Mayhem reigned inside the Punjab government after journalist Ansar Abbasi accused it of being “anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam”. In his Jang column of March 25, Mr Abbasi says that through “deceit, fraud, and treachery”, the PML-N government seeks to foist secularisation onto the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif’s crime was that he allowed the publication of a new matric-level Urdu textbook, the contents of which allegedly undermine the ideological foundations of Pakistan.
This tactic of “Islam in danger”, while often used by Mr Abbasi, is particularly bizarre in this case. The PML-N is right wing and pro-Islamist, and has sometimes been criticised for forging electoral alliances with extremist religious organisations. But, in the twinkling of an eye, and without even attempting a defence, the state machinery went into a tailspin as its top officials humbly confessed guilt and offered their profuse apologies. The book is said to have been withdrawn.
Mr Abbasi tells us proudly exactly what happened and why. On Saturday evening, an unknown caller alerted him that a new book was now on sale at bookstores and its contents were highly objectionable. He promptly sent for a copy and compared it with the earlier one. To his horror, says Mr Abbasi, he discovered that all mention of Islam and its teachings had been expunged. Moreover, Allama Iqbal was totally missing (Allama Iqbal jaisay qaumi aur Islami sha’ir ko mukammal taur par ghaib kar diya gaya). This “dirty and sinister” effort to secularise Pakistan had happened under the watch of the Muslim League. Not even the Indian Congress could have done something so outrageous.
Mr Abbasi writes that his agony and anger led to a sleepless night. So just after his fajr prayers, he started pushing the right buttons. Only hours later — at 9.30am on Sunday — the Punjab secretary of information called up to say that the present book had been withdrawn and his suggested revisions would be incorporated in the forthcoming edition. Patting himself on his back, Mr Abbasi says he is proud that Allah had chosen him to perform this good deed. Of course, the hundreds of thousands of copies already printed would have to be destroyed. But he had saved Pakistan!
Seeking to understand what had distressed Mr Abbasi so much, I bought a copy too. It was easy to find the very same one that he found so objectionable. But what I found was a distortion of reality, and wild exaggerations. Here is what I saw, and which the reader may readily verify.
Contrary to Allama Iqbal being absent, the front cover has the poet in his classic pose, thoughtfully staring at a candle. The very first item listed in the contents is a hamd (a poem in praise of Allah) by Hafeez Jalundhri. The second item is a naat (poem in praise of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh) by Ehsan Daanish. The third centres around the high-culture surrounding the Urdu-speaking elite of Delhi, while the fourth is a kind of fairy tale (Paristan ki shahzadi). Other items are “Letters of Ghalib”, “A camel’s wedding”, “The tattle-tale”, “Celebrating Eidul Fitr”, “The story of Karbala”, “Thrive, thrive, Pakistan”, etc.
To claim that this is a dangerous book is the height of absurdity. My personal opinion is that it is rather insipid, has little contemporary relevance, the choice of essays and poems could have been better, and the end of chapter exercises ask for no more than straightforward reproductions. But other than this, it is scarcely worthy of comment.
So, what caused the violent condemnation from Mr Abbasi? How could the Punjab secretary of information declare the book unsuitable and withdraw the book on one individual’s complaint, and without a proper investigation? Is this how textbooks, published after years of effort and much expense, will be banished in the future as well? What makes the issue still graver is that the book had been published under the supervision of a new curriculum authority created by the chief minister himself who, in fright, overrode the recommendations of a committee that he had formed himself. The future of education in Pakistan will remain forever bleak unless one finds satisfactory answers to these questions.
At the outset, one needs to know that the withdrawn book was intended solely for the teaching of Urdu as a language, and should be judged on these grounds alone. Any book for teaching a language must introduce the student to great poets and essayists and delve into linguistic nuances and subtleties. It should not be just a supplementary text for teaching Islamic studies. Students use an entire, separate book for Islamiat.
This episode is important for only one reason: the new Urdu reader represented an attempt, albeit a feeble one, to remove the blinkers forced upon students by General Ziaul Haq’s education fantasia. The 1980s Islamisation of education meant that every subject — languages, geography, history, social studies, chemistry, physics, mathematics, etc. — could only be viewed through a narrow prism. All else was to be shunned and filtered out. It is this attempt to break loose that Mr Abbasi finds so terribly objectionable.
Pakistan’s educational system and the books used in schools unquestionably needs drastic reform. Our education does not prioritise the production of well-informed, socially responsible, thoughtful and civic-minded individuals. It does not ask for creating a mindset that can readily accept Pakistan’s diversity of religions, languages and cultures. It pays relatively little attention to what much of the rest of the world considers important: knowing and respecting the law of the land, preserving the environment, etc. Instead, what goes under the name of education here emphasises ritual, tradition and submission to authority. It is this which needs changing.
The shameful retreat of the Punjab government before the forces of narrow-minded intolerance and prejudice augurs ill for the future. It negates the good work done by Shahbaz Sharif in the education sector. Sadly, yet another generation of children will be deprived of their right to an unblinkered view of the world. We, the citizens, must not allow such blackmail by any individual or group to succeed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2013.
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PH trying his best to show that Shahbaz Sharif is a secular. What a joke!
All these attempts to cook Pakistan's ideology will fail.Pakistan will eventually be a territorial state, like all other states.That is people living in the Indus Valley.That is all.
There should be "comparative religious studies" course, instead of any particular religious ideology course, if we want our children to be unbiased, tolerant and rational human beings when they grow up to contribute to the well being of all human kind.
I wish we have people like Carl Sagan in Pakistan. His quote about earth "Pale Blue Dot"
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
@Sammy: 100% CORRECT
Why do we need to spends so much money on all these books and then debate? When are we going to understand that we need just one book from 1st grade to Ph.D.?? This all powerful book is all that is needed even to study medicine, engineering etc.
lmao: Do you treat secularism like a dirty word? Why is it that the Indian Muslims, inlucing the Jamaat-i-Islami Hind and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind, like secularism, but Pakistani Muslims consider it a sinister conspiracy?
Prof Hoodbhoy, When the elections are round the corner, the politicians panic easily that end in such "knee jerk" reactions. And it is a Universal phenomenon. The problem takes additional dimension in Pakistan because of the unusually strong sway the religious bodies there have on average Pakistani!
Prof Hudabhoy, When the elections are round the corner, the politicians panic easily and tend to take such "knee jerk" actions. And it is a Universal phenomenon. The problem takes special dimension in Pakistan because of the unusually strong sway religious bodies there have on average Pakistani!
At this point there are "60" likes for Imao's derogatory comment !! I wonder how deep is brainwashing is prevalent in the Country of Pure !! O Lord, save this country !!
The question that the author has not addressed is why the original Urdu text book was changed. What was wrong with it that this revision was needed? And upon whose instructions this change was made and what justifications were given for the change by who so ever gave the instructions. Was it an internal curriculum modification initiative or was it forced upon the government by outside agencies on one pretext or the other.
All these books are thrown in the drainage after completion of academic year. It is normal procedure in Pakistan especially in Lahore.
@lmao: Yes but Ansaar Abbassi, please keep getting text books censored.
here we are once again proud pakistani's . .. laugh or cry both seems perfect for our hero mr ansar abbasi.. he save the nation, thumbs up.... these stereotypes still prevails and nurtures in ourselves ... furthermore visioning a prosperous and educated pakistan is consider to be a crime in this land...
''At the outset, one needs to know that the withdrawn book was intended solely for the teaching of Urdu as a language, and should be judged on these grounds alone. It should not be just a supplementary text for teaching Islamic studies. Students use an entire, separate book for Islamiat.'' BRILLIANTLY PUT.
@aziz: "I have lived in the West for the last 40 years and have not come across Ayan Hirsi, Dawkins and Wafa works included as part of the syllabus in any country."
And you also may not have come across christianity being taught as one true religion in any public school.
"It would be illegal to teach Dawkins and Hitchens in many states in US schools."
Not illegal, just highly controversial. Dawkins' specialty is evolutionary biology, while Hitchens is an essayist. Their views might be heard in the classroom in a course on biology and political science, respectively. US has strict separation between church and state, and does not allow advocacy for a religion or against it. The subject can however be taught for informative purposes.
"Dawkins and Hitchens are and advocate complete ban on all forms of religion and religious education."
They are not. Both are vociferous critics of teaching pseuduscience of Intelligent Design instead of theory of evolution in science classes.
"By the way do you want to include Hirsi too who is a fugitive from Holland for illegal acts?"
She is not a fugitive, but rather had to leave the country after she was given death threats by islamists and her friend Van Gough was murdered for making a film critical of Islam.
@aziz: great, thanks
@amir jafri: if he still do have some.
@Talha rizvi: Well you commented and got recommendations. well done. however for your information the swat whipping was fake and the malala shooting it going to be proved fake in the near future. Please think realistically. This is Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the curriculum has to be Islamic. No hard feelings.
@VINOD: "Travel the world and look around" Vinod Bhai,, who will give them a Visa to visit their country? and if anyone MAKE THAT MISTAKE, they will ask for "Political Asylum" reasoning the one they defending here. :-)))
@Lobster: Pervez Hoodbhoy brings in religeon because in Pakistan the manipulation of religeon has become a norm and a destructive force. It has become a political instrument instead of being treated as a personals matter. PH is trying hard to persuade you to a be critical thinker.
I 100% agree with the author. Teaching urdu does not necessarily require Ismalic stories, poems, essays etc. We have an entire separate book on Islamic studies for Muslims students then why are we mixing it in Urdu Lazmi course which is compulsory for everyone, muslim and non muslim students. I even object the inclusion of Hamd and Naat at the beginning of the urdu book, instead there should be a poem on Humanity or patriotism. We must respect the feelings and beliefs of minorities in Pakistan. I love my religion, Islam, but I hate to force non muslims to read Islam to pas the exam!
I have lived in the West for the last 40 years and have not come across Ayan Hirsi, Dawkins and Wafa works included as part of the syllabus in any country. It would be illegal to teach Dawkins and Hitchens in many states in US schools.
Besides all these individuals talk about different subjects. Wafa is not anti-religion. Dawkins and Hitchen are and advocate complete ban on all forms of religion and religious education.
By the way do you want to include Hirsi too who is a fugitive from Holland for illegal acts?
All these ills of our society (and of our country) are attributable to just the following one fact.
No one in this whole world can define what is TRUE ISLAM without facing valid objections, and no one is likely to do so in at least the foreseeable future.
Just the contradictory nature and disparity of comments on this blog (after ignoring those from across the border) is enough to validate the above hypothesis.
I want students who study the Pakistani syllabus-- whether they're Muslim, Hindu, or Christian. to be able to think for themselves, to able to question both religious and secular authority and dogma. I want them to be able to analyze history, politics, and cultural traditions and come to their own conclusions. It hurts to see the imagination of our young generation squashed by a rigid, and outdated curriculum when they should be talking about amazing advances going on in business, science, politics and society. Instead what we get is petty squabbling over the purpose of Pakistan's creation, who is a good Muslim, and how everything is a conspiracy against this 'fortress of Islam'.
Look at the vast difference between North and South Korea. One side is regressive, oppressed, dogmatic, and thoroughly brainwashed, and the other is a global player in business and innovation.
@lmao: Great support of people like you is the main obstacle in the progress of Pakistan and forces it to remain rapped in ignorance (zehalat), poorness (Gurbat) and isolation. Travel the world and look around. No where in the world a book of letters is judged on the basis of its religious content.
Shaping of brain/ thoughts of the children are going on in the schools since long. Why complain now ?
so, how are my Caucasian, Arabic, Turkic etc brothers of Pakistan doing?
aren't you really supposed to be far ahead of Indians in education and technology?
never mind.......the only hing that's important here is : " Sadly, yet another generation of children will be deprived of their right to an unblinkered view of the world." ."
keep dreaming of the utopia that Jinnah and his Islamic brigade dream't of.
Great Op Ed Doc! Thanks ET for having scholars like Dr. PH. One comment said "go and do science". This is exactly science and we are talking about separation of languages and science from religion. One cannot study both creation and evolution at the same time. Thank God there are some real scientists in Pakistan otherwise we still be hearing and shouting about cars driven with pure water! The other name of science is seeking the truth and that is why all reactionary forces are against true sciences.
@someone: " ... This is my idea for whole south Asia. Close all temples, mosques, churches, gurudwara, everything including religious schools. ... "
Focus on the mullah.
My son grew up in the USA, was a valedictorian and went to the University of Chicago. When he interacts with overseas Pakistani students here in the US he feels that they are intellectually stunted and very close minded. If this is the Pakistani elite then what is the average Pakistani high school student.
Why are elected leaders adding more discriminnatory language in educational books? "Discriminatory text appeared 45 times in school curriculum in Punjab in 2009, but increased to 122 in 2012, according to a report distributed at the event, authored by Peter Jacob, the executive director of NCJP. In Sindh, discriminatory text appeared 11 times in 2009 but rose to 22 in 2012." http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta3/tft/article.php?issue=20130329&page=9 Seeds of hatred are sown in schools
This is my idea for whole south Asia. Close all temples, mosques, churches, gurudwara, everything including religious schools. Let people do their religious activities only in their homes. Turn all these religious places into public libraries with books on every single subject from religious to science, maths, even atheism. Let people read those and think on their own.Then may be in 20 years,a different generation with more clarity will form.
@lmao: Morons like you will make sure pakistan goes further into ignorance!!
@Mj: you're an atheist, no? Please be honest and tell me is their a problem with Ansar Abbasi or is islam the real problem? Be honest ;) This is a major problem with seculars, they take digs at people like Ansar Abbasi when the real bone of contention is islam and not Ansar Abbasi or Zia.
I am not against religious education but it should be taught by parents in homes or by private tutors (hired by parents). This will save kids precious time and government resources for science and technology education. Few hours which our kids spend in school are not enough to learn science, social science and mathematics and most of the time is wasted on other subjects. With present system and less focus on science subjects, we are only creating computer operators and telemarketers. Inventing and manufacturing modern gadgets is hundreds of years away.
Ansar Abbasi is a self righteous analyst who sees everything from the window of his personal religious narrow mindedness. He undermines the diversity of religion and thought. Our children should be taught to think for themselves God's sake.
If someone is interested in learning about Hindi scripts then they are required to read 'Geeta' and same goes for Arabic with 'Qu'ran'.
The paper Allama Iqbal submitted for his Phd degree titles 'The development of Metaphysics in Persia'. I'm sure if this subject is introduced in our syllabuses then people like Abbasi would be the first to put a ban on it. Just Shameful!
Yet to see any column by Mr. Hoodbhoy where he doesn't bring the religion!
If Shahbaz Sharif can be blackmailed by one fanatic, how would he be able to defend our liberties challenged by thousands of criminals who are being fought by our brave soldiers. This is insultto to thousands of sacrifices in this war. As for Mr. Abbasi, he can only present a narrow vision of religion, question is how a CM can buy his argument. This is a shame to say the least.
@Talha rizvi: Rizvi Sahib, I heard this Abassi on YOUTUBE. this guy is NEEM HAKIM, KATHRA e INSAANIAT.
ET : Ground realities will not change by censoring my comments.
Why we bring religion in every issue where common sense does not support us. Religion should play a role in purification of our thoughts and practices but in our case it is hypocrisy and dishonesty what we show under the guise of religion. I am afraid Islam or religion is the most misused term in our country
PHoodbhoy ..go and do some science.
@lmao: You are missing the point. This is nothing to do with 'athiestic' Pakistan. It is to do with the culture of education and who has a monopoly over it. It is to do with respect for democratic institutions and the work they do. It is to do with tolerance and giving youth a broad picture - which the likes of you were deprived of.
Ansar Abbasi is one of the great hypocrites in the mainstream media who continues to fall to new lows.
@sensible Ji: . The problem is not with Mr Ansar Abbasi or with Mr. Asif Khan. . The crux of the matter is whether Pakistan wants to be an Islamic Republic with full Sharia enforced. . As the Qaid - E - Azam promised that Pakistan, since it had been created for the Muslims of India, would have Sharia it is now not possible to say that Pakistani Citizens should adhere to and be supportive of Full Sharia being imposed on Pakistan as well as be fully cognizant of the Ideology of Pakistan. . It would be an impossible task to make Pakistan a "Secular" Country - now that the followers of Islam are 98% of the Pakistani Population - and so various idealists should accept the views of the majority of Pakistan's Populations strict adherence to the Ideology of Pakistan as well as full Sharia being imposed on Pakistan. . Cheers
Thank you professor hodbhoy.... One of the very few people in Pakistan who talks sense ( off course Nusrat Javid included, watched his show last night...just brilliant.)
Just the few comments here , all in support of bigotry and more religion even in study of language, leads to only one possible conclusion. "Its too late. Mr Hoodbhoy"
Muslims of Pakistan will suffer more simply because of the use of Islam for power and prestige of a select few holy maulanas and journalists - maybe if they turned their holy words towards the violent terrorists who use and abuse of Islam is apparent to the world they can make a positive difference?
Well done to the self-righteous Ansar Abassi, the eternal protector of our morals, for making sure the kids stay ignorant and intolerant? Don't be so surprised then if Pakistan becomes another Afghanistan, or worse, in the near future.
@Sensible when will we understand capatilism?
I am sure that some of you have read the outcome of a recent opinion poll which appeared in Dawn. http://dawn.com/2013/04/04/conservative-leanings-our-disillusioned-youth/ This along with a couple of opinions expressed by 'reader comment' provide a frightening picture of Pakistan. How come can one compare PH with Ansar Abbasi. Clearly, PH is trying hard to expose some real issues we are facing in Pakistan. His artice has nothing to do with an 'atheistic' Pakistan.
I think mr. hoodbhoy got the wrong book since we all know that ansar abbasi is a very good man and he cant say wrong
As long as we let the democracy to evolve, saner voices like yours would reach the top echelons of the governing bodies. It took 40 years for extremism to creep into Pakistani society, so it would take at least half of that time to fix this mess. May be an entire generation if it's not a smooth ride. But I can assure you that with time people like Ansar Abbasi would be pushed to the fringes where they belong. Democracy is indeed the best revenge. Don't lose hope!
@Asif Khan, I absolutely concur. Most people in Pakistan have not even heard of those names. Those authors have done wonders for people who want to be humans first. I can add a few more names like David Hume, Bertrand Russel, Carl sagan and so on. But who cares in Pakistan. You must have lived abroad.
Having done all my schooling from a missionary school (St. Patrick's High School, Karachi), I completely understand the writer's viewpoint. I've disagreed in the past with many of the opinions that Mr. Hoodbhoy's given, but here he is spot on. I grew up studying with students from all religious backgrounds, and while none of the non-Muslims were forced to study Islamiat ofcourse, they couldn't do anything about the endless Islam related chapters in Urdu books, which I too thought was completely unfair. For all those calling Dr. Hoodbhoy an 'athiest', 'Islam hater', etc., would you be satisfied if you heard of Muslim students in Europe or North America being forced to study about Christianity or Judaism, etc as part of their English Language curriculum? There should not be any religious studies in subjects that are not meant to be religious.
Mr. Ansar Abbasi and his ilk make it seem that people's patriotism is skin deep and can easily be changed by a change of text here and there. I am not sure who Mr. Abbasi thinks he is to judge anyone regarding Pakistan's ideology, especially since the "Pakistani ideology" is a product of 1960s Army propaganda and has nothing to do with the creation of Pakistan.
There is only one way of avoiding such controversies and also ensuring that Pakistan realises its full Islamic potential.
Ban all books in Pakistan , Save one.
Prescribe this One Book as Urdu, Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Civics, Economics textbook.
That I leave to your imagination.
@lmao and @sensible Please avoid ad hominem's and try to respect the pluralistic space this cwriter tries to inspire within pakistan. Trolling like that Ansar Abbasi guy will not lead us Pakistani's to anywhere, but will put fire to our house more.
@Asif Khan, what you have just said is perhaps thr dumbest thing I've read in a while.
Welldone Ansar Abbasi. Keep crying Mr Hoodbhoy. Your dream of an atheistic Pakistan will continue to fail. By the way when will you show some guts and openly tell us that your actual problem is with islam?
Sadly there is no difference between you and Mr. Abbasi. You both follow one extream.