KABUL, Afghanistan (WNN) – The noise of children’s voices recites Islam’s holiest book at a school in a remote corner of the Afghan capital.
The sun shines through the windows of the Khatamul Ambiya madrasa, where a dozen young boys sit in a circle under the tutelage of their teacher Ismatullah Mudquik.
Students get up at 4:30 in the morning and start the day with prayer. They spend class time memorizing the Qur’an, reciting verses until the words are incorporated. At any time, the Mudqik can test them by asking that a verse be recited from memory.
Drawing attention to the future of education in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, there have been calls for equal access to education for girls and women among urban educated Afghans and the international community. Madrasas – Islamic religious schools for primary and higher education, in which only boys attend – represent another section of Afghan society, the poorer and more conservative.
And they are also unsure what the future will hold under the Taliban.
Most of the students come from poor families. Madrasas are an important institution for them; Sometimes this is the only way for their children to get an education, and the children are also given shelter, food and clothing. At night they lie on thin mattresses, preferring the ground over bunk-beds, until sleep. Like most institutions in Afghanistan, madrassas have struggled in the collapse of the country’s economy, which has intensified since the Taliban takeover on 15 October.
The Taliban – meaning “students” – originally emerged from among the hardline madrassas students in neighboring Pakistan in the 1990s. Over the past two decades, in the eyes of the US-backed government fighting the Taliban, madrassas in Afghanistan have shunned terrorist ideologies. Now that government is gone.
Employees of Khatmul Ambiya were cautious when asked whether they expected more support from the new Taliban rulers.
“Whether with or without the Taliban, madrassas are very important,” Mudquik explained. “Without them, people will forget their religious sources… Madrasa should always be there no matter which government is present. It doesn’t matter what the price is, it should be kept alive.”
Historically, the Afghan government has lacked the resources to provide education in rural areas, increasing the influence of madrassas. The madrassa system has been kept alive largely through community-driven efforts; Most of its funding comes from private sources. But with financial shortfalls resulting from US sanctions and withholding from international monetary institutions, public salaries have remained unpaid. Madrasas are not seeing the funding they used to.
Young boys who grow up in the madrasa system may be qualified to become religious scholars and experts. Schools generally teach a conservative interpretation of Islam and have been criticized for over-reliance on rote-learning over critical thinking.
But for some people this system is just a way to get basic education and make a living.
In the midst of religious studies, young men call for bread and hot tea at the large seating area. Before sunset, they play marbles until prayer time – the last before nightfall.