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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 00:21 GMT 01:21 UK

World: South Asia

Islam's new 'holy war' disciples

School teachers are creating a new generation to further Islamic rule

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge reports on Islam's new disciples
The world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, is being protected by the Taleban, the religious zealots who now control Afghanistan.

Still alive and living somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden was targeted last week by the Americans who blame him for the African embassy bombings.

[ image: Osama bin Laden: The world's most wanted man]
Osama bin Laden: The world's most wanted man
The Taleban believe the Islamic government in Afghanistan is right to shelter the exiled Saudi dissident because he is a Muslim.

Both the Taleban and Osama bin Laden share a great deal in common: they are products of a new Islamic extremism.

The inspiration behind the Taleban's strict interpretation of Islam comes from special religious schools called madrassas.

[ image:  ]
Many such schools now exist in Pakistan around the country's North West frontier with Afghanistan.

For young girls the priority is learning the Koran.

"There is propaganda against Islam in the West, therefore people do not understand what Islam really is," said madrassa school teacher, Saadia Rizwana.

"In Islam women are given proper respect as a daughter, sister and mother, and all of her rights are recognised in Islam."

The Islamic education for boys and men, who come from both Pakistan and Afghanistan, is much more comprehensive.

Male students, who refer to themselves as Taleban - seekers after knowledge, blend the teaching of Islam with debates on topical issues like the American missile strikes.

[ image: Taleban students: Seekers of knowledge]
Taleban students: Seekers of knowledge
With its centuries-old ways of learning, the madrassas are convinced they are misrepresented and misunderstood by most of the world.

School leaders say the madrassas stand for non-violence and military training is not part of the syllabus for the boys aged five upwards.

But they acknowledge that in their spare time some boys may have received such training for self-defence or for the Jihad, the "holy war", in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan have denied that they have turned down a request for talks to discuss Osama bin Laden with America.

A spokesman said a request had been received, but did not say what reply was being sent.

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