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The Rational Believer

Choices and Decisions in the Madrassas of Pakistan

by Masooda Bano

Publication Year: 2012

Islamic schools, or madrasas, have been accused of radicalizing Muslims and participating, either actively or passively, in terrorist networks since the events of 9/11. In Pakistan, the 2007 siege by government forces of Islamabad's Red Mosque and its madrasa complex, whose imam and students staged an armed resistance against the state for its support of the "war on terror," reinforced concerns about madrasas' role in regional and global jihad. By 2006 madrasas registered with Pakistan's five regulatory boards for religious schools enrolled over one million male and 200,000 female students. In The Rational Believer, Masooda Bano draws on rich interview, ethnographic, and survey data, as well as fieldwork conducted in madrasas throughout the country to explore the network of Pakistani madrasas. She maps the choices and decisions confronted by students, teachers, parents, and clerics and explains why available choices make participation in jihad appear at times a viable course of action.

Bano works shows that beliefs are rational and that religious believers look to maximize utility in ways not captured by classical rational choice. She applies analytical tools from the New Institutional Economics to explain apparent contradictions in the madrasa system-for example, how thousands of young Pakistani women now demand the national adoption of traditional sharia law, despite its highly restrictive limits on female agency, and do so from their location in Islamic schools for girls that were founded only a generation ago.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

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pp. vii-viii

There are many organizations and individuals to whom I have acquired an enormous debt during the process of preparing this manuscript. My first debt is to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which funded me generously over a period of five years. The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the UK Department of International Development (DFID) also supported ...

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A Note on Transliteration and Spelling

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pp. ix-11

Because this book is likely to draw readership from different disciplines, trans-literation of Arabic and Urdu words has been kept simple. With the exception of the ‘ to indicate the Arabic and Urdu letters ‘ayn and ’hamza, diacritical marks have not been used. Except for the word ‘ulama, the plural form of Arabic or Urdu words is indicated by addition of an s to the singular form. To avoid strain ...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Religion and Reason: A New Institutionalist Perspective

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pp. 1-18

For twenty-five years, the Red Mosque amiably carried out its routine religious functions in the densely populated neighborhood of Aabpara—with its congested residential area, thriving commercial market, and bustling central bus station. As the central mosque of Pakistan’s capital city, Islamabad, its Friday prayers were heavily attended by local traders, travelers, and government officials; its Quranic ...


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pp. 19-35

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2. Religion and Change: Oxford and the Madrasas of South Asia

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pp. 21-41

At the dawn of the twelfth century, two migrations were taking place in pursuit of knowledge. Students aspiring to higher learning were traveling from England to Paris and Bologna to study Christian theology. Saints and scholars from Persia and Arabia were gravitating toward Hind (modern-day South Asia) to spread the teachings of Islam. The outflow of the young English students was a response to ...

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3. Explaining the Stickiness: State-Madrasa Engagement in South Asia

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pp. 42-65

On 14 August 1947, the British left India, drawing over two and a half centuries of colonial rule to a close. Their exit, however, did not remove their imprints on the local system of governance (Barlas 1995; Cohn 1996). They left entrenched a post-colonial civilian and military elite, which having been trained at Oxbridge and Sandhurst, had not only mastered the vocabulary to negotiate with the British within the English constitutional framework1 but had also picked up Western ...

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4. Organization of Religious Hierarchy: Competition or Cooperation?

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pp. 66-96

Pakistan is a land of diversity—in income, geography, ethnicity, and languages1— and its madrasas are no exception. In a small village situated in the scenic hills of Murree with 3,000 inhabitants, a one-room hut serves as a madrasa, in which the imam of the local mosque gives Quranic lessons to 50 children. This is the only madrasa in the entire village. In the sprawling city of Karachi with its 13 million residents there are 2,500 registered ...


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pp. 97-113

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5. Formation of a Preference: Why Join a Madrasa?

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pp. 99-126

Manzoor, son of a daily laborer at the brick-manufacturing factory, has been enrolled in a hifz course at a madrasa for the past two years, and so have been Ahmed, son of an industrialist, and Shakeel, son of a junior government clerk. These three respondents in Karachi represent the diverse population I found enrolled in madrasas across the eight districts of Pakistan. All three were involved ...

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6. Logic of Adaptive Preference: Islam and Western Feminism

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pp. 125-154

A conscious move within the ranks of senior ‘ulama to address the unmet educational needs of the women in their households was the primary factor to break the nine centuries impasse of exclusive focus on male madrasas and to allow for the emergence of female madrasas in Pakistan. Appearing for the fi rst time in the late 1970s in isolated pockets, these madrasas today are a national phenomenon, located in small villages as well as in large cities. What prompted the ‘ulama to ...


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pp. 155-171

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7. The Missing Free-Rider: Religious Rewards and Collective Action

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pp. 157-175

True to the image of a developing country, the cities of Pakistan are crowded places where the streets are routinely jammed with traffic. But every Friday, for two hours around noon, they become a commuter’s heaven as the crowds move from the roads to the mosques. Friday prayer has a special significance among Muslims: all fi ve daily prayers offer higher religious merit to the believer if said ...

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8. Exclusionary Institutional Preference: The Logic of Jihad

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pp. 176-203

Ahmed, who admires Osama bin Laden’s ability to take on the world’s superpower, belongs to the liberal elite of Islamabad and is a wine-drinking and party-loving son of an infl uential bureaucrat. He came around to support jihad after repeated sittings with what he refers to as “true jihadists,” who introduced him to Western literature detailing the politics of oil and the geopolitics of U.S. foreign policies. Jamia Hafsa represented the elite of the girls’ madrasas in Pakistan where, in line ...

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9. Informal Institutions and Development

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pp. 204-222

In his seminal work on institutions and institutional change, North (1990) called for a further study of informal institutions. He noted that they were as important, if not more so, than formal institutions in shaping development outcomes, but remained little understood. Two decades later, an increasing number of publications verifi es the importance of informal institutions in shaping social, economic, and political ...

Appendix: Research Methodology

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pp. 223-231


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pp. 233-244


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pp. 245-250

E-ISBN-13: 9780801463860
E-ISBN-10: 0801463866
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801450440
Print-ISBN-10: 0801450446

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1