Islamic schools, or madrasas, have been accused of radicalizing
Muslims and participating, either actively or passively, in
terrorist networks since the events of 9/11. In Pakistan, the 2007
siege by government forces of Islamabad's Red Mosque and its
madrasa complex, whose imam and students staged an armed resistance
against the state for its support of the "war on terror,"
reinforced concerns about madrasas' role in regional and global
jihad. By 2006 madrasas registered with Pakistan's five regulatory
boards for religious schools enrolled over one million male and
200,000 female students. In The Rational Believer, Masooda
Bano draws on rich interview, ethnographic, and survey data,
as well as fieldwork conducted in madrasas throughout the country
to explore the network of Pakistani madrasas. She maps the choices
and decisions confronted by students, teachers, parents, and
clerics and explains why available choices make participation in
jihad appear at times a viable course of action.
Bano's work shows that beliefs are rational and that religious
believers look to maximize utility in ways not captured by
classical rational choice. She applies analytical tools from the
New Institutional Economics to explain apparent contradictions in
the madrasa system-for example, how thousands of young Pakistani
women now demand the national adoption of traditional sharia law,
despite its highly restrictive limits on female agency, and do so
from their location in Islamic schools for girls that were founded
only a generation ago.
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