Pakistan is a Muslim nation in Asia, sandwiched between India and Afghanistan. China, Iran and the Arabian Sea touch Pakistan’s outer edges. More than 199 million people live in Pakistan. Islam is the country’s official religion—96.4 percent are Muslims; Hindus and Christians are about 3.6 percent. (CIA)
Pakistan’s schools are run by the government, but they are not free. These schools only exist in city areas. Many remote villages have “ghost” schools, which are empty buildings with no teacher. Teachers are paid, but there is no accountability, and therefore, no teacher attendance.
Pakistan spends little on its educational system, only 2.5 percent of its gross domestic product (CIA, 2013), leaving more than 24 million children unschooled. (AFP) This is the second highest rate in the world after Nigeria. In contrast, the United States spent 5.2 percent of its gross domestic product on education in 2011. (CIA)
Only 57.9 percent of Pakistan’s people can read. (CIA)
Why should this matter to America?
What happens in Pakistan affects American security.
Mike Gordon of Shining Light International developed an entire school system in the Gilgit area of northern Pakistan. He states, “One of the necessary components of securing our borders and combating terrorism is to educate the poorest, most oppressed people. This prevents radical Islam.”
Mike Gordon and his wife, Robin, a school principal, set out in 2001 to help the oppressed, migrant Christian population living in Gilgit and surrounding areas. This group is under threat of persecution and has been completely illiterate, until now. Today, these children are grown, in college, and are the first generation of migrant Pakistani Christians to read their Bible. Some intend to return to Shining Light schools as teachers themselves. Others will go on to enter government, the military, or another area of employment.
More Shining Light schools have opened, enabling other poor minority groups to attend. One such group is the Gujjars, an Islamic semi-nomadic people close to the border of Afghanistan. They live on the fringes of society—without running water, health-care or education. A very high percentage of the Gujjars in Gilgit-Baltistan are illiterate.
They could easily be radicalized by radical Islam. Shining Light now educates 600 Gujjar children from three villages and expects to enter two more villages by the end of the year.
Shining Light employs 60 people, 50 of which are teachers, some (8) who live and work in remote areas. The organization, a non-profit 501c3, provides scholarships to the needy, even for those who go on to university.
Shining Light education is taught in English and is conceptual. Robin Gordon’s expertise has provided necessary materials, making the school highly-valued. In contrast, education in Pakistani government schools is taught by rote (repetition). Western education encourages students to think, write, and understand concepts. Rote education is simply memorization and regurgitation.
Islam, by law, is taught in Pakistani schools, whether government or private. Christian students may opt-out with an ethics class or other appropriate elective.
Poor students without access to government schools or a program like Shining Light, attend the madrassas. These are Islamic religious schools which teach the Koran using rote memorization. The Koran is written and spoken in its original Arabic language, but the primary languages of Pakistan are Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Saraiki and Urdu (official). Students rely on Islamic teaching for understanding of the Koran, but there is also no regulation of the madrassas and what is being taught.
A madrassa education is free and is the primary form of education in Pakistan. They are in every Sunni Islam village and the cities in Pakistan. 3.5 million children attend more than 20,000 madrassas.
Mike Gordon adds, “This kind of teaching, rote memorization, has infiltrated the government education system.”
Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter in the San Bernardino massacre, attended the Al-Huda Institute, a madrassa in Pakistan.
There is growing evidence that these Pakistani madrassas are recruitment centers for Islamic radicalization from the poorer and middle classes. There is also evidence that many of the madrassas are funded by Saudi Arabia.
Madrassas in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan created the jihadists in the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Today the jihadists are joining the Islamic Caliphate, also known as ISIS.
Madrassas are associated with local mosques, an Islamic place of worship. There are 3186 mosques in the United States (Saltomatic) and there are several Islamic schools or madrassas, as well. “80 percent of the 1,200 mosques operating in the US were constructed after 2001, more often than not with Saudi financing." (World Affairs)
Pakistanis and other Islamic nationals are attempting to cross United States’ borders illegally, as in the case of Javaid Muhammad (May 17, 2016) and legally as did Tashfeen Malik on a fiancée visa.
To begin to keep America safe, the gaps must be filled. Those who support radicalization cut off, and organizations like Shining Light International, supported.
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