In Pakistan, Islamic Schools for Women Thrive

June 27, 2010

Author: Nahal Toosi

Source: The Daily Sentinel

Wire Service: AP

To its detractors, the Al-Huda chain of Islamic schools across Pakistan is a driver of conservative Islam, especially among the secular elite. But to the thousands who attend its classes across the country, it is a blessing.

Take Mariam Afzal, who says she was once so selfish she would take up two spots in a parking lot without a second thought. Back then, she knew little about Islam beyond the basic rituals. A decade later, the 30-year-old credits Al-Huda with turning her into the veil-wearing Quran teacher she is today.

"It has really helped me become a better person," she says.

Al-Huda's popularity and rapid growth — and the criticism of it as a promoter of intolerance and gender segregation — is a sign of Pakistan's swing away from the moderate, Sufi Islam-influenced sphere of South Asia toward the more conservative, Saudi-influenced Middle East.