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A "madrassa" (sometimes transliterated into 'madrasa' or 'madrassah') is an Arabic word meaning "school." Typically it refers to an Islamic school for Muslims. It's similiar to a parochial school or more like a yeshiva, where the purpose is to teach children about the religion of Islam.

Girls and boys go to the school and sit in separate classes to learn to read the Qur'an. The school teaches things in an Islamic context. A regular curriculum includes learning Arabic, Qur'an memorization and interpretation, Islamic law, hadith, and Islamic history. Madrassas in Pakistan teach additional courses like Arabic literature and/or English. One in Mississippi, USA offers reading, math, science and social studies along with Arabic and the Quran. A number of madrassas in Pakistan are also teaching computer and web literacy as vital to a student's future.

People as young as eight or as old as 35 attend, and many often move on to becoming imams and sheikhs. Many huffaz, or people who memorize the entire Qur'an, spend years of study in Madrassas. The most popular and typically first course of study is the Hifz course, which usually takes between 3-4 years, and leads to the certificate of "Hafiz." A mullah typically requires more than 12 years of study. It can be compared to a seminary.

According to one source, the form of madrassas today have been around since the 11th century, when the Seljuk Vizier Nizam-ul-Mulk Hasan bin Ali Tusi founded a seminary in Baghdad to train experts in Islamic law. Islam had become the religion of a large community, stretching from North Africa to Central Asia. But, apart from the Quran, there were no definitive theological texts. Sunni followers don't have a clerical class, meaning groups of believers turn to scholars and groups of scholars (ulema) to assist them in interpreting portions of the religion. Nizam-ul-Mulk's madrassa was intended to create a class of ulema, qadis (judges) and muftis (jurists) that would be knowledgeable in Islam and Islamic law, and help administer the growing Muslim empire.

Most Muslim countries allocate insignificant portions of their budgets to education, leaving large segments of their growing populations without schooling. The madrassas fill that gap, especially for the poor. The poorest countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, have the largest madrassa enrollment. There are an estimated 10,000 Madrassas in Pakistan. There are also a number in North America and Europe. The oldest ones still exist today in the Middle East. They take in orphans and poor children, and provide them with an education. An estimated 6 million Muslims study in madrassas around the world, and twice that number attend maktabs or kuttab (small Quranic schools attached to village mosques). An overwhelming majority of these madrassas follow a sort of quietist tradition, teaching faith and not politics or fighting.

Recently, people have come to associate madrassas in a negative light, amid accusations that many indoctrinate students with extremist views. Some accused extremist madrassas and "Deobandi seminaries" of forming the Taliban's reactionary policies. In reality almost 65 percent of the Taliban officials and workers at lower level had never been to any religious school. Most of the faculty members at Kabul University were graduates from US and other European countries with years of experience abroad.

Madrassas are also tied in with Islam. Islam places a lot of focus on scholarship and learning. Science and philosophy is also taught, as it helps guide the person into a better perception of God and His creations on earth. Learning to read is an obligation for every Muslim, male and female. After a battle to protect Medina, Prophet Muhammad(saw) ordered that prisoners of war could be released once they taught ten people each to read.

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