The sun shines through the windows of Khatamul Ambia Madrasa, where a dozen young boys sit in a circle under the supervision of their teacher Ismatullah Mudakiq.
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Students wake up at 4:30 in the morning and start the day with prayers. They memorize the Qur’an during class, chanting verses until the words are tied. At any moment, Mudakiq can examine them and ask them to recite a verse from memory. Focusing on the future of education in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, urban educated Afghans and the international community have called for equal access to education for girls and women. Madrasas – Islamic religious schools for primary and higher education, where only boys participate – represent another section of Afghan society, the poorer and more conservative.
And they are also uncertain what the future holds for the Taliban.
Most of the students are from poor families. Madrasa is an important institution for them; It is sometimes the only way for their children to get an education, and the children are sheltered, fed and clothed. At night they lie on thin mattresses, preferring the soil above the curved-bed until they fall asleep. Like most institutions in Afghanistan, madrassas have struggled with the country’s economic collapse, which has accelerated since the Taliban took over on October 15.
The Taliban যার meaning “student” মূলis originally emerged from extremist madrassa students in neighboring Pakistan in the 1990s. For the past two decades, madrassas in Afghanistan have been free of militant ideology, fighting the US-backed Taliban. Now that government is gone.
Khatamul Ambia activists were wary when asked if they expected greater support from the new Taliban rulers.
“With or without the Taliban, madrassas are crucial,” Mudakik explained. “Without them, people will forget their religious origins. Madrasas should always be there no matter what the government does.” It doesn’t matter the cost, it should be kept alive.
Historically, the Afghan government lacked the resources to provide education in rural areas, enabling madrassas to exert influence. The madrasa system has largely survived through community-led efforts; Most of its funding comes from private sources. But the US sanctions did not pay the public because of the fiscal deficit and the accumulation of money from the International Monetary Fund. Madrasas are not seeing funding like before.
Young boys who grow up in the madrasa system can qualify to be religious scholars and experts. Schools generally teach a conservative interpretation of Islam and are criticized for having an additional impact on rot-learning over critical thinking.
But for some, the system is just a way to get an elementary education and feed.
In religious studies, young people are invited to large seating areas for bread and hot tea. Before sunset, they play marbles until it’s time for prayers – before the last night.
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