character traits, and what made them  good Muslim women. Who is a good Muslim woman? The interpretation is derived from the lens of a preconceived ideal of womanhood, and the result is a role model based on examples  taken from the past.
These texts explain the actions, character traits, and the social life of the female Companions. These markers of differentiation set the female Companions apart from other women, by virtue of which they are considered worth imitating for women today. Among the praiseworthy actions is the acceptance of Islam, bearing of
hardships, keeping ritual obligations  and abstention from music and musical instruments. The female Companions’ character traits include dignity and self respect, sacrifice of personal interests, avoidance of vengeance, endurance in the face of affliction, and honour and chastity.

The value literature draws a sketch for a model social life of a woman where kindness to kin and relatives, protection and defence of the wealth and property of the husband, and love, service, and seeking pleasure of the husband are the major ingredients.

The texts on Arabic literature which are included in the curriculum for developing language skills are also selected by the designers with a specific agenda in mind. Two major texts on Arabic literature are taken in as a supportive material for learning Arabic, the language of classical religious texts. Five maqamat from Maqamat al-Hariri, whereas boys have to learn ten maqamat, and Nufhat al-Arab (prose section) form main body of Arabic literature for girls. Nufhat al Arab, authored by Muhammad ‘Azaz Ali (d. 1955), a student and teacher at Dar ul-‘Ulum Doeband,  is presently taught in Deobandi madaris. This was, basically, in response to Nufat al- Yaman of Sheikh Ahmed Shirwani (d.1840) which was written for the students of
oriental learning of Madrasa ‘Alia Calcutta in the early nineteenth century. Though it was taught in the Daobandi  madrasa in the late nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, it was considered unsuitable for the students, particular for the girls. According to the present day Deobandi critics, the events and the language used in the book is bawdy, a disrespect to the Islamic honour. Replacing  Nufhat alYaman, with Nufhat al-Arab has been considered as an appropriate act for refining students’ ethics, morality and the Islamic mannerism; such qualifications for a book on Arabic literature, and not the literary traits and style have  become the judging criteria.

The texts on religious sciences are also related with ‘ibadat (prayers) and ‘aqai’d (theology) or those section of books are included which are concerned with the women’s issues. On fiqh issues (related to law) those which are related to general interest or are of public nature seemingly have no utility for girl students; hence they face axe or receive less attention by the teachers during the class. Equipped with religious knowledge particularly of personal nature, the girl graduates have no value in job market. Adept in household affairs, they attune in a docile womanhood. Docile bodies are the better vehicle for programming. In addition to inculcating Islamic womanhood through teaching the carefully selected texts, the girls’ madaris are creating docile bodies through subtle forms of disciplining. Young girls are indoctrinated in the ideals  of a Muslim womanhood, not only through selected lessons given in the classrooms  but also through ‘informal education’ – ‘through rules regarding discipline, body control, and behavioural expectations.' So, the aim of bringing about a sense of  adab in the students was not limited to the formally scheduled didactic activities. Even though lessons in  adab or ‘value education’ share relatively small portion of study scheme, however, adab permeates the everyday actions and overall atmosphere of nearly all of girls’  madaris  of Pakistan.


The girls’ madaris assert that they are helping to train a class of Muslim girls who are committed to its understanding of Islam and who can later, go on to play a key role in the reform of Muslim society on ‘Islamic’  lines and combat what are seen as ‘un-Islamic’ ways of life. The students of the madrasa are seen as ‘practical models’ for women in the rest of the world. Furthermore, claim is being made that  madrasa education of the girls would give, them awareness, inter alia, about the rights, given to them by Islam. Having knowledge about the rights they could effectively defend them in the world of patriarchy – a difficult, if not possible, assumption to realize. This consciousness would earn for them  empowerment and knowledge of religious sciences would exalt their status and they can exercise similar authority, which their male counterparts are enjoying. Apparently it is a foregone conclusion; however, in the real world of patriarchy it is doubtful. In addition to the  religious subjects, the madaris’ course also includes some modern  subjects, but they do not make sense because their aim – developing toleration and liberalizing their minds - of introducing them is not going to fulfill, as the girl students of Jāmi’ Hafsa demonstrated. A major focus of the teaching imparted at the madaris is internalisation of appropriate gender norms, as defined by the ‘ulama. Thus, strict purdah is rigidly enforced. Girls are not allowed to step outside the madrasa, in some cases, not even for a walk or to make
purchases in the local market.

Educated in a specifically designed religious curriculum, the Muslim girls serve an effective instrument in fulfilling the  ‘ulama’s mission of reconstructing the Muslim society in accordance with the Islamic ideals, as they define and further their influence and extend their constituency through reforming women’s morality. Using selective religious texts for the classrooms and giving them value education formally and informally, girls’  madaris  of Pakistan are disciplining feminism, creating personalities which are easy to be moulded, by constant indoctrination of ideals of Islamic womanhood. Consequently, now, the Pakistani civil society has a new brand of educated women who are giving a novel interpretation to feminism that might be detrimental to women’s right movement in Pakistan.

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