By Amna Shafqat
Whenever I hear these empty notions of ‘No Space for Extremism Left’ so confidently floated in wake of Peshawar Attack, I remain unconvinced. My doubts about these ‘Anti-terrorism’ measures strengthen when I give a cursory look at the present unchecked activities of International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI). The national consensus against extremism means nothing when you know that Saudi’s takfiri ideology is being expanded every day, inch by inch, into small towns of KPK and Punjab with the launch of IIUI Schools & Colleges.
I studied Environmental science in IIUI. Among the 46 courses that I took over the period of 4 years, I also had to study Arabic, Sharia and Law, Pakistan studies, and Islamic studies. Environmental economic teacher used to patiently wait outside our class; he would cough and clear his throat loudly and wait until our Class Representative (CR) would come out and assure him that every girl in the class had their ‘nangey sar’ covered with dupatta. Pakistan studies teacher use to write the contact number of Al-Huda in addition to writing Hadiths and Quranic verses on white board whenever she took the class. Class discussions in Social Studies would invariably divert to state of Islam and purdah in Pakistan.
Chemistry teacher would start talking about water cycle and move swiftly to discussing the scientific miracles of Quran and the number of times water cycle is mentioned in Quran. Because chemistry in Quran was a miracle, so we were to memorize the ‘facts’ of both the world and incorporate them into one single comprehensible answer in order to get credit hours for that course. Ecology teacher talking about human population curves and population boom would dutifully remind us that we are Muslim so there is NO concept in Islam about population control, and some ‘Islamic scholars’ even consider use of contraceptives haram- “No wonder that there are going to be more women burning in fiery depth of hell”- she would laughingly chirp later as an afterthought.
Burqa catwalk was a real event. Notice boards were sometimes liberally used as JI and Al-Huda activity promotion board. Canteen walls were amply plastered with warnings and premonition of hell for those who were not careful enough and brought Shezan juice. In the morning, when university buses poured-in from all parts of twin cities, the campus entrance would often be dotted with burqa clad women distributing pamphlets. No one was missed; everyone got a copy of her Al-Huda course announcement advertisement paper, or a pamphlet bemoaning the cruelty of state against the innocent students of Lal Masjid. Pamphlets that cursed America and wanted Afia Siddiqui back and pamphlets warning bey-purdha immodest women about fiery depths of hell were also shoved into hands. Pamphlets told us every day that Blasphemous cartoon makers should be killed. All blasphemers should be killed. Salman Taseer should be killed. Some papers demanded justice for students who were arrested form hostels in ‘alleged’ connection with the terrorists.
Piety came before curiosity. That was the lesson overriding all other lessons. Learning did not mean that one had to abandon moderate behavior. Women campus and Men campus might have been a separate universe, but news often came floating one way or other. Women campus once held a festival, ferris wheel and merry-go-rounds were installed, students shrieked in excitement as the amusement ride caught speed. But then sounds weaves could not be contained and males who existed beyond the barbed wires of female campus heard the shrieks. Modesty came under a threat instantly. JI came into action and women happy shrieks potentially became a means of sexual arousal for some males. Sickness of thought came over everyone, everyone was ashamed. The rides had to be dismantled. Modesty had to be restored. So the festival was cut-short and modest Islam reigned again.
If you wanted your transcripts on emergency basis then you were in for a churning that would take every ounce of your best temperament. It took me almost three weeks to sort-out office formalities and get my transcripts, after the sum total of getting four page fees clearance documents signed. Why? Because it was the Holy month of Ramzan, and the holiest of the places, i.e. an education institution was under siege by holy men and women, not doing their duty but attending Quran and Hadith dars, all in Al-Huda and Tableeghi style.
During those three weeks I would come to the university, and would often go back, without moving an inch forward in my desperate efforts to get my degrees and transcripts. Upon reaching the administration office, I would find offices desks and chairs stacked neatly close to the wall- making a space in the middle of the office hall room- white chadder laid out and all women employees sitting on floor, with one pious lady giving them dars and educating them about the fazaail of prayer in Ramzan. Some were listening silently and some women were crying (may be out of sheer exhaustion and hunger) but none were found at their desks doing their job. I don’t know if those women found blessing of Ramzan, but I was certainly showered with all the blessing of the holy-month that one could hope for. Not to mention that these employees were sure to draw their halaal salary that month.
Conspiracy was juicy. Conspiracy gave legitimacy to claims that IIUI is serving Islam and is under attack by liberal forces all the time. Any change in the faculty was taken a conspiracy against Islam. Once a teacher was inducted in Sharia and Law department, nothing unusual about hiring a teacher. No one would have known that the newly inducted teacher was slightly liberal until a spat with Sharia students got intensified and one day that poor ‘liberal’ teacher was thrown down stairs for being part of an Amereekan conspiracy. So I could totally understand the fears of one visiting faculty teacher who taught us Globalization and Foreign Policy, as he often use to stop him-self short during a lecture and would say that he cannot carry-on the discussion further because his opinions on politics should remain outside the boundary of this Fort of Islam i.e International Islamic University Islamabad.
If Pakistanis are really serious about eradicating extremism and terrorism, This University (IIUI) and the likes of it should sever ALL links with Saudi Arabia. The administration of IIUI must go directly under the authority of government of Pakistan. A foreign Arabic speaking Saudi national should not be the overseer i.e. Pro-chancellor of this university. The funding of this university has to be checked. The spread of extremist ideology under the cover of promoting ‘modern’ education needs to be checked by HEC. The course contents should be standardized and modernized.
But of course we are busy fighting a war on extremism, and all our fights will be fought on wrong fronts. We are a poor country, we need money. So let the money pour in from all shady sources and let us produce a brainwashed educated middle class that likes to sit on the fringes and silently watch Taliban wreak havoc in Pakistan.
Author is an environmentalist and freelance writer with an interest in feminism. She tweets @AmnaGoraya