Child rape and torture in the madrassas of Islam

What really happens inside a madrassa

December 10, 2011 – Posted by Farhan Jaffri

Boy students in a madrassa

Students are abused and brutally beaten in madrassas and no one says anything because they are too scared. PHOTO: SHAHID BOKHARI/EXPRESS

I was about 10-years-old in the late 90s, when I was forced to go to a madrassa by my mother. I didn’t want to go. I had heard many notorious stories about madrassas and was quite shaken at the thought of being a part of one. Nonetheless, I was sent to become a good Muslim.

I am a resident of Karachi and come from a conservative family where burqas and Assalam-o-Alaikum are necessary to gain respect from your family and friends. My mother used to emphasize on learning the Holy Quran as I grew up. When I asked her:

“Mom, why can’t I just sit at home and learn the Quran with you?”

She replied with:

“There’s no better place to learn the Quran than a madrassa.”

I still remember my first day there. I was sent to one of the biggest madrassas in Karachi. I walked in with shivering legs. Looking around me, I found myself in a place with huge ceilings and small rooms where children were sitting together reciting the Quran. The desks they were using were quite weird – I have never seen anything of the like before. The students were reciting the Quran in the loudest possible voices, abruptly moving their upper bodies back and forth. It was basically a ruckus. One couldn’t hear the other person over the sound of hundreds of students reciting so loudly. Frankly, this scared me even more and I asked myself:

“What if Qaari Sahab started beating me and no one could hear my cries for help?”

As I entered the classroom where I was supposed to study, the room suddenly became silent. Taking a look around, I found everyone glaring at me as though I were an unwelcome guest. Glancing meekly at the bearded Qaari Sahab, I managed to utter “Assalam-o-Alaikum”. The Qaari Sahab instantly replied back with “Wa Alaikum Assalam” and asked me to sit beside him. Grateful for any trace of friendliness, I sat beside him cross-legged. After a brief introduction, he asked me to join the other students to recite the Quran. As I started to stand up, he placed a chocolate in my hand. That instantly made him a ‘good person’ in my eyes.

As my first day there came to an end, I discovered that all the notorious stories about madrassas are completely untrue. The Qaari Sahab didn’t beat any student and he didn’t swear at anyone. I began to think that maybe a madrassa is the place where I should really be after all.

Alas, my bliss did not last long, and as the days passed, things started to take a U-turn.

Only after a week of my joining, we heard that some other Qaari Sahab of the same madrassa had beaten up a child so badly that his leg had been fractured. That day I decided to meet the student who was beaten. I wanted to ask him what it was he did so wrong that ignited this sort or wrath.

Of course, by then, the Qaari Sahab was a heroic figure for me. I was certain that it would be the student’s fault due to which he was beaten so. As the madrassa bell rang, indicating that all classes are over, I walked over to the other classroom where I heard the beaten student was studying. He was just walking out of the room, using crutches. Seeing him limping towards the exit, I felt sorry for him. I went up to him and asked:

“Assalam-o-Alaikum brother! What has happened to your leg?”

He replied:

“Didn’t you hear? I was the boy who refused to fetch my Qaari Sahab dahi (yoghurt) from the shop because I was tired.”

I was dumbfounded when I heard this. I then asked:

“Why would your Qaari Sahab need dahi during the class?”

He gave me a scornful laugh and said:

“You are new here, right? Your Qaari Sahab will ask you to get him something from your home or market any time he wants to. You will look quite similar to me if you ever refuse. Obviously, you are not paid by your Qaari Sahab for anything he wants you to bring him. My Qaari Sahab wanted to have some lassi (yoghurt drink) during class. That is why he wanted me to get him dahi.

Later that day, I related this story to my mother who said:

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