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Taliban Education, Inside A Madrasa Islamic School Shaping Afghanistan's Future

No girls, no science, no foreign languages, only the Koran. This is how the Taliban want to erase the generation of students educated for 20 years by the "Western usurpers." La Stampa's Francesca Mannocchi visits one of the rigid, boys-only madrasas near Kabul.

Taliban Education, Inside A Madrasa Islamic School Shaping Afghanistan's Future

Young Afghani men attend a lesson in a madrasa in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan

Francesca Mannocchi

KABUL — When I ask Mufti Hayatullah Masroor to choose a text for the morning lesson in the Al-Jami'a Al-Islamiya Al-Mohammadia-Kabul madrasa he oversees in Qala Haidar Khan, a village outside Kabul, he takes his time, approaches the shelf where he keeps his books, flips through it, carefully selects the lines, and reads this hadith aloud: "I heard the Messenger of Allah say, 'Every woman who dies will enter Paradise if God has been pleased with her behavior'."


In front of him are about 20 students. The youngest is his son, aged six, sitting at the back of the class, the others are all teenagers. They listen to him with their heads bowed, covered by their turbans, their hands crossed on their knees, in a silence that is already a devotion.

Servant of Islam

The text read by Mufti Hayatullah Masroor is one of the 600 pamphlets written by the founder of the Koranic school, Shaik Mohammad Zahed Azizkhel, a scholar from Logar province who is specialized in religious studies and also a jurist known worldwide for his publications. "A great servant of Islam", as everyone here calls him.

Trained in Pakistan, he has taught Islamic subjects in madrasas in 16 Afghan provinces. When news of his arrival is heard, the Mufti says, life stops, and families pray for their children to be admitted to classes.

Madrasas have arrived in Afghanistan where the state has not

He first came to the village ten years ago to give short seminars to 500 local students. There were no books, not enough space, but no one gave up. Students listened to him while sitting in the cold. They slept on the floor to hear him again the next day. "His lessons were our challenge to the previous regime," says Mufti Masroor, piling the founder's texts in front of me, one on top of the other, and giving me one, in French, that indicates the rules of good conduct for the sisters of the Islamic faith.

In 2018, a school was born from these short seminars, built on an area of one hectare, costing so far 12 million afghanis ( about 110,000 euros) from private funds collected by Shaik Mohammad Zahed Azizkhel from businessmen who support him, mainly in Pakistan.

Useless graduates

Since coming to power, the Taliban have insisted that the country no longer needs the young graduates of the last 20 years. The ones who were taught by the usurping armies to change the country's traditions.

Minister of Education Abdul Baqi Haqqani made it clear in his first meeting with university teachers: "The graduates we inherited from the occupation years are useless." Learning languages and science was declared irrelevant.

The Taliban banned girls from schools and called Koranic schools "the only scholarship the country needs," a clear reference to the money spent by the West to fund school projects from 2001 to the present.

Education is considered one of the success stories of international aid. Last year in Afghanistan, 67% of boys and 48% of girls were enrolled in school according to World Bank figures, which means that under the protection of the international community, nine times more young people had access to education than during the first Islamic state era, between 1996 and 2001.

For a long time, madrasas were the only way for the most vulnerable segments of the population to educate their children

Oliver Weiken/dpa/ZUMA

In the classroom 24 hours a day

The building is still under construction, many of the windows have no glass and only a handful of classrooms have stoves. Yet, 150 children live in the school to learn the Koran by heart and take two-year specialization courses in Islamic studies and law.

There are 150 now, but they are supposed to increase to 1,500 in two years.

Life is enclosed within the walls of the school and is subject to a strict 24-hour schedule. The time from dawn to noon is dedicated to classes and prayers, and is followed by individual study of texts until the evening. After that, there is a two-hour break, more memory exercises on the Koran, and writing until 11 p.m.

"This is the pure instruction of pure Islam," the Mufti repeated several times. Only by instructing the youth in this way, "will Afghan people's regulations be conducted in accordance with Islam and under the supervision of the Ulema (religious scholars)."

The graduates we inherited from the occupation years are useless.

For a long time, madrasas were the only way for the most vulnerable segments of the population to educate their children, who were welcomed, protected, fed and clothed. Madrasas have arrived in Afghanistan where the state has not: the Kabul government has historically allocated few resources to education in rural areas, allowing Koranic schools to grow in number and influence. It was in these classrooms that the majority of the young people who entered Kabul last summer, rifles on their shoulders, waving the flag of victory, grew up.

The return of the mullahs

Today, for the Taliban, challenging the previous educational paradigm not only means seeking continuity with the past but also bringing the mullahs back where the West wanted to build Afghanistan's new leaders.

"You see, the ruling mullahs and Taliban don't have PhDs, master's degrees nor even high school diplomas, but they are the greatest of all," the deputy education minister said.

Members of the government who, like the founder of the madrasa that hosted me, were also trained in Pakistani Koranic schools. Almost all of them come from one of the oldest seminaries in the country, the Darul Uloom Haqqania. The Haqqani network, the military wing of the Taliban, responsible for some of the most odious attacks of the last years, owes its name, gives its name to that very seminary.

Analysts call it the "university of jihad." It is believed to have been the breeding ground for violence in the region for decades. This is where many important members of today's government come from: Sirajuddin Haqqani, the current interior minister in Kabul, who has a $5 million bounty from the U.S. government, as well as Amir Khan Muttaqi, the foreign minister, and — needless to say — Abdul Baqi Haqqani, the minister of higher education.

For 20 years you have promoted education for all, the madrasa walls seem to whisper, but we, the Koranic students, have won.

Life is enclosed within the walls of the school and is subject to a strict 24-hour schedule

Oliver Weiken/dpa/ZUMA

Who will run the government?

Mufti Hayatullah Masroor says that here, in the madrasa of the village near Kabul, specialization does not exist: No English, no mathematics.

"Maybe one day we will include these subjects in our curriculum, but it is definitely premature to think about it now. We're thinking of taking in people in need, and there will be time for other subjects."

But without specializations, it's hard to make the government work.

If education is one of the main goals of the new Taliban policy, is it legitimate to ask who and with what skills will solve the banking paralysis? Who will operate the administrative and diplomatic machinery? Who will buffer the humanitarian crisis?

Once the victory's euphoria has passed, the young Taliban find themselves at check points with weapons on their shoulders and empty pockets. A youth who display the values of "pure" Islam in a constant parade of victory. A fragile parade in the face of an economic collapse, in need of urgent solutions, and specialists capable of managing it.

it is possible for women to receive an education, but only in accordance with the Islamic sharia

Skills like those learned by the country's students over the last 20 years, those are the skills necessary to rebuild the country. Sooner or later, the Taliban will be forced to ask for help and cooperation, to free up the billions of dollars of blocked funds and to reactivate the administrative machine, emptied of its employees and civil servants and occupied by students who know the Koran by heart, but not mathematics.

Women's rights

The morning I was accepted in the madrasa, Mufti Hayatullah Masroor was teaching grammar and reading a text about women. When I asked him why he had chosen this among many others, he said that he had done so to show that "it is possible for women to receive an education, but only in accordance with the Islamic sharia, that is, according to their needs."

He explained to his students more or less this: women are precious human beings and need to be protected, that is why they are protected at birth by their father, then by their husband and finally by their son. According to him, this is proof that women are more valuable than men: they are supported as long as they are alive, they do not need to work and they do not have to worry about financial problems. Men are their servants. That is why school is not a necessity.

For a moment I thought the lesson, specifically the part about the Western occupier, was aimed at me, rather than at them.

The Mufti then said: "Women's rights promoted by Western countries are in contradiction with our religion and tradition. The invaders will never be able to impose these rights, except at the cost of war, like the one they just lost."

And so I understood. I understood that the lesson wasn't aimed at me. I was the subject. I was presented to the future winning Taliban as evidence of the West's defeat.

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