NRDF - National Research & Development Foundation, Peshawar


Ulama & Development

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Ulama & Development

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Views of Religious Leaders on Population Programme

The project, "Involvement of Ulama in the Development Process in NWFP", has been undertaken in order to sensitize the religious leaders and clerics (usually called Maulvis or Ulama), on the productive and reproductive rights of women and to determine ways not only to utilize their influence in dealing with these issues, but to involve them in the overall process of community development in North West Frontier Province (NWFP). For this purpose a series of divisional level participatory orientation workshops, each one of three days duration, were arranged with them at the divisional headquarters of Peshawar, Mardan, Malakand, Abbottabad and Bannu. A total of 125 Ulama participated in these events. Moreover, under the Ulama contact program, a number of small meetings with over 200 Ulama in Mansehra division were also held.

Though there is no concept of any clerical order in Islam, yet in practice the religious functionaries have acquired a distinction and are hence functioning as independent institutions. They, on the basis of their role, knowledge, understanding of Islam, and piety are classified into Imam, Maulvi, Aalim, Mufti and Allama. All of them possess extraordinary communication skills. By practice, they are required to preside over certain rites on occasions of birth, marriages and funeral, and mediate in resolving disputes. In addition, they lead prayers five times a day, deliver sermons, and teach the Quran and Hadith in their respective mosques and religious Madaris.

Besides, their routine functions, they are running a huge number of fast growing formal religious Madaris -- both registered and unregistered -- throughout the country. These Madaris are mostly established and taken care of by individuals belonging to a number of different religious groups and political parties. Each of these groups works in their respective nutshells. Most of them strongly advocate and work for the implementation of same set of laws as Taliban were introducing in Afghanistan. All these institutions offer one time courses and education to their students and have no arrangements for short training, refresher courses or research work. In addition, there are a good number of religious Madaris operated by female clerics, mostly at their respective homes. These mostly work independently and in isolation.

Through their activities, Ulama have acquired a unique position in the society. They are ideally placed to influence public opinion through their frequent and effective ways of communication with people at the grass roots level. As prayer leaders, they delivers sermon as well, and get an extra opportunity of having almost bonded audience for some time. This audience considers it obligatory not only to listen, but also to try and practice what they are preached. They have the potential to move their audience any way they desire. However, they are bound by what they are taught from books, written by famous scholars long ago.