KABUL -- In a madrassa in Kabul, rows of teenage girls rock back and forth reciting verses of the Koran under the watchful eye of a religious scholar.
The number of Islamic schools has grown across Afghanistan since August 2021, with teenage girls increasingly attending classes after they were banned from secondary schools.
"We were depressed because we were denied an education," said 16-year-old Farah, a veil covering her face and hair.
"It's then that my family decided I should at least come here. The only open place for us now is a madrassa."
Instead of math and literature, the girls focus on rote-learning the Koran in Arabic -- a language most of them do not understand.
Those who want to learn the meaning of the verses study separately, where a teacher translates and explains the text in their local language, either Dari or Pashtu.
AFP visited three madrassas in Kabul and in Kandahar, where scholars said the numbers of girl students have doubled since last year.
For Farah, her ambition of becoming a lawyer was dashed when authorities blocked girls from secondary school -- and months later banned women from attending university.
"Everyone's dreams are lost," she said.
Still, Farah -- whose real name has been changed to protect her identity like other students AFP interviewed for this story -- counts herself lucky in that her parents allowed her to attend classes at all.
'No future in madrassas'
There has been a litany of excuses for the closure of girls' schools -- from a lack of funds to the time needed to remodel the syllabus along Islamic lines, and the need for segregated classrooms and Islamic uniforms, which were largely already in place.
The reality, according to some officials, is that ultra-conservative clerics are deeply sceptical of modern education for women.
Hosna, a former university student studying medicine, now teaches at a madrassa in Kandahar, reading verses of the Koran to a class of more than 30 girls who repeat the words back to her.
"Studying in universities helps to build a future, makes us aware of our rights," she said.
"But there is no future in madrassas. They are studying here because they are helpless."
The madrassa, located in an old building, has small classrooms with no electricity.
Despite the financial constraints faced by the management of the school, dozens of students attend classes for free.
The educational value of madrassas is subject to fierce debate, with analysts saying they do not provide the necessary skills for gainful employment as adults.
"Given the present conditions, the need for modern education is a priority," said Abdul Bari Madani, a scholar who frequently appears on TV to discuss religious affairs.
"Efforts need to be taken so that the Islamic world is not left behind... letting go of modern education is like betraying the nation."
Other outspoken supporters of women's rights and girls' education have faced threats and even arrest by the authorities.
Meanwhile, the authorities are "thinking day and night on how to increase madrassas", according to Niamatullah Ulfat, director of Islamic studies at Kandahar province's education department.
"The idea is that we can bring the new generation of this country into the world with good training, good teachings and good ethics," he said.
Girls determined to learn
Yalda, whose father is an engineer and mother was a teacher before losing her job when the schools were closed, was top of her class at her old school.
She still shines at the madrassa and has memorised the Koran within 15 months.
"A madrassa cannot help me in becoming a doctor... But it's still good. It's good for expanding our religious knowledge," the 16-year-old said.
The madrassa, on the outskirts of Kabul, is divided into two blocks -- one for girls and the other for boys.
Still, classes are held at different times to ensure there is no interaction at all between the two sexes.
Several girls told AFP that attending a madrassa does provide some stimulation -- and the chance to be with friends.
"I tell myself that some day the schools might open and my education will resume," said Sara.
If not, she is determined to learn one way or the other.
"Now that there are smartphones and the internet... schools are not the only way to get an education," she added.
Across Afghanistan girls have found ways to overcome the closure of their schools, including learning through home schooling, online education and even educational radio programming.
Others have found respite -- and job opportunities -- through vocational training courses.
First of all, I must remind you that the teaching system in the public schools is completely broken. Lessons during the day are empty for 3 hours or 2 hours a day, and their teachers are not ready for lessons and the students are telling stories about their homes among themselves. Currently, gates of the schools are closed for the girls by the current government of Afghanistan which is not correct, because it is obligatory in the religion of Islam for the women and men to learn knowledge. Currently, the gates of religious schools are open for girls. Girls can continue their religious education at religious schools, but Afghanistan needs female employees in every department, without female employees, the government of Afghanistan cannot do good governance. First of all, we need female doctors. Without female doctors, all hospitals, whether public or private, will be closed. No one can learn modern education in a religious school, and Afghanistan needs girls equipped with modern education. The girls were forced to go to schools because the gates of their schools were closed, they have no choice but to go to school.Reply
(4) when the woman goes to the hospital and is educated, the names of the wards are generally written in English. They are named children's wards, blood banks, and laboratory, so she faces no problems. (5) I have seen women in Makkah and Madinah; those who are educated and know Arabic or English do not get lost. They go and return to their residences. They stay in the places their men have told me about and similar facilities available through education. (6) Know their flight times, gates, tickets, seat numbers, and planes at the airports and can solve their problems by speaking English, Arabic, or other world languages when necessary. (7) When buying stuff, educated women can identify the ingredients, whether medicine or other food or non-food items.Reply
Opponents of Girls' Schools: Those who are against the opening of girls' schools are unaware of the philosophy, truth, benefits, and good results of education. They are like the frogs inside the well; their minds are very limited, and they have not even felt the fragrance of high morals and the beautiful life of an educated family. Oh, servants of God! If a woman has a high or at least secondary education and does not have any public or private job, and is just a housewife, still, because of her, the house is bright and moral. Here are some other benefits too: (1) Generally, an educated woman is polite, decent, civilized, and knowledgeable. The children of educated women have high morals; they are concerned about cleanliness and delicacy. When a learned woman comes to a house, the morals of the husband and other family members improve, getting beautiful and nice. (2) When the children come home from school, an educated mother checks their diaries to see what instructions have been given by the administration regarding the child, what homework has been given, and what the children studied at school that day. In light of these instructions and directions, this educated mother does the work related to the children on the same day. She informs herself about their pen, notebook, book, and other tools. While the children's father comes home in the evening. (3) Sometimes the child gets sick, the mother takes him to the hospital, the doctor writes a prescription, the medicine is unavReply
Shefa, the daughter of Abdullah, was in charge of controlling the commercial affairs of Medina during the caliphate of Umar. She was a very educated woman (she was also considered the first Muslim female teacher). Also she worked in the field of medicine. After Shefa reverted to Islam, she asked the prophet (PBUH) can I continue my work as a doctor? The Prophet (PBUH) encouraged her even more and told her to teach Hafsa how to treat skin diseases. After her success in economic affairs, Omar (May Allah be pleased with him) entrusted the control of the market in Makkah too to a woman named Sumrah bint Naheek. Source books: Tarikh al-Buldan, Al-Tabaqat al-Kabeer Sulaiman TsargarReply
At present, school students are more likely to go to religious schools. In the public schools [modern schools], students are not taught properly. The hours of classes are not known, and the teachers do not attend classes. In schools, instead of studying, students play with arms. On the contrary, education is available in religious schools. Students and teachers are present on time. Lessons are regular. Religious school students are more polite than public school students. Basically, the fate of our youth is unknown. All our young people see their lives in the unknown future. The girls wonder what to do with their unknown future. The only educational centers that are active in Afghanistan are religious schools. For this reason, the girls turned their attention to the religious schools. I think, girls know that, it is better to go to a religious school than to sit idle at home and be deprived of studying.Reply
Today, as a girl says she has no future in a religious school, the blame lies with the illiterate Mullahs. If Mullah had fulfilled his responsibility in his life correctly and remained as the heir of Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), why would a girl say such a thing today? We are Muslims, while she says there is no future in attending a Madrassa. Attending Madrassa has a lot and some supernatural future that is the benefit of the hereafter, and we Muslims believe in death and resurrection. Therefore, when a person believes in death and resurrection, he is forced to think that reading Madrassa has the ultimate benefit. There will be no worldly good but benefit for the hereafter. I said that the Mullah did not fulfill his responsibility because the Mullah should first take out his list of duties and see what his responsibility is. The Mullahs do not have a job list yet; it is necessary first to prepare a job list for them and the officials and do their daily activities in light of it. And those activities should be in a form that gives enough time to the seminary students, regularly teaches the students about Islamic and patriotic spirit, and tells them that this is the way of God and the way of the Messenger. The Muslim man should follow it, but the fact that the Mullah has left his job and will dabble in politics or other occupations in which he is not specialized and interfere there, the girls will say that there is no future in madrassa studies. However, suppose the Mullah fulfills hReply
Don't make yourself a fool. The girl has said the right thing. What will a madrassa graduate do? What profession is taught in madrasa? Have you thought about whether a seminary graduate can do anything other than being mullah and teaching in a seminary? No. Some foreign intelligence agencies originally presented this seminary system. It aims to deprive Muslims of modern studies. I have spent time in a madrasah. I studied madrasah for four years; then, I left it. The seminary students, like some bigoted Jews, consider themselves Muslims and think they deserve everything. The problem is not in the Quran or Hadith. The problem is in this existing system of Madrasas. My suggestion is that the existing system of Madrasahs should be dissolved entirely. Instead, every student (boy and girl) should be sent to school. The Holy Quran, Hadith, Fiqh, and Faith are taught in schools in Afghanistan. These four subjects are sufficient. The Mullahs can also add the memorization of the Holy Quran. All students must study up to 12th in standard schools. After that, if someone wants, he can study religious sciences professionally at the university. That is, other people will educate the student, and the difference between the students will disappear. Otherwise, hatred will increase day by day.Reply
What thinking will he have about the university and education? Another thing is that the system of madrassas, which operates under the supervision of Pakistan's intelligence agencies, is their product, which does not and cannot compromise with the contemporary world. If these idiot sons knew, they should never have banned girls from working. These idiots can offer girls a certain dress to wear but not miss a day of schooling. The conditions of our country are such that not even for a single day, not even for an hour, should a student (male or female) leave their studies. Today demands that a country have specialist (male and female) doctors, engineers, lawyers, veterinarians, writers, agronomists, nurses, midwives, dancers, nurses, and even professional prostitutes. Don't label me as an extremist; I am telling the truth. Look, if the prostitute is not professional and not properly trained, she can have unprotected sex, which can spread diseases in society and corrupt society. Anyway, the debate is long. I have one proposal for the Taliban and another one for Americans. May God happen it as both of them read it: The Taliban should expand their government for the well-being and happiness of Afghanistan, give other groups a place in the government, and, as soon as possible, work for women and education for girls. My suggestion to the US is to first increase the pressure on Pakistan through the International Monetary Fund (IMF) so that it destroys its nuclear weapons and does notReply
Pashtuns have a proverb saying that a stone is heavy where it is placed [one's honor is kept when he stays in his place]. The problem of our country and people is very long. For almost 45 years, Afghans have been burning in the fire of war. Our neighbors, especially Pakistan and Iran, bring weapons to our country's war and give them to our youth to destroy Afghanistan. I have heard that after the Taliban came to power, the Pakistani intelligence service assigned a commander of the former Northern Alliance, Deen Mohammad Jurat, to the Warsak camp in Peshawar, which once housed the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Now they [Pakistan] have placed Din Mohammad Jurat there, under the custodianship of Juraat, they are training young Afghans to prepare for suicide attacks in Afghanistan. It is possible that these young children, whose mothers and fathers enroll them in madrassas due to poverty, will be hunted by Juraat and the intelligence of Pakistan and prepared to launch suicide attacks there. On the other hand, neither Russia, China, nor America... none of them want security in Afghanistan because the security and insecurity of our country do not harm America, Russia, or China. On the other hand, unfortunately, our young generation only knows guns and bullets. There is nothing else in their brain. Afghanistan's current rulers are madrasas graduates who have not seen the practical world. They have only read old religious books, slept, and did shit. They have not seenReply