Fwd: Nurturing Young Islamic Hearts and Hatreds

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    Nurturing Young Islamic Hearts and Hatreds



    PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct. 13 A thousand years ago, in the days of the
    camel caravans, storytellers gathered here in the tea shops and brought
    the outside world and all its thoughts and ideas to the bazaar. As the
    vendors hawked silk, spice and rich tapestries and traders herded beasts
    through streets thick with smoke from cooking fires, travelers from
    distant lands and differing religions told stories about moguls, magic,
    wit and wisdom. In time, the bazaar came to be known as Qissa Khwani
    the Bazaar of the Storytellers.

    Now, the streets are still choked with donkey carts, and meat still
    sizzles on open pits, but the vendors are poor men selling simple things.
    Blaring car horns drown out all other sound, just as the teachers and
    students in the Islamic seminaries that surround this bazaar have drowned
    out all conflicting ideas, all unacceptable thoughts.

    The storytellers no longer come. There is just one story now, at least
    one acceptable story. It is the one taught in the seminaries, called
    madrassas, that have become incubators in Pakistan for the holy warriors
    who say they will die to defend Islam and their hero, Osama bin Laden,
    from the infidels. In many of the 7,500 madrassas in Pakistan, inside a
    student body of 750,000 to a million, students learn to recite and obey
    Islamic law, and to distrust and even hate the United States.

    "Jihad," shouted a little boy, from a high window in a madrassa just
    steps from the Khwani Bazaar. He grinned and waved as foreign journalists
    snapped his photograph, but, on the streets below, older students had
    massed for demonstrations that would end in clouds of tear gas and smoke
    from burning tires, as young men jumped through fire to prove their faith
    and ferocity.

    President Bush and diplomats from the West have taken great pains to
    point out that the war on Mr. bin Laden and the Taliban of Afghanistan is
    not a war on Islam, but in many madrassas here in Pakistan especially
    those near the border with Afghanistan militant Muslims lecture
    students that the United States is a nation of Christians and Jews who
    are not after a single terrorist or government but are bent on the
    worldwide annihilation of Islam.

    The madrassas' sword is in the narrow education they offer, and the
    devotion they engender from students from the poorest classes who,
    without them, would have nowhere to go, or go hungry.

    At the Markaz Uloom Islamia madrassa in Peshawar, Muhammad Sabir, 22,
    motioned to the eerily quiet compound, devoid of students. Final exams
    are over, he said. The scholars, many of them, have left to fight against
    the United States. "They have gone for jihad," said Mr. Sabir, a student
    there. "It is our moral and religious duty." He said the words
    automatically, woodenly, as if repeating his elder's recitation of the

    "There is no practical training of terrorists here," said Asif Qureishi,
    an Islamic scholar and the son of Maulana Mohd Yousaf Qureishi, who heads
    the Darul-Uloom Ashrafia madrassa in Peshawar. There are no weapons, no
    knives or guns, no weapons training. The madrassas hone only the mind, he

    "We prepare them for the jihad, mentally," said Mr. Qureishi, whose
    duties at the madrassa include the call to prayers. In a small room at
    the madrassa, students nodded appreciatively at his words. Some were no
    more than 10.

    "The minds are fresh," he said. In his tiny office, a bag of rice rests
    against a wall. Outside the door, a student hefts the carcass of a
    slaughtered goat.

    What the students hear, in compounds that range from spartan to squalid,
    is a drumbeat of American injustice, cruelty and closed-mindedness the
    United States is just that way, the elders say.

    "They send cruise missiles against gravestones," said Al-Sheikh Rahat
    Gul, the stick-thin, 81-year-old maulana who heads Markaz Uloom Islamia
    in Peshawar, a madrassa with about 250 students.

    The Americans kill only innocents, said the maulana, a large pair of
    thick-lensed, black-framed glassed sitting crookedly on his head. "The
    Koran forbids the killing of females, children, elders and cattle," he
    said. "That is war. That is not holy war." Sons of Islam must answer that
    tyranny with holy war, he said.

    He condemns the World Trade Center attack but dismisses any connection to
    this part of the world. "The Jews have done this," he said, calling the
    attacks a plot by Israel to draw the world into war. "And the Hindus are
    just like them." It is repeated madrassa by madrassa, the company line of
    the militants and the poorer classes from which they come, spreading out
    from the student body to the shops and foot traffic.

    Maulana Gul proudly points to a cartoon on the back of a pamphlet at his
    madrassa that shows Afghanistan encircled by a chain, and the chain is
    secured by a padlock that is labeled "United Nations." Inside the chain
    are weeping children. Hands reach from all directions with offerings of
    food, money and grain, hands are grabbed at the wrist by other hands
    labeled "U.S.A.," preventing that aid from getting to the starving people.

    In the madrassas, students ranging in age from 7 or 8 to men over 20 are
    taught a strict interpretation of the Koran, including the duty of all
    Muslims to rise up in jihad. There are no televisions and some madrassas
    do not even allow transistor radios. There are no magazines or newspapers
    except those deemed acceptable by the elders. The outside world is closed
    to them, and many of the students seem puzzled when asked if they mind
    that. Their teachers, most of them respected elders, tell them what they
    need to know, the students said.

    Almost all the leadership of the Taliban, including Mullah Muhammad Omar,
    was educated in madrassas in Pakistan most of them in a single
    madrassa, Jamia Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khatak in the Northwest
    Frontier Province of Pakistan. The anti-American protests that have
    filled the streets in Islamabad, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi have been
    planned in madrassas their maulanas, the elders who run the schools,
    are the spiritual hub of the protests.

    In Quetta, after the United States began its missile attacks on the
    Taliban, 300 Afghans who had attended madrassas in Pakistan crossed the
    border to join the jihad. Every day, said madrassa students, Pakistanis
    slip over the border to join them.

    "The madrassas indulge in brainwashing on a large scope, of the young
    children and those in their early teens," said Arasiab Khattak, chairman
    of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, who stressed it is unfair to
    say that all madrassas are the same. Some are more militant than others.

    But along the border with Afghanistan, the vast majority of madrassas
    have become an assembly line for the jihad. Even the scholars themselves
    and their teachers say that this is so.

    Almost all the students come from poor families who cannot afford any
    other education in a country that spends about 90 percent of its budget
    on debt service and the military and almost nothing on public schools.

    A large family, said Mr. Khattak, often sends two or three sons to a
    madrassa because it cannot afford to feed them. "There is no access to
    the regular education system," he said.

    The madrassas, often supported by donors from other Islamic states like
    Saudi Arabia, offer a narrow education many of them do not teach
    science, math, languages or any history beyond that in the Koran but do
    offer students food and a place to sleep. In madrassas, children from the
    hardest poverty in Pakistan and orphans from wars in Afghanistan, get
    enough to eat.

    Here, the difference between poverty and wealth is apparent on a person's
    feet. If someone wears sandals made of leather, they have at least some
    wealth. The poorest wear mass-produced sandals made of plastic. At the
    doors to the madrassas here no one enters any office or classroom
    wearing shoes rows of plastic sandals sit just outside the doors.

    There have been madrassas in Pakistan for hundreds of years, austere
    stone and brick schools built around a mosque where students spend as
    many as eight years being instructed in the Koran. They learn by
    parroting their mullahs, who recite the Koran. There are no questions, no

    In the past quarter-century, said experts on the madrassas, jihad has
    become more than a lesson to recite.

    In the 1980's, students left these madrassas to fight against the Soviet
    Union in Afghanistan including many Pakistanis, some of whom have an
    ethnic and tribal kinship to the Afghans. In the 1990's students became
    foot soldiers and leaders in the Taliban. Now, they form an army around
    Osama bin Laden.

    In the hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11,
    students described how they ran through the sprawling Jamia Darul Uloom
    Haqqania compound celebrating, stabbing the fingers on one hand into the
    palm of the other, to simulate a plane stabbing into a building.

    The morning after the attacks, elders at the madrassa, which translates
    to "The University of All Righteous Knowledge," summoned students to
    study hall. The elders explained what had happened. "No, no, not
    Muslims," said Fazal Ghani, 22, an Afghan, as he passed on his teachers'
    explanation of who had caused the deaths of thousands. "This was Yehudi,"
    the Jews. "trying to discredit Islam." He tried to express his sympathy
    for the victims of the bombings, saying "Bad, bad," but he could not stop

    His teachers had explained that, even though the Jews flew the planes
    into the towers, it was Allah's will. Allah, the teachers said, put the
    idea in the minds of the Jews.

    Allah, in his wisdom, knew that the Muslims would perhaps be briefly
    discredited, the students said, but that when the truth came out, it
    would ultimately destroy the Jews.

    Radios are allowed at this madrassa, and some of the students had held
    radios to their ears all night, listening to news reports. But that was
    just noise, just electricity. The truth, the only truth, came from the
    madrassa's teachers.

    "The wrath of God," the teachers had said.

    But until recent violent demonstrations in Pakistan planned in the
    madrassas and carried out, at least in part, by students there was no
    government condemnation. Just two weeks ago, the Pakistan president,
    Pervez Musharraf, was calling them "misunderstood organizations," that
    were actually welfare systems to aid the poor. He has since jailed
    several of the madrassas' leaders, after demonstrations in Quetta and
    Karachi left businesses ablaze.

    Maulana Khalid Banori, who heads Darul-Uloom Sarhad in Peshawar, sees
    himself as a college superintendent. Students at his madrassa study
    science, math and English, and can use credits earned here to apply for
    graduate schools, or they can use their education to qualify for civil
    service jobs. He said he wants his students to have a well-rounded
    education, but one based in the teachings of Islam.

    He hopes the violence will end, that the terrorism will end. It will, he
    said, as soon the Americans stop committing it.

    Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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