Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Pakistan: Aug/Sep '10

Authority responsible for registered madrassas in Pakistan eager to introduce IWPR media training into more schools.
By Ella Rolfe

A senior official from the governing body of Pakistani madrassas has approached IWPR for assistance in expanding media training to more schools after seeing articles by IWPR trainees in a national newspaper.

Maulana Abdul Qadoos, media coordinator for the Wafaq-ul-Madaris, the body which governs all registered madrassas in Pakistan, contacted IWPR after reading stories by young trainees on its school journalism project, Open Minds. These were published in an August 2010 supplement in Jhang, one of the country’s largest newspapers.

Qadoos already runs his own small-scale journalism programme for madrassa students, providing groups of 40 students with an intensive 20-day course covering everything from basic news writing to features and investigative journalism. So far, Qadoos’ students have published some 100 articles in the national press.

Having seen the work IWPR has done with over 3,000 school and madrassa students nationwide, Qadoos is now eager to develop a joint venture.

“As a media coordinator for the Wafaq-ul-Madaris I visit madrassas across Pakistan and meet a large number of students,” Qadoos told IWPR. “I see the recent media boom has motivated many students from these madrassas, because they too have potential and willingness.” But, he added, they lacked the opportunities “like students from colleges and universities have” to develop their interest.

“Mr Abdul Qadoos is desperate to develop a partnership with IWPR,” said IWPR’s project manager in Islamabad, Bashir Ahmed Tahir. “He highly appreciates IWPR’s efforts to educate young people, especially madrassa students, in journalism.”

Qadoos suggested that IWPR could extend its activities to more - or even all - of the madrassas overseen by the Wafaq. Most madrassas in Pakistan are registered with the Wafaq, although it does not control their curricula, so many of the religious schools teach only Islamic scholarship and some are very conservative. In addition, there are a number of unregistered institutions which observers see as more radical.

Given the limitations of some educational establishments in Pakistan, Qadoos said he has faced many challenges.

“It is a great effort to [expand the horizons of] these kids who are otherwise cut off from the rest of the world intellectually,” he said. “We faced tough resistance in the beginning.”

One way of breaking down barriers, he said, was to enlist religious authorities to explain the importance of the media.

“The scenario changed when renowned religious scholars delivered lectures as part of our programmes,” he explained.

IWPR uses the same method to gain acceptance for its own journalism training in conservative madrassas, by asking respected scholars to talk to students about the importance of media at the outset of training.

Qadoos suggested that he and IWPR cooperate to establish a centre of excellence in journalism for madrassa students in Islamabad, where he teaches at the Saeedna Usman Ghani madrassa. This is a relatively progressive madrassa where non-religious subjects are taught alongside Islamic studies.

Media training had proved to be a good way to spread tolerance, he said.

“With the passage of time, students started listening with patience and raised sensible questions to clarify their minds,” Qadoos said, until ultimately they listen “with patience to those who [do not] belong to their own school of thought”.

Ella Rolfe is an IWPR Open Minds adviser.