Musa Naveed says he doesn’t know what religion his classmates believe in. He is a third grader at a Melbourne school in Australia, and currently in Pakistan to spend time with his grandparents. He says his classfellows and teacher never discussed any religion in the classroom, and even it is not allowed to discuss your own, or any other person’s, religion with others.
“Then how do you learn about your religious beliefs?” Musa is asked by his grandfather.
“My parents tell me about my religion, Islam. And to get Quranic lessons, I go to the Community Centre, which also has a mosque where my father and I offer Friday prayers,” the eight-year old explains.
This brief talk between Musa and his grandparents reminds me of the concept of Quaid-e-Azam of the state of Pakistan, before its creation.
On August 11, 1947, three days before the announcement of the independence of Pakistan, the Father of the Nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah said in his speech:-
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan.
“You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State … We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another.
“We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State…”
The Sindh Textbook Board has included this part of Quaid-e-Azam’s speech in the eighth and ninth grade syllabus also. But, practically, the very province, where Quaid’s birthplace is also situated (Karachi), and the province of Balochistan, are blamed the most for teaching objectionable material in their schools. Various studies have been conducted by local and foreign research organisations and individuals since 2001, finding fault with the content being taught in Pakistani educational institutions.
The latest study in this regard has been made public in the third week of November 2016. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended review of the Pakistani textbooks, insisting that overemphasis on Islam as being the “only correct” faith in textbooks was against the Constitution of Pakistan as well as the ideals of the Quaid-e-Azam.
The report titled Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan – Religious Bias in Public School Textbooks, claims that the foremost reoccurring trend in textbooks from all grade levels is an overemphasis on the glorification of war and war heroes.
“In particular, the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim and 17 famous attacks by Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi are included proudly in every textbook.
“Highlighting these two events as the beginning of civilisation in the Subcontinent, while ignoring the evolution of art, architecture, and culture, remains a key problem in textbooks,” the report said.
Pakistani historian and author Dr. Mubarrak Ali agrees with the report findings. He tells Cutting Edge by telephone that Pakistani textbooks mostly refer to centuries of “Islamic rule” and “Jihad” in the Indian subcontinent. But, he adds: “It is wrong to say ‘Islamic rule’ or ‘Hindu rule.’ The Indian wars were political conflicts and not religious conflicts.
“The political conflict in the Indian subcontinent is seen as a religious conflict, which is why history is described in a binary opposition. We want to see history in black and white, while multiple facts decide one incident,” he believes.
Another research study, conducted by the Pakistan-based Peace and Education Foundation (PEF), says that in the social studies, Pakistan studies, and history curriculums, students are taught a version of history that promotes a national Islamic identity of Pakistan and often describes conflicts with India in religious terms.
The report says that the findings of the study substantiated much of the evidence found in the 2011 study and analysis that textbooks typically emphasise the concepts of communalism and Islam. “Conflation of these concepts is an attempt to build a nation-state anchored in religion, which was pursued by the Bhutto, Zia, Nawaz Sharif, and Musharraf governments from 1971–2008.”
Another report, prepared by a local non-profit organisation, National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), says that the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material” from textbooks used in schools. The report, Freedom from Suffocating Education claims that no curriculum reforms have been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets.
The report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum. The NCJP study cited several passages from textbooks that teach falsehoods about other religions, or criticise or encourage animosity toward them:
* The Sindh Textbook Board’s Class VII (ages 11-12) book on Islamic Studies teaches: “Most of the [other] religions of the world claim equality, but they never act on it.”
* The Punjab Board’s Islamic Studies textbook for Class VIII (ages 12-13) reads: “Honesty for non-Muslims is merely a business strategy, while for Muslims it is a matter of faith.”
* The Punjab Board’s Class VI book on Islamic Studies says: “Though being a student, you cannot practically participate in jihad, but you may provide financial support for jihad.”
* The History textbook for Class VIII students, published by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board, reads: “Sikhs used to do many brutalities to Muslims and did not allow them religious freedom … The British did not trust Muslims and the policy of injustice and brutality hurt economic and educational conditions of Muslims. And the discriminatory attitude of Hindu landlords further made their condition worse. Under the influence of Hindus, they adopted several heresies.”
* The Punjab Board’s History textbook for Class VII states: “In those days, Sikhs ruled Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Sikhs had made the life of Muslims terribly difficult. Syed Ahmed Shaheed decided to wage jihad against Sikhs.”
Shafiq Hussain Soomro, the co-author of National Curriculum of Civics, Sindh, is not satisfied with the efforts made for removal of “hate material” from textbooks. In a talk with Cutting Edge in the federal capital, he claimed that such material has increased in the revised editions of the textbooks.
He says that he found while collecting data for one of his research projects, “Students Perception about Pakistan Studies Textbook” that Pakistan studies textbook (Class IX and X) of Sindh Textbook Board Jamshoro and National Book Foundation Islamabad, the 2014 editions still have hate-content in its first chapter “Ideological basis of Pakistan”.
Soomro says that school textbooks are officially designed as a medium to transmit educational content. However, more often than not, governments distort their clear-cut purpose by using them to mould the minds of future generations in accordance with their own national agenda, and Pakistan is no exception.
The educationist says that the “Islamization” policies introduced by General Ziaul Haq also included a complete revision of the curricula so that the entire content could be reorganised around a certain variant of Islamic thought to supposedly inculcate Islamic ideology in the young generation. He regrets that though the educational system of Zia era has severely been criticised by political analysts for creating a bedrock for militant extremism, no later administration showed any resolve to address the problematic content.
Soomro says that the textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies: Pakistani Christians as Westerners or equal to British colonial oppressors and Pakistani Hindus as Indians, which causes hatred for minorities among the Muslim population, he adds.
However, Pakistan’s Ambassador in the US, Jalil Abbas Jilani, lists a number of government efforts in “revolutionising education curriculum”. In reply to an email message, he tells Cutting Edge that a majority of examples of religious intolerance (16 out of 25 biased texts), have already been removed in accordance with the suggestions, posited by a similar report in 2011. He says that the Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa textbook boards have shown great efficacy in removing the objectionable content. [The author’s opinion is his own, and not subscribed to by Cutting Edge.Ed]