A 90-minute drive northwest of Islamabad is an Islamic seminary that is considered the ivory tower of terrorism, a jihadist factory that has produced prominent Taliban fighters and its leadership for decades.
Unofficially dubbed “University of Jihad,” Dar ul Uloom Haqqania [House of Knowledge and Truthfulness] counts Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, founder of the dreaded Haqqani Network, among its alumni. Names of most of more than 8,000 former students who have passed through the seminary are encased in glass-covered wooden frames that hang on the walls inside the main building.
“Hand over everything to Taliban, and bring back Islamic Law.”
- Ammanullah, seminary student from class of 2007
“The Haqqanis got their surname from Haqqania, this madrassa” “Ammanullah,” a proud member of the Class of 2007, told FoxNews.com during a recent tour, a rare look inside the seminary along the Grand Trunk Road in Akora Khattak.
The campus is the size of four football fields, encompassing several buildings guarded by one police gunman. About 3,500 students currently live and study at the compound, which has churned out generations of freedom fighters stretching back to the 1980s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Closely aligned with the Taliban of Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is at violent odds with the current governments of both nations.
Founded by Maulana Abdul Haq just after Pakistan gained independence in 1947, the seminary propagates Deobandi, a revivalist and anti-imperialist movement of Sunni Islam formed in reaction to the Britain’s colonization of India.
The seminary’s chancellor, Maulana Samiul Haq, 76, and son of the founder is regarded as the “Father of the Taliban” and is widely viewed as a key to any peace deal to be negotiated between the terror groups and the U.S. and Pakistan.
Seminary officials and teachers vehemently deny preaching violence. But Darul Uloom Haqqania’s embrace of fundamental Islam encourages students to oppose the west and crush enemies of Islam.
Anti-American sentiments run high at Haqqania. FoxNews.com observed a first-hand account of religious scholars professing their own brand of Islam to Talibs and explaining why jihad is necessary against the occupation forces in Afghanistan. The school’s leaders believe the same western ideals are contaminating their own country.
“It’s no hidden secret from the world what America is doing,” said Haq. He said the Afghani Taliban who fought in the ‘Mujahideen War’ are angry at Pakistan for supporting the west, and justified Taliban attacks in Pakistan which have left several thousand people dead in the country.
“They destroyed Afghanistan and have entered Pakistan - Taliban say standing with America is Kufar [infidelity],” said Haq.
In one classroom, the students wearing skullcaps dressed in traditional shalwar kameez worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan appeared riveted by the words and electrifying tone of their teacher’s lecture.
“Shoulder your gun and march ahead to protect your soil. Those who bomb mosques and religious gatherings are not Taliban but foreign forces,” said a teacher speaking to dozens of rapt student.
The message cannot be reconciled with the Taliban’s own public claims of responsibility for a series of bombings over recent years of religious sites. Yet seminary officials shrug off claims within Pakistan that the school has become a crucible for turning students into radical and violent jihadists.
“They think that Darul Uloom Haqqania is creating problems for them,” said Maulana Yousaf Shah, secretary of the seminary. “As you have seen we only give Islamic teachings over here - we are not giving training of terrorist attacks.”
He claims that U.S., India, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai want Maulana Samiul Haq dead and blames forces aligned with them for a botched car-bombing attempt on his life.
Haq’s importance to achieving peace in the region has been recognized by the U.S.
Shah recounted a conversation U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson had with Haq last July which fruitlessly broached the idea of peace talks with the Taliban.
“What are you offering [to the Taliban]?” Haq told Olson, according to Shah. “Unless you have something concrete, there cannot be talks.”
It’s not just Haq’s influence within the Taliban, but his sway over Pakistan’s politics, which led the Pakistani Taliban to ask him to help negotiate a truce with the country’s government.
A former senator, leader of the religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-S), and alleged creator of a banned terrorist group, Haq speaks Arabic, Urdu and Pashto, giving him the ability to communicate with several militant factions in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Ammanullah learned his lessons well at the seminary. He now sells polemical religious books there and has a simple solution for the U.S., Pakistan and the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai.
“Hand over everything to Taliban, and bring back Islamic Law,” he advised.