NRDF - National Research & Development Foundation, Peshawar


Ulama and Development Model

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Also See: A Booklet on Ulama & Development

The religious institutions of Madaris, Mosque and Ulama closely overlap and support each other. They are important stakeholders of the civil society in Pakistan. Their numerical strength, potential to influence the general public, acceptability among the communities, and proximity of contact with the people at the grass roots level, and various religious services provide their institutions a monopoly over the interpretation of Islamic teachings. The enormous resources available to them (according to Agha Khan University local communities in Pakistan contribute Rs. 70 billion in Philanthropy a big portion of which goes to the religious institutions) make them very fit as a means to support the process of social transformation in the country. However, no organized, continuous and consistent effort has ever been made to bring them into the mainstream of development and to tap their potential for developmental activities in the country.

The non-participation of religious institutions into the developmental efforts in Pakistan is a key issue that has far reaching effects on the society. An organized effort has hardly been made in the past to take the religious institutions into confidence, sensitize them on issues related to social development, utilize their strengths for positive communication at the grass roots, and motivate them to play an effective role in the overall developmental process of the country. The effects of their non-participation/exclusion to take part in the process of social developmentcan be broadly categorized into the following ways:

  • It is a major factor to limited access at the grass roots, low levels of community participation, ineffective mobilization of local resources, gender discrimination, opposition to the work of NGOs, and wastage of energies and resources of religious institutions on activities other than those related to development. The little success of Government run family planning programs, primary education, rural development, narcotics control, income generation and credit, solid waste management, environmental rehabilitation, and women in development and forestry sector development projects is examples of this. The projects working in the above mentioned sectors in Pakistan identify them as risk factor or a leading cause of lack of successful project implementation, community participation and sustainability.
  • This phenomenon is gradually resulting in a mighty increase in religious extremism, gender discrimination, sectarian violence, terrorism, hampering community development work and widening the gap between Muslims and people from other religions and beliefs. Important details about the phenomena are attached as annex 1 to this contribution paper.

Objectives of the Ulama and Development Model

The objectives of the Ulama and Development Model is to reorient religious institutions in the country on women rights, female education, family planning, environmental rehabilitation; to determine ways to utilize their services as communicators for dealing the social development related issues at the grass roots level and to arrest the growing religious intolerance in the country.

How NRDF managed to be Successful-Intervention Mythology

A concept paper on the role of religious institutions in the development process was developed, shared with a good number of individuals and organizations for comments and feedback. Majority of them appreciated the idea. However, they expressed their reservations about its practical application in the filed while citing the following reasons.

  1. No foot prints available for working in the same field
  2. Ulama are dogmatic and have narrow perception about development
  3. Ulama will not cooperate and will term the concept a conspiracy of the west
  4. Donor agencies will also not provide funds for undertaking activities with a group generally known for its uncompromising and extremist attitude.
  5. It is a gigantic task and could not be undertaken by a non-governmental organization.

As a first step action research was conducted through undertaking some activities with the identified groups on a small scale for which local funds were raised. The results were encouraging for making relevant adjustments in the methodology and maximizing the efficiency of the efforts. These efforts led to a dialogue with functionaries of religious institutions about their role in the development process in the country. This dialogue attracted a good number of clergy to participate and later on openly support the concept. Several donor agencies also showed interest in funding the activities. The outcome of the process along with recommendations for future work was documented in the form of a comprehensive report entitled Ulama and Development. This report served as a strategy for future interventions. The strategy is mentioned in the below given diagram.

Since that, the organization has gone a long way to evolve to its present stage. Further implementation work is being carried out through nine small pilot projects in three different geographical regions of Khaber Pakhtunkhwa province. Under these projects orientation workshops, seminars and meetings were organized with Ulama and NGO’s nominees. Core groups comprising of Ulama and members of local communities were formed in 11 districts and relevant training were provided to them. Research work was conducted to highlight women rights, Peace, religious harmony, importance of female education, need for rehabilitating environment, the need for changes in the syllabi of religious Madaris and addressing the issues of population growth. Surveys of religious Madaris in four districts were also carried out. Extension material was designed and disseminated. Networking facilities with other organizations were also provided to the newly organized groups. The results of all these activities show a high degree of success. It is evident from the overwhelming acceptance it has received from Ulama and local communities and NGO’s. The local communities and Ulama have made significant contributions to further develop the model and own its results. They initiated their own activities in their respective jurisdictions.

Components of the Model

Following are the components of the model with gender as cross cutting theme.

A.        Formation of Pro Development Networks of Ulama and Community Leaders

a.    Formation of Networks of Moderate Female and Male Religious Elements

B.        Capacity Building

a.       Capacity Building Workshops

b.      Orientation workshops and forums on key issues

c.       Interactive lecture Meetings

d.      Aimah Training

e.       Arranging Conferences on social and human rights related issues

C.        Research, Print Material and Dissemination of Information

b.      Knowledge Attitude and Practice Studies of Ulama

c.       Preparation of Information Material on Social Issues

d.      Survey of Religious Madaris (religious schools)

e.       Development of Data base on Madaris and Ulama

f.       Development of a Reform Package for the Reformation of Religious Sector

g.      Preparation of Booklets on Development for inclusion in the Syllabi of Madaris

h.      Preparation of Video Documentaries on social issues

i.        Preparation and dissemination of Newsletter

D.        Networking

  • Exposure Visits for Ulama to International Organizations
  • Exposure Visits for Member Parliaments to International Organizations
  • English Language Courses for facilitation of Cultural Interactions
  • Arranging Meetings between Heads of Religious Institutions and Development Agencies

E.        Advocacy and Policy Reforms

  • Lobbying with Policy Makers
  • Lobbying with Senior Leaders of Religio-political Groups
  • Lobbying with Leaders of Political Parities
  • Conducting Research on Various aspects of Religious Sectors
  • Lobbying with Media
  • Weekly Sermons on Social Issues by Ulama
  • Arranging Conferences on Social, Peace and human rights related issues

Key Values/Processes and Skills

The basic theme of the methodology for Ulama and Development concept is to encourage and motivate Ulama to voluntarily take part in the developmental process. They are supported and facilitated to identify problems, suggest their solution, define their role and take action to redress the situation with the support of local communities. The key values, processes and skills that played a key role in making the model a success included:

  • Avoid confrontations and try to understand their responses in a positive manner
  • Learn from their experiences
  • Respect them and do not ridicule even if they are millennial in their approach
  • Maintain continuous communication in a transparent manner
  • Encourage them for a dialogue and participation
  • Commonalities should be made the starting point for a dialogue
  • Avoid discussion on controversial issues till the trust is not built
  • Promote competition in their circles
  • Cooperate with them wherever they show a desire for change
  • Build in house capacity before going for a dialogue with them
  • Provide them with forums where they can learn from other experiences
  • Collaborate with them whenever common ground for action are agreed

Key Successes under the Model

  1. NRDF through its activities has formed a loose network of over 5000 religious functionaries of varying educational background in Pakistan, its members are frequently interacting with the organization and is providing valuable support in implementing its various projects in the field. They have also initiated their own activities in their respective jurisdictions. These activities included awareness raising on women rights, family welfare, conflict resolution, establishment of home based schools, plantation campaigns, environmental sanitation, supporting the female workers of NGO’s, abating noise pollution including that of mosques loud speakers etc. Furthermore, they positively contributed in addressing the rising tide of extremism through presenting the moderate aspect of Islam. This process, although successful, yet is in its initial stage and needs to be continued and further strengthened.
  2. A development-based network of progressive and open-minded Ulama has the representation of all sects and a separate wing of female religious functionaries. They are ready to accept more responsibilities pertaining to social development in their respective jurisdictions. Over the years of association with NRDF and participation at various forums they have acquired a much better understanding of their role to mobilize local resources, ensure community participation and take part in the awareness raising activities of vital social importance.
  3. The MMA government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (which was a collation of six major religious parties) was persuaded to support NRDF efforts for bringing changes in the Madaris curricula, reforming the Madaris system and opening communication channels with development agencies.
  4. The research cell of NRDF has prepared 160 Kutbat/lessons on current day issues. These have been compiled in the form of 12 booklets. It involved Ulama, women groups and students and teachers of universities and colleges in its preparation. Thus the scope of research work was broadened. The lessons highlight the moderate and liberal interpreting of Islam. In addition, material for preparing 10 more booklets has been gathered and needs to be finalized. Over 30 key Madaris has shown their interest to include this work in the syllabi of their respective Madaris. These were also widely disseminated and the feedback shows that Ulama are regularly utilizing this material during Friday sermons. It has a good impact on local communities.
  5. A comprehensive plan for Madaris reforms both for female and male religious institutions was design while actively involving the religious clerics in its preparation. Several Madaris are already implementing the reform agenda in their respective institutions. This move opened up an entire new filed for intervention in four different areas and promotion of basic education in the country. These fields included 1) broadening the scope of Madaris education through inclusion of worldly subjects in curricula 2) teachers training 3) improvements in the teaching methodologies and 4) policy reforms in the curricula of Madaris. The experience gained through this workshop and many other follow up discussions with Ulama suggests that this work, although gigantic in nature, must be continued. NRDF has the required ability to continue working in these many extra sensitive fields for which sufficient resources needs to be ensured.
  6. Over 600 orientation and capacity building workshops and formal meetings were organized with Ulama on developmental issues. These were useful in building their capacity to understand the world around them in a better way, review their role and responsibilities and contribute to the process of social development, mobilize local resources, interact with other civil society organization and interpret Islam in its moderate sense.
  7. The female team of NRDF was successful in initiating a number of activities with the most traditional female Ulama and religious institutions thus creating a foundation for future work which is highly commendable in the present circumstances of opposition and controversies. There is a strong need to carry it on further. The links established will be of immense importance to promote female education.
  8. NRDF made significant progress in networking religious institutions with civil society organization. On many fora the Ulama were brought together with people from other developmental organizations, women groups and foreign delegations for discussion on vital issues. These interactions helped both sides to understand each other views in a better way. It also paved the way for their collaboration to a limited extent. Through this work the NGO’s also got an opportunity to meet Ulama and understand the need for involving them into the mainstream of development.
  9. Survey of religious Madaris in Peshawar, Swabi, Mansehra and Kohat districts were conducted and an authentic database on them was developed. In addition, a KAP study of Ulama in relation to education in district Kohat was conducted.
  10. A survey of out of school children in district Kohat was conducted during which 13700 non-school going children were identified and basic information about them were collected. NRDF with the active support of local Ulama mobilized local communities for the enrolment of the identified children in schools. In short span of two months 5000 of them has been enrolled in different schools of the area.
  11. NRDF effectively opposed the infamous religious decree that allowed forced marriages with female workers of NGO’s. It mobilised its entire team, network of Ulama and community representatives to address the grave issue and block the way for the imminent unjust treatment of female workers of civil society organisations. This campaign proved to be a big success as several religious scholars and clerics issued counter decrees and statements to counter the previous decrees.
  12. NRDF has made a breakthrough in softening the attitude of the religio-political groups towards NGO’s and people from other religion and countries. Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, the chief of Jamiat Ulama-I-Islam (the most powerful religious cleric in Pakistan) undertook a visit to India on the NRDF recommendations with a good well message for the Indian people and Government in mid July.
  13. NRDF is successful to bridge the gap between the religious institutions and development agencies through frequently arranging visits for religious clerics and members of the parliament (belonging to religious groups) to visit different organizations working for development in the country and vice versa. These were mainly the UN organization, western agencies, institutes, funding agencies, embassies based at Islamabad
  14. NRDF successfully arranged meetings with senior religio-political leaders and representatives of international organization for helping them to understand each other view point, bridge the widening gap between the two sides and exploring the possibilities of working together for the promotion of education, mother health, women rights promotion of human rights, peace and tolerance and other issues related to social development.
  15. Over 16 English Language/cultural interaction courses for Ulama and female and male students of Madaris were arranged at British Council Peshawar. Female teachers having a western back ground facilitated and moderated these courses.

Replication Value of the Model

Currently, the model is in practice in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and FATA. It has demonstrated enormous success in organizing communities, mobilizing local resources, addressing the day to day problems of local communities and ensuring sustenance of small scale development interventions in the field of Education, environmental rehabilitation, Upholding the rights of women, promotion of peace and tolerance and awareness raising on other social issues.

The key religious groups agreed to extend their support to the Mother and Child Health program in the country. It is one of the most significant breakthroughs of the model as religious groups strongly opposed similar interventions in the country for the last four decades. Efforts are also underway to expand the model to other provinces in Pakistan. Similarly, a good number of Ulama, representatives of local communities and NGOs are engaged to replicate the best practices under the model in their respective jurisdictions.

A large number of national and international organizations are increasingly taking interest in the model and have frequently expressed their interest to benefit from the experiences of NRDF while implementing several sector projects in their respective jurisdictions. NRDF have also received requests from several organizations and individuals in Afghanistan to help them in replicating the model in the war torn country.

Ulama and Development- An Alternative Model

The results of various interventions of NRDF have proved that the Ulama & Development Model is cost effective, relevant and best suited to the local conditions, sustainable and useful to channel the effectiveness of the religious institutions to promote participation and social transformation in the country. It also promises alternative solutions to local communities and is increasingly establishing its credibility as a solid foundation for more specialized efforts in future.