The Transnational System of Religious Education in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Led by Kristian Berg Harpviken

Jan 2008 – Sep 2009

​Islamic education has been an important part of the Afghan education system through history.

Islamic education has been an important part of the Afghan education system through history. The number of Afghan students attending madrasas (religious seminaries) in neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan, has increased dramatically in the past three decades. After 9/11 several terrorist attacks have been linked to madrasas in Pakistan, causing an increased focus on these institutions by international actors.

While a number of studies have been conducted to throw light on the madrasas in Pakistan, little is known about the interconnection between madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Research indicates that both the Afghan government and civil society actors assume that lack of access to quality religious education at home makes Afghan students attend madrasas abroad, and that this assumption informs current reform initiatives in religious education. Yet, knowledge on what ties Afghan students to madrasas abroad is scarce. This project therefore aims at finding out to what extent the madrasas in Pakistan and Afghanistan should be understood as part of a continuous system or religious educations that spans the boundaries between the two states. The project will draw on qualitative interviewing with key informants complemented with available written documentation. The project will establish ‘madrasa profiles’ as a basis for its analysis, but also draw on existing figures and case studies. The project will investigate why Afghan students seek religious education in Pakistan; examine cross border student flows; and assess to what extent these institutions share common theology, ideology, leadership and finances.

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