Originally Published 2004-04-24 10:16:13 Published on Apr 24, 2004
The Mullahs have found a fresh issue on which to trap General Pervez Musharraf. It has both religious connotations and a real possibility of a confrontation in which the General is bound to capitulate. The issue deals with school textbooks in Pakistan. A section of the society in Pakistan feels that textbooks cleared by the Federal Education Ministry's Curriculum Wing are regressive in nature and run counter to the objective of a progressive nation.
Textbook case of radicalism
Pervez Musharraf. It has both religious connotations and a realpossibility of a confrontation in which the General is bound tocapitulate. The issue deals with school textbooks in Pakistan. Asection of the society in Pakistan feels that textbooks cleared bythe Federal Education Ministry's Curriculum Wing are regressive innature and run counter to the objective of a progressive nation.The religious clerics, however, find, the progressive elementsincluded in the textbooks anti-Islamic and want the Government todelete the offensive portions. Federal Education Minister ZubaidaJalal, who takes pride in calling herself an Islamicfundamentalist, seems more inclined to agree with the Mullahsdespite a non-committal stance by President Musharraf.

Let us first look at what the Mullahs find disagreeable. One of theserious objections they have is to the picture of a dog on page 27of an Urdu textbook of Class III and a chapter relating to religionin an Urdu textbook for Class X. Other objections included theexclusion of the suffix-Rehmat Ullah Aleih (Blessings of God beupon them) with well-known personalities like Imam Abu Hanifa,Qaid-e-Azam, Allama Iqbal and Fatima Jinnah among others. The nameof Imam Abu Hanifa was erroneously written as 'Luqman' instead ofhis real name, 'Noman', in a Class IV Urdu book.

The name of Zaid bin Haris, another of Prophet's companion, wasmisprinted as Haris bin Zaid. Since the Mullahs hold considerableclout, most of these errors were corrected in haste by provincialgovernments without even consulting the Federal Education Ministrythat had cleared the textbooks.

Ms Zubaida Jalal said education was a provincial subject and theprovincial governments were entitled to carry out the changes. Whatshe did not say was that the Mullahs also managed to erase severalchapters which did not have any religious references whatsoever.For instance, three chapters-Model Millionaire Part I, Lesson No.18, Model Millionaire Part II, Lesson No. 19 and How to Live onLess Income, Lesson No. 21-were deleted from the English textbookfor Class X. Another order, issued under the influence of theradicals of Punjab, banned the teaching of a chapter on Hazrat Umarin the Urdu textbook (Bahar-e-Urdu) for Class X. The reason forthis gag order was a reference to Hazrat Umar listening to musicand poetry in the text!

However, it would be unfair to blame the radicals alone. TheFederal Education Ministry's own directives are no lessfundamentalist. A directive issued by the Ministry in 1995 forClass V textbooks read: "In the teaching material no concept ofseparation between the worldly and the religious be given; rather,all the material be presented from the Islamic point of view."

In an editorial, the liberal Daily Times (published from Pakistan),explained the implications of such an order: "The general directiveimplies that Pakistan is for Muslims alone; that Islamiyat is to beforcibly taught to all students, whatever their faith, includingcompulsory reading of the Quran; that ideology of Pakistan is to beinternalised as faith, and hate be created against the Hindus ofIndia; and students be urged to take the path of jihad andshahadat." In 2002, the National Early Childhood Education in a newdirective said Islamic identity and pride in being a Pakistanishould be nurtured in children: "To make the Quranic principles anintegral part of curricula...to train the future generations ofPakistan as true practicing Muslims who would be able to usher inthe 21st century and the next millennium with courage, wisdom andtolerance."

What has caused the current round of controversy over the textbooksis a report released by a leading think-tank, the SustainableDevelopment Policy Institute (SDPI), titled The SubtleSubversion-The State of Curricula and Textbooks in Pakistan.Authoured by AH Nayyar and Ahmed Salim, the report is an indictmentof the way in which the Pakistani Government agencies weredistorting history, and infusing hatred and suspicion in the mindsof the younger generations.

The report made the following findings: "Inaccuracies of fact andomissions that serve to substantially distort the nature andsignificance of actual events in our history; insensitivity to theactually existing religious diversity of the nation; incitement tomilitancy and violence, including encouragement of jihad andshahadat; perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry anddiscrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women andreligious minorities, and other nations; a glorification of war andthe use of force; omission of concepts, events and material thatcould encourage critical self-awareness among students; outdatedand incoherent pedagogical practices that hinder the development ofinterest and insight among students."

In the words of AH Nayyar, a well-known commentator on Islamisationof text books in Pakistan, "They have not only defined the originof Pakistan in a very, very distorted and exclusionist manner; theyhave defined Pakistan as a country of Muslims alone. And in theprocess of doing this, the idea of Pakistan is defined in relationto India and to Hindus. And, therefore, a lot of hate materialexists for Hindus in the textbooks."

The report cites several instances of distortions. For instance,the books on Social Studies systematically misrepresent events thathave happened over the past several decades of Pakistan's history.Narratives are replete with distortions and omissions which make itdifficult for a child to interpret history with any sense ofobjectivity. Worse still, such perverted rewriting of history makesstudents insensitive to the religious diversity of a nation andinstigate feelings of hatred and distrust against othercommunities. Islamiyat also forms part of Social Studies, making itheavy with religious teachings and an exclusivist interpretation ofPakistani nationalism that excludes non-Muslim Pakistanis fromeither being Pakistani nationals or from even being good humanbeings.

The report points out that even though the Constitution of Pakistanrequires the compulsory reading of the Quran for Muslim studentsalone, it is included in the textbooks of a compulsory subject likeUrdu which is to be read by students of all religions. The ClassIII Urdu textbook has seven lessons on 'Nazra Qur'an' and itstranslations. The Urdu and Social Studies curricula even asks forall the students to be taught Islamic religious practices likenamaz and wuzu.

Interestingly, the report pointed out that in the first 25 years ofPakistan's statehood, children were taught the very early historyof South Asia, including ancient religious mythology of thisregion; the early great Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of the Mauryasand the Guptas, the Muslim conquests and establishment of Muslimsultanates in North India. This historical perspective has beendone away with in the present curriculum. Instead, children inPakistan are now taught history that begins from the day the firstMuslim set foot in India.

The threat of indoctrinating the minds of young Pakistanishighlighted by the SDPI report might seem alarmist, but it is not.Last week, the North West Frontier Province Education Commissionsaid every primary school student should be able to recite the holyQuran with exact pronunciation while senior students should betaught fundamentals of Arabic, Islamic, economic, political,judicial and moral systems besides making them-Class Six toTen-translate five chapters of the Quran as part of the curriculum.There is nothing wrong with teaching religion to children; religionteaches love and peace. But a distorted view can only instillmistrust. President Musharraf, this time, has a more challengingtask at hand than dealing with extremist groups. It is about makingPakistan a progressive, democratic nation. This would require aprogressive educational curricula. If he fails in hisresponsibility, then history shall never forgive him.

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