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Training for Jihad

Training for Jihad

Bill Redeker
ABC News Online
March 24, 2000
Title: Training for Jihad
Author: Bill Redeker
Publication: ABC News Online
Date: March 24, 2000

Islamic Schools'Students Want to Fight Holy War

P E S H A W A R, Pakistan, March 24 - On the outskirts of the city of Peshawar in Pakistan's tribal northwest frontier sits an impressive multistory home, its exterior tiled with white and gray marble.

Inside, under a large golden chandelier, we are greeted by a distinguished former Pakistani senator. Abdur Rahman Faqir is also a fabulously wealthy businessman who made a fortune selling wireless telephones and real estate.

Faqir is also a "haji," someone who has made the haj, or pilgrimage required of all Muslims, to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He wears a white skull cap, a sign of his continuing devotion to Islam.

Faqir is also the benefactor of a madrassa, an Islamic religious school. He is committed, he tells me, to "spreading this religious-based education throughout the Islamic world."

Learning by Rote

His school is located inside his housing compound, behind tall walls. He is eager to give us a tour so that we can observe 60 young boys seated on the floor learning the Koran. It's an impressive and, for many Westerners, unusual sight.

Every one of the boys bobs his head up and down as he recites a verse and then another verse and another. Faqir explains they are memorizing the entire Koran though they do not yet know its meaning.

"That will come later" he says, "when they are taught how to use the Koran as their life guide."

It's still morning and we're told the group will spend three hours at this - without a break. They will log another three hours in the afternoon. Six hours of rote memorization a day. And no one is complaining.

Well-Founded Reasons

After a long discussion with Faqir about the merits of the Koran and the wholesome education he is providing the boys, most of whom came from poor families and could not afford a public education, I ask the students how many want to be engineers or doctors when they finish school.

Two hands are raised.

"How many of you want to fight a jihad or holy war when you grow up?" Every hand shoots into the air. And most of them are kids are under the age of 10.

Faqir explains it is a divine duty to fight the enemies of Islam, but he stresses this should not be confused with terrorism, which is strictly prohibited. I tell him I understand the distinction, but I also remember the old saying from this part of the world: "One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist."

There are about 40,000 madrassas today in Pakistan, a predominantly - some would say increasingly radical - Muslim nation, and one that has seen repeated and religious strife and deadly violence.

According to Pakistan's military leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, 6,000 of the schools are considered "militant," and he's worried about what they are teaching.

"I would like to modify their teaching plans," he says. "I'd want to register all of their teachers and try to get these schools back into the mainstream."

But Musharraf is also resigned to the increasing popularity of the schools. "If anyone thinks that we can crack down on them, stop them, or close them down, he's not being realistic," he admits. "Because madrassas are being thrown up by the system, by poverty, lack of education, and population growth."

And, he might have added, by individuals like Faqir committed to madrassa training.

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