In Punjab, in an extraordinary move given the situation we live in, the provincial government has said the teaching of comparative religion in schools would be banned and these institutions prevented from ‘confusing’ the younger generation. Committees had apparently been set up to examine the issue, after a media anchor lashed out against the teaching of the subject, insisting that it was replacing Islamiyat. The school has clarified that this is incorrect; Islamiyat continues as a subject, as indeed it must given examination requirements. It is also astonishing that the Punjab government should have the time to set up bodies immediately, with the chief minister reportedly taking note of the matter while in Turkey. The judgment of what is a priority is hard to believe.
But the key question is this: why should knowledge about other religions not be imparted? Are we so insecure about our own religion that we believe a little bit of learning about other faiths would lead children away from their own? It is also true that, above all, Islam teaches tolerance and acceptance for other views. Indeed, if we were to adhere to it, comparative religion would be taught at all educational institutions. Certainly if we are to face the reality that we live in, this is what we need. The hatred, the bigotry, the violence we see all around can only be combated by ensuring we raise future generations to be more accepting, more tolerant, more willing to move closer to the vision of our nation held out by its founder as a place where all could practice their beliefs. It is unfortunate that the Punjab government and its education minister should be acting in such a manner.
Right now the challenge we face demands we create a more cohesive society. The massacre of minorities, including Muslim sects, is tearing us apart. How can imparting knowledge possibly hurt? It can only help — and ludicrous actions such as the one we see in Punjab will only drive us further and further into darkness.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2013.