madrasa or madrassah, in Islamic countries, a school, historically usually one devoted to higher education in religious studies, but the term may refer to any school. Privately endowed, often by royal or wealthy families, and attended mainly by poorer students who also receive free room and board, traditional madrasas have offered a free education in Islamic theology and law and related subjects, mainly accomplished by memorization and recitation of religious texts. For many, they long provided the only accessible source of higher education. Over time, the curriculum of madrasas broadened to include logic, mathematics, history, and other disciplines. Madrasas have taught young men in major Islamic cities since at least the 12th cent., with some documented as far back as the 9th cent. During the 1980s some madrasas, especially in Pakistan, became centers for the recruitment of volunteers fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and later sometimes supplied recruits for the Taliban. Some madrasas also have been training grounds for Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, leading to the misconception in the West that all madrasas are radical Islamist institutions.
See R. W. Hefner and M. W. Zaman, ed., Schooling Islam: The Culture and Politics of Modern Muslim Education (2006); J. Malik, Madrasas in South Asia: Teaching Terror? (2007); F. A. Noor et al., ed., The Madrasas in Asia: Political Activism and Transnational Linkages (2009), S. H. Ali, Islam and Education: Conflict and Conformity in Pakistan (2009); N. Gupta, Madrasas in Eastern India (2009).