ISLAMABAD - In the process of streamlining the affairs of the madrassas or religious seminaries, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif risks upsetting his key ally – the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam–Fazl, political sources said.

“The announcement by the government to streamline the affairs of the madrassas has not been taken well by the JUI-F. They have been asking the government to take it easy,” a source close to the decision makers told The Nation.

“The JUI-F has threatened of strong protest if the government tried to project the madrassas as terrorism promoters,” he added.

Last day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had announced the government would finalise a comprehensive strategy to streamline the affairs of religious seminaries under the National Action Plan (NAP).

This is not the first time the government has taken such a decision. After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, Washington encouraged former Pakistani ruler Pervez Musharraf to control madrassas.

He tried to introduce an element of nominal control. Two laws were passed: one in 2001 to create state-controlled and the other in 2002 to register and control them.

The first had moderate success, as some religious institutions registered in 2003 with the Pakistan Madrassa Education Board created under this law. The second measure proved unpopular with the madrassas, but the government did partially restrict access of foreign students to the madrassas education system.

The US and the western countries have been accusing the madrassas of recruiting holy warriors and promoting militancy – the allegation is rejected by the patrons of the madrassas.

“The government has assured the JUI-F and other religious parties that the process was not designed to target the madrassas. There won’t be raids on the madrassas unless there is concrete information of any illegal activity,” he elaborated.

The PM, he said, will also meet the representatives of the madrassas to evolve consensus.

JUI-F Senator, Mufti Abdul Sattar, blamed the government of taking dictation form the foreign masters to malign the madrassas.

Talking to The Nation, the lawmaker from Mastung said the government was creating problems for itself by targeting the madrassas. “The only crime of madrassas is that they are imparting religious education. This is not acceptable to our foreign masters who want to shut the doors of religious education of the people,” Senator Sattar said.

He said the government’s own investigations reveal 99 percent of the madrassas were free of any militancy-related activity.

“The rest of the one percent are also not seen as engaged in violating any laws but some investigators suspect their system. Things can be investigated further but slapping an anti-terror law on the people who are working for the religion is unjust,” he contended. The lawmaker said his party will not accept any ‘foreign dictation’ to stop the smooth functioning of the madrassas.

“I run a madrassa myself. I live in Mastung city and no one has ever seen any activity that breaks our law. All the madrassas are being run the same way. The one percent they speak about is in fact managed by the foreigners themselves to defame the others,” he maintained.

He said the managers of the madrassas were reputed people enjoying respect among the public. “For example in the last few months I have solved more public cases than the DCO (District Coordination Officer). This means the people trust a man who is running a madrassa,” he argued.

Senator Sattar said his party will protest against unjustified restrictions on the madrassas. “We will not let them have their way. In fact this is not the government’s decision to clip the wings of the madrassas but the countries who fear Islam,” he remarked.

Senator Professor Sajid Mir from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), commented, “The last meeting of military, political and religious seminaries had vital importance. It took place for the first time in the history of Pakistan.”

“All the participants reached a consensus. Representative of madrassas have presented their points of views that culprits and black sheep in religious institutes should be dealt with iron hands. Pakistan is our country and motherland. We on our own have to protect the integrity of our motherland,” he added.

Secretary General Wafaqul Madaris Pakistan Maulana Hanif Jalandhri said, “For the first time ever, religious seminaries, military and the military leadership reached on a consensus regarding reform in madrassas.”

He continued, “Students getting education in madrassas should also learn English, mathematics and science as well. Students should get religious as well as other education to meet the needs of the world, so reforms in the syllabus are compulsory. Madrassas will be facilitated to open bank accounts so that all the transactions are transparent.”

Official data suggests there are nearly 4,135 unregistered madrassas in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa , 2,411 in Punjab, 1,406 in Sindh, 266 in Balochistan and 31 in Islamabad.