Right to education: To each his own religion

A human rights advocacy NGO asks that minority students be taught their religion instead of Islam.

Aroosa Shaukat April 01, 2012


The National Commission for Justice and Peace, in a recent paper, has recommended changes to the school curricula so that minorities can study their own religions instead of Islamic studies or ethics.

The commission has also proposed that any material considered ‘inflammatory’ or ‘discriminatory’ to religious minorities be removed from the syllabus.

The paper, Fanatic Literacy or Education, expresses concern over what it describes as a “disregard” of Article 22 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which guarantees “safeguards as to educational institutions in respect of religion”. Sub-section 1 of the article reads: “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.”

The paper points out that thousands of non-Muslim students are ‘forced’ to take up Islamic Studies for fear of discrimination. It also criticises the Punjab Assembly for passing a unanimous resolution supporting making teaching of the Holy Quran part of the curriculum.

The paper says, nazira (seen), recitation of the Holy Quran, was made mandatory for students, from Grade 3 to Grade 8, under the 2009 Education Policy, no “viable alternative” was provided for non-Muslim students.  Subjects like social studies and languages also include at least 20 per cent content relating to Islam, states the paper.

At a recent dialogue, on the implementation of ‘The right to education’, NCJP’s programme coordinator Naumana Suleman raised several pertinent questions. Among them were why students of religious minorities are deprived of 20 bonus marks awarded to Hafiz-i-Quran students.

Baela Raza Jamil, the Idara-i-Taleem-o-Aagahi programme director, regretted that even though minorities comprise four to five percent of the population, their fundamental rights are being questioned. Jamil rejected what she called were “forced” subjects, adding that there is a dearth of “sensible conversation” about the issue. “There is a bias towards minorities in our system,” she lamented.

Dr Yaqoob Khan Bangash, a history teacher and a member of curriculum development board in various schools, proposes that religious studies be taught from an academic perspective and not be theological indoctrination. Bangash says that any religious studies curriculum should promote inter-faith harmony “by focusing on what’s common among different religions”.

Dr Khalid Zaheer, associated with Al-Mawrid, an Islamic research institute, disagrees. He says it is every minority community’s right to teach their children their own religion. In his opinion, the state and the society are bound to provide education according to the parents’ liking. “This is not in conflict with the teachings of Islam,” he said.

Chaudhry Javed Ahmad, the chairman of the standing committee on education, said that religious minorities can choose to study ethics instead of Islamiyat. No one is forced to study Islamic studies, he said.

However, he said it was “impractical” to demand that arrangements be made for a separate religious curriculum for every minority student. “It would be slightly impractical to arrange separate teachers to teach a few minority students about their religion,” he said. “Lots of Muslims study at convents but no one objects to what they are [or are not] taught there.” Ahmad added that if the matter were to be taken up in the provincial assembly, he would “encourage a healthy debate on the issue”.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2012.



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