Madrassa students face poll ban

Karachi, Pakistan - Pakistan's Supreme Court has issued a ruling that will, in effect, bar students from many religious schools (madrassas) from holding public office.

It has said that unregistered madrassas do not teach a curriculum suitable to prepare students for mainstream life.

Hundreds of successful candidates backed by religious parties in August's local elections could now face the prospect of disqualification.

More than half of Pakistan's madrassas are currently unregistered.

The court observed that most madrassas were managed by the private sector and were not affiliated with any recognised university or educational board.

And it said that these madrassas had made no efforts to include the subjects of Urdu, English and Pakistan studies in their curricula despite repeated requests by the authorities.

This left the students unfit for mainstream jobs as they could only work as teachers or researchers at the madrassas, the court ruled.

Legal requirements

Local election law sets down a minimum education qualification for election candidates, equivalent to grade 10 in mainstream schools attended by 15-16 year olds.

The issue of whether madrassa qualifications satisfied this requirement was raised before the Supreme Court during the recently concluded local elections.

The detailed judgment has grave implications for the electoral performance of religious parties in the recent local elections

Five local council candidates had appealed to the Lahore High Court against a returning officer's decision to reject their nomination papers on the grounds that they did not meet the education criteria.

The petitioners had argued that madrassa degrees had been accepted during the 2002 general elections, despite higher educational requirements for those elections.

But the court ruled that they had not produced suitable certification for their educational qualifications.

Such certificates, according to the court, could only be issued by a government body that regulates public schools in the country's mainstream education system.

The Supreme Court subsequently upheld the Lahore High Court decision without making it clear if its ruling was applicable to the five petitioners only or extended to all candidates.

'Grave' consequences

The detailed judgment has now made it clear that the SC's ruling was generally applicable to all candidates holding degrees from unregistered madrassahs.

The detailed judgment has grave implications for the electoral performance of religious parties in the recent local elections.

The local councils will be formed at the end of September.

But now many successful candidates supported by religious parties could be disqualified if their elections are challenged by their opponents on the basis of the Supreme Court decision.

Pakistan's government began a drive to register all madrassas last week.