ISLAMABAD: While condemnations pour in over the killing of three Hindus in Sindh as Muslims celebrated Eidul Azha, a US government commission has said that Pakistani text books foster intolerance of Hindus, according to an Associated Press report.
“Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow,” said Leonard Leo, chairman of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom which released its report on Wednesday.
The study reviewed more than 100 textbooks from grades 1-10 across all four provinces. Researchers, in February this year, visited 37 public schools where they interviewed 277 students and teachers, and 19 madrassahs where they interviewed 226 students and teachers. In 2006, the government announced plans to reform the curriculum to address the problematic content, but that has not been done, the study said.
The report found systematic negative portrayals of minorities, especially Hindus and, to a lesser extent, Christians.
“Religious minorities are often portrayed as inferior or second-class citizens who have been granted limited rights and privileges by generous Pakistani Muslims, for which they should be grateful,” the report said. “Hindus are repeatedly described as extremists and eternal enemies of Islam whose culture and society is based on injustice and cruelty, while Islam delivers a message of peace and brotherhood, concepts portrayed as alien to the Hindu.”
The books don’t contain many specific references to Christians, but those “that do exist seem generally negative,” the report said.
Attempts to reach the education minister for his comments were not successful.
‘Islam under threat’
The researchers also found that the books foster a sense that Pakistan’s Islamic identity is under constant threat.
“The anti-Islamic forces are always trying to finish the Islamic domination of the world,” read one passage from a social studies text being taught to Grade 4 students in Punjab. “This can cause danger for the very existence of Islam. Today, the defence of Pakistan and Islam is very much in need.”
The report states that Islamic teachings and references were commonplace in compulsory text books, not just religious ones, meaning Pakistan’s Christians, Hindus and other minorities were being taught Islamic content. It said this appeared to violate Pakistan’s constitution, which states that students should not have to receive instruction in a religion other than their own.
Teachers’ views were frequently nuanced and sometimes contradictory, according to the study. While many advocated respectful treatment of religious minorities, this was conditional upon the attitudes of the minorities, “which appeared to be in question,” the report said. The desire to proselytise was cited as one of the main motivations for kind treatment.
According to the study, more than half the public school teachers acknowledged the citizenship of religious minorities, but a majority expressed the opinion that religious minorities must not be allowed to hold positions of power, in order to protect Pakistan and Muslims. While many expressed the importance of respecting the practices of religious minorities, simultaneously 80% of teachers viewed non-Muslims, in some form or another, as “enemies of Islam”.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2011.