A Station for Everyone
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Did Religious School Play A Role In Tashfeen Malik Becoming Radicalized?


And this morning, we're also trying to learn more about the husband and wife who carried out a massacre last week at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif. A lot about Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook remains a mystery. We do know that before marrying Farook and immigrating to the U.S., Malik spent time in Pakistan. As a young woman, she studied at a religious school - a madrassa - called the Al-Huda, and she pursued a degree in pharmacology in Pakistan. Ayesha Saddiqa is a Pakistan-based military expert, and she's been looking at how people get radicalized. She suggests that activities at those institutions could have played a role.

AYESHA SADDIQA: I visited the campus - the Bahauddin Zakariya University campus where Tashfeen Malik got educated. I mean, this was a campus where a lot of, you know, radical elements came in and out. A couple of militant organizations have their student wings operating there, as well. But it was not that the entire student body's radicalized. I spoke to a number of students. They feel a bit anxious that their university is being treated as radical.

GREENE: You said militant groups have their student organizations on campus. What exactly are those organizations, and what are they doing?

SADDIQA: Basically, what they do is recruit people, finance them, finance their education, convert them to their ideology, to a more radical fundamentalist perspective, but it's done very selectively. In fact, the organizations who have student wings have become very strategic in how they recruit people. A militant organization like Lashkar-e-Taiba, for instance, which was involved in the Mumbai attacks in India - now, LET - Lashkar-e-Taiba - has associations. They have medical doctors who are members. They have farmers. So, you know, they've created an outreach program where these militant outfits had infiltrated.

GREENE: Could you imagine Tashfeen Malik being targeted by one of these student groups on campus?

SADDIQA: I can imagine she might have been approached. You can't rule that out, but we don't know until it is investigated. There's two phases in which conversion might have happened. First is converting to the idea of accepting a particular interpretation of Islam without questioning it. Now, that might have happened. She went - apparently went to Al-Huda, which is a hybrid madrassa - what they call more madrassas for women. And then she might have been approached at the university. But let's not forget that she had also lived in Saudi Arabia, probably in an environment which supported a certain kind of interpretation of religion which is more hard-line.

GREENE: You mention Al-Huda - this network of schools that you said are sort of like madrassas. Tashfeen Malik attended one there, as you said. Can you tell me a little bit more about this network of schools - what role it's played?

SADDIQA: Well, its principal objective is to get access to upper middle-class women.

GREENE: Different from madrassas which are generally known for going after people who are less well-off.

SADDIQA: Yeah, and the thing is that they have a very stringent and strict interpretation of how a women should be presented in a Muslim society. Al-Huda does not encourage or does not talk about jihad. But Koran, the holy book for the Muslims - it's not just about the text of the book. It's how different scholars of Islam have over years, over centuries interpreted it. Now, the interpretation which Al-Huda uses is much more orthodox, much more in the flavor of Wihhabi Islam that you find in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, which has very kind of stringent perspectives as far as laws, as far as women are concerned. Now, it creates a certain frame of religious interpretation. And anyone who is then interested to explore it more - the same line of thinking - could ultimately reach a point where you begin to look at - how do you change the society around you? How do you make it a perfect Islamic society which was there 1,400 years ago?

GREENE: Ayesha, thanks very much for talking to us. We appreciate your time.

SADDIQA: Thank you.


GREENE: That was Ayesha Saddiqa, an author and military expert based in Pakistan. She's currently researching the sociology of radicalism. Now, we did reach out to Bahauddin University and Al-Huda. Officials from the university got back to us, saying their school, quote, "condemns terrorism and extremism in any form." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.