LAHORE - In a landmark development, the government and Ittehad Tanzeemul Madaris have reached an agreement over longstanding issue of religious seminaries’ registration and curriculum.

The agreement was reached in a meeting held yesterday in Islamabad between the federal education ministry and the Tanzeem, which represents five boards of seminaries.

Heads of the boards told The Nation that students of religious schools will be taught modern science subjects besides English and Pakistan Studies at different stages and the government would consider their education equivalent to that of the students of the state-run educational institutions after conducting their examination.

The recognition to the seminaries’ education will be given through an act of Parliament, they said.

Introducing reforms in the curriculum of more than 35,000 Madaris across the country and bringing them into mainstream through proper registration was a vital part of National Action Plan, a roadmap prepared by the government in consensus with all political and religious parties in January 2015 to curb terrorism and extremism.

West and some quarters in Pakistan claim students of the Madaris have been involved in terror activities and they are brainwashed to be violent and extremist during their studies, something contradicted by the religious circles who have been bitterly opposed to state interference in their business.

According to some estimates, more than 3.5 million students are receiving religious education in seminaries run under five federations (Wafaq), Wafaqul Madaris al-Arbia of Deobandi school of thought being most powerful of them. The other four are: Tanzeemul Madaris Ehle-Sunnat (Brelvi school of thought), Wafaqul Madaris Al-Salfia (Ehle-Hadith), Wafaqul Madaris (Al-Shia) and Rabtatul Madaris (run under the banner of Jamaat-e-Islami).

“Students of religious seminaries will be taught all compulsory modern subjects during their eight-year course of Dars-e-Nizami. Their qualification at different stages will be considered equivalent to the students of state-run educational institutions,” heads of Wafaqul Madaris Salfi Dr Zafar Saleem and Rabtatul Madaris Dr Ata-ur-Rehman told The Nation who both attended the meeting, which was presided over by State Minister for Education Engineer Balig-ur-Rehman.

They said the agreement on registration of Madaris had already been reached and yesterday’s meeting was specific to curriculum issues.

“Madaris and the federal government have already agreed on a draft of registration form. The government representatives told us the forms had already been sent to the provinces and now it is up to the provincial governments to forward those to the seminaries for obtaining data about Madaris,” Dr Ata said.

Giving details of the meeting, he said Sanavia Aaama (initial two years of Dars-e-Nizami), Sanvia Khasa (four years), Shahadatul Aalia (six years) and Shahadatul Aalimia (eight years education for completion of seminary degree) will be considered equal to matriculation, intermediate, graduation and masters respectively.

“The government will introduce an act of parliament for the purpose and all educational boards and universities will hold examinations of compulsory subjects for the seminary students to issue them certificates and degrees. Madaris will hire teachers to teach subjects of modern sciences, English, Pakistan Studies etc to the students,” explained Ata-ur-Rehman.

He said the religious boards will have to fulfil all requirements proposed by the government to get legal status of issuing degrees and certificates to their students by conducting their own examinations of modern subjects as well.

The government approached religious leaders a number of times for madrassa reforms. The plan envisaged registration of all seminaries, besides a crackdown against those having direct or indirect links with the ongoing militancy. The clerics would agree to support government effort only to drag their feet later on one excuse or the other.

In January last, following a meeting between Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and representatives of the Ittehad Tanzeemul Madaris Pakistan, a joint declaration was issued. It was agreed that separate committees will be formed for registration of seminaries and for introducing reforms in their curricula.

A curricula reforms committee, having representations of the religious affairs ministry, Madaris and provincial governments, was tasked to propose changes in the curricula to counter extremism while a Madaris registration committee was to prepare a registration form to get credentials of unregistered religious schools.

The two sides also agreed to establish a coordination mechanism between Madaris and the government to ensure joint efforts against terrorism. According to new arrangements, Madaris were to receive foreign financial aid only through the government – a move aimed at ensuring proper audit of their funds.