Pakistan revolutionized by moderate thought, New educational initiative in Pakistan raises controversy: By Robert Terpstra


An interesting article in the New York Times on May 4 highlighted a trailblazing, controversial effort that is occuring in Pakistan.
It is work that is trying to combat what the Times reports as a less than 10 per cent literacy rate in Balochistan and specifically Quetta. The work defies what an influential world leader, who turned his back on the east and the Muslim caliphate, stated nearly 90 years ago.
The concept is called PakTurk. It is a brand of education-cum-religious teaching towards the aim of eradicating what is slowly developing in parts of fundamentalist Pakistan. Begun by a Joseph Smith-type prophet in the body of Turkish Islamic scholar, Fethullah Gulen, this politico-heavyweight is beginning to amass a following similar to that of Smith´s Mormon movement in the U.S.
PakTurk is encouraging poor families throughout Pakistan to allow this type of education to be bred upon their children to combat the allure of free food, education and an upbringing within the madrassas. Gulen and his vast network of educators are present in an ever-growing number of countries both in Christian and Muslim majorities. The organization is trying to rid Pakistan of the centuries-long traditions of young scholars memorizing the Koran by rote, those who take the holy book out of context and apply it to their political beliefs. As seen in the past, this has caused a great divide between devout Muslims and extremists as so emphasized in the media.
The article´s authors, Sabrina Tavernise and Sebnem Arsu, dictate that the overall literacy rate of Pakistan hovers around 50 per cent and a public school system that is almost at a point beyond repair. One result is an implosion within Pakistan society, which like countries such as India and South Africa, devote an entire week fixated on lists that are nailed in public areas and displayed in daily newspapers. These lists reveal to all if in fact their child or children have been chosen to enroll in an elite private school, an increasing trend within middle and upper class castes.
Combatting Pakistan´s plight in the education sector is but one of the reasons for this bold Turkish initiative. This particular enlightenment movement mirrors the work done by Christian and Muslim Peace Corps, evident in other countries. However, it is also aiming to erase what Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk put forward in destroying the Muslim caliphate in the early 1920s.
PakTurk´s founder, Gulen, has millions of supporters in the Muslim world, its majority found within Turkish borders. He believes among other things that like the presence of God´s vicar on Earth in the pope seated in the Vatican, that Muslims should also have a symbolic head within its earthly domain, that of a caliphate, first erected by the Abbasid and Umayyad dynasties during the time of the Prophet Muhammad.
The schools in cities like Quetta, as well as Karachi and Islamabad, are trying to once again make the Arab world a forum where learning is at the forefront of concern. Optimists believe this to be similar to the time when a beacon of light in the Dark Middle Ages was provided by the likes of Avicenna and Averroes, and al-jabr allowed mathematicians to solve geometric and algebraic models.
More realistically, PakTurk is set on teaching a core curriculum, with an emphasis on the maths and sciences, and the bare minimum of courses, as required by the state, taught regarding religion. The religious courses lectured paint a picture of a moderate islam, although allowing its practice within the schools' dormitories.
What is alarming to some within the intellegentsia is that the basis of these philosophies are rooted in Sufism, a mystical mode of thought made popular by the influential teachings of the executed Sayyid Qutb and practised by, but not limited to a labelled terrorist organization in the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Several within Islamic circles state that the movement begun by Gulen is simply to achieve personal political credibility outside of a non-compliant, secularist state in Turkey. That country is also trying to distance itself from a radical Islam in hopes of an invitation from the European Union in 10 years time. In Pakistan, the idea of an Islamic state is well within reason, and sharia law is expected to be next within the timeframe of its evolution.
PakTurk counters the negative opinion lauded upon it by emphasizing the amount of state-recognized education that many mullahs within the hierarchy of the madrassas do not have. Often times, young individuals are being wooed into these environments and become sponges without the ability to debate or question the validity of the teachings or statemens. This, as seen, can be a catastrophic occurrence.
In a translation obtained by the Times and documented in Gulen´s statements, “In the countries where Muslims live, some religious leaders and immature Muslims have no other weapon in hand than their fundamental interpretation of Islam. They use this to engage people in struggles that serve their own purposes”.
The alternative, as Mulen point out is his brainchild, the cure and answer to Pakistan´s evils. Whether this can become a successful enterprise will be determined within the coming decades. Its success will be dictated by public opinion, aggregated funds from the West in sponsoring programs like these – a no-brainer for brains who wish to combat the root of the problem within a fundamentalist safe haven in Pakistan.

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