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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 12:50 GMT
Musharraf's prescription for progress
Religious school
Religious schools should not lead to a 'theocratic state'
By Zafar Abbas in Lahore

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has embarked on a campaign to redefine the country's national ideology.

The campaign not only aimed at dispelling the impression that he wants to turn Pakistan into a secular state, but also to warn religious extremists that there is no room for them in a progressive Islamic country.

Nobody should ever think that this is a secular state. It was founded as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan

President Musharraf
Mr Musharraf clearly spelled out his mission during his day-long trip to Lahore this week where, under extremely tight security, he visited two relatively moderate madrassahs or Islamic schools.

Unlike the hundreds of other madrassahs in the country which mainly focus on religious orthodoxy and extremism, Jamia Rizvia and Jamia Ashrafia have lately adopted modern concepts in teaching.

Here several thousand students are not only taught to read the Koran in the traditional Islamic way, these two madrassahs also offer courses in modern sciences and even computer technology.

Acceptable mixture

An impressed President Musharraf said he would like to see the mixture of religious teaching and modern education taught at the two madrassahs to be used a template for other Islamic schools.

President Musharraf
President Musharraf wants to maintain the country's founding ideology
"This is what the Islamic extremists need to understand," he said after visiting one of Jamia Ashrafia, one of the country's oldest Islamic school.

Dispelling the impression that his recent moves against Islamic extremism were aimed at negating the country's founding ideology, President Musharraf said he wants Pakistan to be recognised as a moderate and progressive Islamic state.

"Nobody should ever think that this is a secular state", he said. "It was founded as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan".

However, he said the interpretation of the Islamic Republic is where he has differences with the extremists.

'No theocracy'

Mr Musharraf said that contrary to the extremists' views that the country should be a theocracy, Pakistan "is a progressive, dynamic, forward looking, Islamic Republic".

The president said that leading Islamic scholars from Jamia Ashrafia supported his idea that there is no room for extremism in the country.

He said his government would continue to pursue the policy of introducing reforms in Islamic schools, and there will also be no let-up in the campaign against groups propagating extremism and violence.

This is the first time that President Musharraf has come face-to-face with the students of any Islamic school since he announced a comprehensive policy against the Islamic extremist movements in the country.

As part of the policy he not only banned five Islamic militant organisation, including two which had remained involved in armed militancy in Indian-administered Kashmir, but also ordered the arrest over 1,500 militants.

Difficult policy

His policy statement against religious extremism, and the decision to ban Islamic militant groups was widely hailed by the United States and several other countries.

But the reaction at home had been a mixed one. Some commented where some people thought his decisions were only aimed at pleasing the outside world.

Conscious of such criticism, President Musharraf has now decided to come up with a more concrete explanation of his policy against the Islamic extremist groups.

And his latest attempt to draw a clear distinction between the moderate Islamic madrassahs and those fanning extremism is perhaps his way of telling his countrymen that he is not insensitive to the local customs and religious practices, and is certainly opposed to the idea of turning Pakistan into a secular state.

See also:

12 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistan to regulate religious schools
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