The Great Debate UK
Varda is an accountancy student who dreams of working abroad. Dainty and soft-spoken, the 22-year-old aspires to broaden her horizons, but when it comes to Islam, she refuses to question the fundamentalist interpretations offered by clerics and lecturers nationwide.
Varda is among more than a quarter of a million Pakistani students attending an all-female madrassa, or Islamic seminary, where legions of well-to-do women are experiencing an awakening of faith, at the cost of rising intolerance. In a nation where Muslim extremists are slowly strengthening their grip on society, the number of all-female madrassas has boomed over the past decade, fueled by the failures of the state education system and a deepening conservativism among the middle to upper classes.
Parents often encourage girls to enroll in madrassas after finishing high school or university, as an alternative to a shrinking, largely male-orientated job market, and to ensure a girl waiting to get married isn't drawn into romantic relationships, says Masooda Bano, a research fellow at the British-based Economic and Social Research Council.