In pictures: Life in a madressah as Afghanistan enters new era

Madressahs in Afghanistan have been struggling in wake of economic decline, which has accelerated since the Taliban took over.
Updated about 23 hours ago

In a school in a remote corner of the Afghan capital, children recite Islam’s holiest book, the Holy Quran, creating a cacophony of voices.

Sunshine streams through the windows of the Khatamul Anbiya madressah, where a dozen young boys sit in a circle under the tutelage of their teacher, Ismatullah Mudaqiq.

Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
An Afghan student reads the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
An Afghan student reads the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

The students are awake by 4:30 am and start the day with prayers. They spend class time memorising the Holy Quran, chanting verses until the words are ingrained. At any moment, Mudaqiq might test them by asking that a verse be recited from memory.

An Afghan boy remove his shoes before entering the mosque for class at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

An Afghan boy remove his shoes before entering the mosque for class at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

Afghan students wake up before the morning prayer at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

Afghan students wake up before the morning prayer at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Attention is turning to the future of education in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule, with calls among urban educated Afghans and the international community for equal access to education for girls and women. The madressahs — religious schools for Muslims for elementary and higher learning, attended only by boys — represent another segment of Afghan society, poorer and more conservative.

And they too are uncertain what the future will hold under the Taliban.

An Afghan student reads the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

An Afghan student reads the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

The niece of a teacher sits alone in a classroom as boys attend a class to memorise the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
The niece of a teacher sits alone in a classroom as boys attend a class to memorise the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan boys read the Holy Quran at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan boys read the Holy Quran at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Most of the students hail from poor families. For them, madressahs are an important institution; it is sometimes the only way for their children to get an education, and the children are also sheltered, fed and clothed. At night, they lie on thin mattresses, preferring the ground over rickety bunk beds, until sleep comes. Like most institutions in Afghanistan, madressahs have struggled in the decline of the country’s economy, which has accelerated since the Taliban takeover on August 15.

An Afghan student reads the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
An Afghan student reads the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Afghan boys read the Holy Quran during class at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan boys read the Holy Quran during class at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Over the past two decades, madressahs in Afghanistan have steered clear of militant ideologies, under the eye of the US-backed government fighting the Taliban. Now that government is gone.

Staff at Khatamul Anbiya were cautious when asked if they hoped for greater support from the new Taliban rulers.

“Regardless, with or without the Taliban, madressahs are very important,” explained Mudaqiq. “Without them, people will forget their religious sources … The madressah should always be there no matter what government is present. It doesn’t matter the cost, it should be kept alive.”

Afghan madrassa director Sebghatullah Samadi (right) talks to students during class at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan madrassa director Sebghatullah Samadi (right) talks to students during class at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Afghan students wait for breakfast to be served at the dining hall of the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan students wait for breakfast to be served at the dining hall of the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Historically, the Afghan government has lacked the resources to provide education in rural areas, enabling madressahs to grow in influence. The madressah system has been kept alive largely through community-driven efforts; most of its funding comes from private sources. But with financial shortfalls as a result of US sanctions and freezes from international monetary institutions, public salaries have not been paid. Madressahs are not seeing the same funding they used to.

Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan

Afghan students wait for breakfast to be served at the dining hall of the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Historically, the Afghan government has lacked the resources to provide education in rural areas, enabling madressahs to grow in influence. The madressah system has been kept alive largely through community-driven efforts; most of its funding comes from private sources. But with financial shortfalls as a result of US sanctions and freezes from international monetary institutions, public salaries have not been paid. Madressahs are not seeing the same funding they used to.

Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

A teacher talks to students during class at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
A teacher talks to students during class at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

An Afghan student takes notes during class at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
An Afghan student takes notes during class at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

The young boys who grow up in the madressah system can qualify to become religious scholars and experts. The schools usually teach a conservative interpretation of Islam and have been criticised for an over-reliance on rote-learning over critical thinking.

Afghan boys read the Holy Quran during class at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan boys read the Holy Quran during class at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan students read the Holy Quran at a madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

But for some, the system is just a way to get basic education and stay fed.

Between religious study, the young men convene in large seating areas for a meal of bread and hot tea. Before sunset, they play marbles until it’s prayer time — the last before nightfall

Shoes of students are placed at the entrance of the dining hall of the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

Shoes of students are placed at the entrance of the dining hall of the Khatamul Anbiya madressah in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Afghan students walk out of the mosque at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah after morning prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan students walk out of the mosque at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah after morning prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

 

Afghan students walk out of the mosque at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah after morning prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP
Afghan students walk out of the mosque at the Khatamul Anbiya madressah after morning prayers in Kabul, Afghanistan. — AP

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