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Islamic education sparks fears over Pakistani school curriculum


Last August, Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the government to write Prophet Muhammad’s name as “Hazrat Muhammad Rasool Allah Khatam-un-Nabiyyin Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam” in all official documents and not official.

Textbooks recently released under the country’s One National Curriculum (SNC) seem to express a similar sentiment, with Islamic education constituting a significant part of compulsory subjects, especially languages ​​and social studies.

Pakistani educators are unanimous that “the inclusion of overtly Islamic content comes at the expense of learning and is also detrimental to majority and minority faiths.”

The 5th grade textbook for Urdu, the national language, tells how a Muslim caliph after defeating the Persian king Hormuzan gave him the choice to convert to Islam, to be forgiven for his offenses, or to be executed.

If refused, the king was given a cup of water as his last wish, but he spilled it. “The Caliph was furious but stuck to his word. Hormuzan was so impressed that he recited the Kalima [the Islamic proclamation of faith],” it is said.

The implicit message is insidious and difficult to counter, said Ayesha Razzaque, a researcher and independent education consultant.

The misrepresentation of the facts around peaceful coexistence leads to cognitive dissonance and denial of reality

“Are forced conversions of Hindus and Christians in our society acceptable because, after all, these poor souls are being saved? Does this imply that forced conversion is acceptable? ” she asked.

The lesson contradicts the key consideration stated by the SNC of “respect and appreciation for different cultures and religions in a local and global context”. In fact, the footnotes in some chapters even encourage teachers to send non-Muslim children out of the classroom.

“The misrepresentation of the facts around peaceful coexistence leads to cognitive dissonance and denial of reality. There is negligible inclusion of content reflecting people of other faiths. Islamic content in compulsory subjects violates the rights of children and teachers of minority faiths, ”she said.

Razzaque was speaking at an education conference organized by the Center for Social Justice (CSJ) in Lahore on July 31, in which speakers called for curriculum reforms, promotion religiously inclusive education and human rights.

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Fearing that students might become radicalized, they urged the government to set specific guidelines in the national education policy for provincial education departments and school boards to avoid discrimination in all learning processes.

“School boards should focus on teacher education programs that incorporate elements of analysis, critical thinking, human rights, social justice and peacebuilding to educate students on the contextual issues of social cohesion, cultural and religious diversity, ”the CSJ said in a press release. .

Catholic educators have held similar consultations as the government prepares to introduce the revamped curriculum starting this month for the 2021-2022 academic year.

Muslim students have never been required to study Christianity, and the subject of ethics has been prescribed for non-Muslim students in place of Islamate (Islamic studies) from the 3rd year.

Pakistan’s constitution prohibits the teaching of religion to students other than their own faith.

However, in the new curriculum, religious education replaces ethics and will include chapters on the life of Christ, Christian beliefs, saints and personalities in the Christian student curriculum.

The narration of historical events, especially related to the era of the independence movement, teaches hatred against Hindus as a religious group

Archbishop Joseph Arshad, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, and Bishop Humphrey Peters of Peshawar, Primate of the United Church of Pakistan, reread the books on religious education.

“It was more difficult to get consensus from the two churches than to write the curriculum. We have worked on it for many decades. I thank the two bishops for having responded to our request, ”Anjum James Paul, Catholic professor at Postgraduate College Samundri in the diocese of Faisalabad, told UCA.

“Some Muslim members of the SNC review committee questioned the absence of chapters on interfaith harmony in religious education. I argued that it should first be included in Islamic studies, which does not contain any chapter on interfaith harmony.

Last year, Paul reviewed 58 textbooks published in 2019 and 2020 and approved by the federal government.

“Forty-six of them were pro-Muslim with about 80 percent majority religion content. Islamic prayer is written at the beginning of each manual. The narration of historical events, especially related to the era of the independence movement, teaches hatred against Hindus as a religious group, ”he said.

Educators fear that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s inclination to madrasas may lead to the loss of students’ ability to think and reason independently of the diktats of Islamic thought.

The Catholic Board of Education operates 355 educational institutions across the country, including 15 upper secondary schools. Schools in the Punjab opened on August 2 after the summer break and are being forced to adopt the new curriculum.

School and university curricula cultivate aggressive discrimination against non-Muslims, encourage allegations of blasphemy and violence against minorities and liberals, according to a study by the National Commission of Catholic Bishops for Justice and Peace.

The Grade 8 history textbook clearly states, “They [Muslims] believed that education promoting Christianity might corrupt their beliefs. The Muslims had learned an important lesson that they could not trust the Hindus or the British.

The Arabic book for the same year states: “Hinduism divides people on the class system.

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