Understanding Madrasahs

Courtesy Reuters


Madrasahs, the religious schools that educate millions of students in the Muslim world, have been blamed for all sorts of ills since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Critics have denounced them as dens of terror, hatcheries for suicide bombers, and repositories of medievalism. As Samina Ahmed and Andrew Stroehlein of the International Crisis Group wrote in The Washington Post after last July's London bombings, "Jihadi extremism is still propagated at radical madrassas in Pakistan. ... And now, it seems, the hatred these madrassas breed is spilling blood in Western cities as well."

These criticisms have focused on the few dozen Pakistani madrasahs that served as de facto training grounds for jihadists fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Many of these jihadists went on to become foot soldiers in later campaigns, including those against Indian rule over Kashmir and against Shiite Muslims within Pakistan. They also

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