Girls and boys go to the school and sit in separate classes to learn in an Islamic context. A madrassa typically offers two courses of study, a "hifz" course to memorize the Qur'an and become a hafiz, and an Alim course to become a scholar or Mullah. A regular curriculum includes learning Arabic, Qur'an memorization and interpretation, Islamic law, hadith, and Islamic history. Depending on the madrassa, some teach additional courses like Arabic literature or English, science and history.
People of a variety of ages attend, and many often move on to becoming imams and sheikhs. A mullah typically requires more than 12 years of study. Many huffaz, or people who memorize the entire Qur'an, come from Madrassas. Some are like colleges, where people take afternoon classes and some reside in dormitories.
There are an estimated 10,000 Madrassas in Pakistan. There are also a number in North America and Europe. The oldest ones still exist today in the Middle East. They take in orphans and poor children, and provide them with an education.
Recently, people have come to associate madrassas in a negative light, amid accusations that many indoctrinate students with extremist views. Some accused extremist madrassas and "Deobandi seminaries" of forming the Taliban's reactionary policies. In reality almost 65 percent of the Taliban officials and workers at lower level had never been to any religious school. Most of the faculty members at Kabul University were graduates from US and other European countries with years of experience abroad.
See also: Islamic architecture