A Battle for Young Souls From Behind the Veil

PHOTO: Chand Bibi at school with some of her students in the background. Her school has no roof, a limited number of notebooks and a tiny white board, but she thinks it provides some service for children who would otherwise have no school to go to.

Pakistan, home of Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who was shot in the head by the Taliban, is a country of nearly 200 million people defined by infinite complications.

One reflection of that complexity is the ideology of two veiled women who at first glance seem nearly identical. But their differences represent the war for the soul of Pakistan.

One of these women, Umm-e-Hassan, runs a religious school associated with Pakistan's controversial Red Mosque. At this school, Malala is considered a wayward child at best, and an evil conspirator at worst.

Umm-e-Hassan: the Radical Red Mosque

Umm-e-Hassan's religious school or madrasa is called Jamia Hafsa and it has been associated with radical Islamic teachings and Taliban ideology. The Pakistani Army stormed the madrasa in 2007 in a failed attempt to shut it down after the students began patrolling the streets of Islamabad to enforce their strict ideology of Sharia.

They were accused of kidnapping women, harassing civilians and threatening suicide bombings if the government used force against them. The Army also attacked the Red Mosque next door, run by Umm-e-Hassan's husband. The death toll has been disputed but government officials said that more than a 100 people died in the ensuing eight-day siege.

Today, the madrasa has been rebuilt at a new location, but it is still teeming with young girls, many with books and bags. Some are just a year old while others are teenagers like Malala. When the school bell rings in the morning, the girls scurry into the dozens of classrooms in the concrete complex.

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Jamia Hafsa's students have often abandoned by their families, she said. Some are here because fathers don't want daughters in a society that favors sons. Others have families that are too poor to care for them, preferring to send them to a place where they can get food and what they believe to be some sort of education.

The madrasa is the only real home for most of the women and children here. Many sleep in their classrooms using the floor mats as beds.

These girls are looked after by several grown women who are teachers, many of whom were themselves students in the madrasa and are now helping teach a new generation of devotees. Only women are allowed to enter the black gates of the madrasa, which according to Umm-e-Hassan has 3,000 students.

Women in the madrasa do not allow men who are strangers to see them without a full burka, also known as a niqab. Umm-e-Hassan also covers herself in a black robe from head to toe when in the company of men or on camera. Only her eyes are visible through a small slit in her head covering.

'There Is Some Problem with This Child'

PHOTO: Umm-e-Hassan, the leader of the Red Mosque. She disputes the fact that Malala was shot by the Taliban, alleging instead that it is all a conspiracy to malign Islam.
ABC News
PHOTO: Umm-e-Hassan, the leader of the Red Mosque. She disputes the fact that Malala was shot by the Taliban, alleging instead that it is all a conspiracy to malign Islam.

At first Umm-e-Hassan told ABC News that she does not want to talk about Malala, then almost immediately said: "There is some problem with this child. She was not given the proper education."

She said she believes that because Malala received a secular education -- rather than an appropriate Islamic education -- she was brainwashed. She also blames Malala's father, Ziauddin, saying that he is likely involved in some sort of conspiracy.

If Malala had been educated properly, Umm-e-Hassan said, "she would never have said that Obama is her ideal," referring to an interview Malala did before she was shot.

When the girls at first come to her madrasa, Umm-e-Hassan said many of them also have a lot of questions, but they patiently talk with the young women so they are put on the right path to Islam, she said.

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