A friend directed me to a feature article in yesterday’s NY Times. Entitled, “Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam,” the article discussed the advent of Turkish schools that have come to Pakistan “with an entirely different vision of Islam. Theirs is moderate and flexible, comfortably coexisting with the West while remaining distinct from it.” The group of Turkish educators now based in Pakistan are like “Muslim Peace Corps volunteers,” noted the Times, promoting “this approach in schools, which are now established in more than 80 countries, Muslim and Christian.”
Presently, the education system in Pakistan is relatively weak, since the poorest Pakistanis cannot afford to send their children to public schools, “which are free but require fees for books and uniforms.” As a result, many send them to madrassas, religious schools, which offer free food and clothing. Although it’s important to underline that not all madrassas have radical Islamist agendas, the reality is that a number of them do. The NY Times added, “At the same time, a growing middle class is rejecting public schools, which are chaotic and poorly financed, and choosing from a new array of private schools.”
The “PakTurk” schools, which have expanded to seven cities in Pakistan since the first was established a decade ago, offer an alternative approach that the NY Times noted, “could help reduce the influence of Islamic extremists.” The news agency added,
They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.
What exactly is this model of education? Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar and preacher with millions of followers in Turkey, is the brainchild behind the model, whose idea is that “without science, religion turns to radicalism, and without religion, science is blind and brings the world to danger.” One source further noted, “The chief characteristic of the Gulen movement is that it does not seek to subvert modern secular states, but encourages practising Muslims to use to the full the opportunities they offer.”
The PakTurk schools are significant because they offer one alternative to the often polarized perceptions of Pakistan’s education system. Instead of families choosing between religious or government-sponsored education, they have more options. And today, the Gulen schools are luckily not the only option. Instead, the model represents just one of the many efforts to improve Pakistan’s education system. CHUP will be publishing a related interview with an education NGO this week, so stay tuned. [Image from the Times -The NY Times piece has an attached slideshow and audio interview with Times writer Sabrina Tavernaise.]