KARACHI, Pakistan – A group of foreigners studying at Islamic schools in Pakistan (search) urged the president Saturday to reconsider his decision to expel international students in an effort to stop the schools from being used to spread extremism.
The students denounced terrorism and said they had only come to Pakistan to receive an Islamic education.
"I am a British national and came here in 2004 to get knowledge about Islam," said Abdul Samad, 24, a student at Jamia Banoria (search) — one of the main Islamic seminaries, or madrassas, in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. "If Pakistan asked me to leave, I would obey."
However, he added that closing the madrassas to foreigners would deprive a large number of Muslims (search) from obtaining greater knowledge about Islam.
"We are peace-loving people," he said. "Let us complete our education and spread a message of peace in the world."
Not every foreign student has been peace-loving, however. Two of the four alleged homicide bombers in the deadly July 7 terrorist attacks in London visited Pakistan last year, and Pakistani officials have been investigating their activities during the trip.
Both men were of Pakistani origin, and one reportedly stayed at a religious school. U.S. officials have for years accused the schools of inspiring militants.
On Friday, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said all foreign students studying at madrassas would be expelled, and that no new visas would be issued to those wishing to come to Pakistan for Islamic education.
"This process will start very soon," Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said Saturday. He said the president had taken the measure to address concerns of countries who say their young people indulge in militancy while studying at Pakistan's madrassas.
There are about 1,400 students, most from Arab and African countries and some from Britain and the United States, among the roughly 1 million students in Pakistan's 10,000 or so madrassas, an Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Most of Pakistan's madrassas are funded by private donations or religious political parties. A few are believed to also receive money from Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Libya, but the schools rarely acknowledge such foreign assistance, sometimes saying the money comes from individual donors living abroad.