The Malala University

I tweeted the dream of making a Malala university. The idea has alhamdulillah drawn the attention of some other people as well. I want to give answers to the following questions in this article: Why do we need such a university and what would it teach? What else needs to be done to solve the problems we are facing? Why do we need to call it Malala University? And would it be just a stand-alone university? Why am I not the person who could do the job? Each of these questions is going to be briefly answered in the following paragraphs in the sequence they appear above.

A university which teaches to produce moderate, peace-loving scholars is a serious need of the Pakistani society. It is more important than a Kalabagh Dam or any other desperately needed project. Our society is reeling because of the curse of extremism and sectarianism that has proliferated and is continuing to do so through the existing Madrassah-Masjid based system of providing Islamic education to scholars and masses. No amount of texting, tweeting, writing articles, verbally presenting views on television channels is going to solve the problem. The problem has existed in our society because our sect-based Madrassahs are producing scholars at a staggering speed who are then taking charge of Masajid which are multiplying at a high speed too. The more it happens, the more extremism it would create and the resultant problems would multiply. Believe me, no political party, no army, no foreign aid, nothing would solve the problem. If anything can counter the threat, it is the production process of genuine scholars – scholars who don’t belong to any sect, those who are trained to seek the truth directly from the Qur’an and in the light of it through Sunnah and hadith, scholars who know their own religion well, they know other religions well too, and they also know the contemporary discipline of social and physical sciences well too. When these scholars are going to present Islam not only on television screens and newspapers etc but also, and more importantly, in Masajid, the difference will begin to (and only begin) to appear. There is no problem if the university teaches other disciplines too; in fact it would be good if it does so. However, the University should owe its existence to the desperate religious need.

The previous paragraph clarifies that a university itself is not a complete solution to the problem: It is only a part of the solution. The scourge of religious extremism cannot begin to show even initial signs of receding from our society unless we come up with the accompanying idea of ensuring that the graduates of the university are going to have Masajid in which they will become Imams and will deliver the Khutba of Juma. The trouble is that our society learns its religion from this twin arrangement of Madrassahs and Masajid but never bothers to make the careers of those associated with it attractive enough to pull the imagination of intelligent, bright youngsters towards it. We have to make it a career competitive enough for intelligent young students to seek. I can see some inkling of a change in some parts of our country, like in the Masajid of armed forces and DHA. However, as yet the change is too little to have any significant impact on the society. A major change in that area is also needed if the university project is to be meaningful.

We need to call this institution Malala University. This is because the incident of the brave girl has highlighted the problem like no other incident could ever do. Many religious scholars and parties have joined in the condemnation of what has happened to Malala. And it is a welcome initiative. However, many of those who are condemning the ghastly act don’t even realize that they are a part of the problem. Atrocities of lesser intensities keep happening in our society in the name of religion. People hate each other for holding different religious views like never before; believers are urged to get rid of rulers forcibly in the name of religion; women are confined to a state of virtual house arrest even today and so on. If anything can change the scenario it is a university whose name must reflect the spirit that has caused it to be created. That spirit is badly needed to be reflected in the name of the institution too. And it has not been demonstrated more forcefully than by the daughter of the nation: Malala.

Malala University has to be the mother institution that should beget many others. Like the Madrassah at Deoband was ultimately responsible for begetting many children and grand children, Malala University will herald the process of an unstoppable chain of institutions. If we are looking for transforming the society, we need to have a complete dream. The Malala University will reach out to all places where Madrassahs exist. It will provide a healthy competition to them. In fact, insha’Allah, those institutions will also find themselves forced to merge themselves with it. Such would be the force of change.

There are several reasons why this idea is looking for at least one Sir Syed Ahmed Khan if not more. It cannot be created by a person of a lesser stature: It has to be someone who is trusted by the nation, like Edhi is trusted for his work of charity. I am too ordinary a person to play that role. And it’s not an expression of fake humbleness that prompts me to say that. There are reasons why I am convinced that I am not the person for the job, although it would always be a pleasure to assist the one who would take up the challenge. I have always tried and failed to realize the idea. I failed because I am not the person who can do it. Apart from other personal limitations, I am horrible at doing administrative work. But there is an even more important reason why I cannot be the person for doing it. I am already known to be a representative of a certain religious school. I cannot be an acceptable candidate to many well-meaning people for undertaking this gigantic task. The propaganda onslaught against people like me would so strong that the idea would die even before it begins to actualize. I would love my religious point of view to be presented along with all others for students to make an intelligent choice, but I wouldn’t want this wonderful idea to be killed in the womb because of the controversies associated with me. The Sir Syed of Malala University has to be as nearly a consensus candidate as could be possible.

May the Almighty cause him to emerge soon.