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In violation of the Constitution

Updated Aug 13, 2013 06:00pm


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IN the eyes of Pakistan’s Constitution, all Pakistanis are equal citizens and everyone has a right to follow their respective faith.

By requiring that non-Muslim children be taught Islamic religious principles in public schools, however, our educational authorities are violating the constitutional rights of religious minorities. They may also be placing the lives of non-Muslim students in danger.

As part of a study on the current state of the national curriculum and school textbooks, I have looked at the books in use in public schools for the subjects of General Knowledge, Urdu, Social Studies and English in classes 1 to 10. While a longer report is to be published by the Jinnah Institute, here I focus on one aspect of the report’s findings.

The new school textbooks for the current academic year in all four provinces are in violation of Article 22(1) of the Constitution.

This article states: “No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instructions, 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.”

It is alarming that those managing the state of affairs of education are oblivious to this constitutional safeguard. The new school textbooks assigned for classes I-II for the subject General Knowledge require all children, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to memorise the Kalimah Tayyabah and its translation.

The children must recite the Darood, learn the prayers for starting and ending Ramazan fasts, learn to say Bismillah-ir Rehman-ir Raheem before starting a meal and Alhamdo Lillahi Rabbil Aalameen after finishing, learn the names and timings of the five daily prayers in Islam, learn and write about Seerat-un-Nabi, and know when to say Islamic salutations such as Jazakallah, Subhanallah, Yarhamukallah, etc.

No student is exempt from this requirement, whether or not the child is from a Muslim family.

Among the children who must recite the Kalimah Tayyabah are those with Ahmadi parents. As the law stands, an Ahmadi reciting the Kalimah can be charged with a criminal offence.

Hundreds, if not thousands, have been arrested and charged for this crime as well as for displaying the Kalimah outside their houses, on cars and motorcycles, and for wearing badges bearing it.

Even for non-Ahmadi minorities, there is a problem. An essential part of conversion to the Islamic faith is reciting the Kalimah Tayyabah. It is quite possible to find amongst us many who would believe that anyone who has recited the Kalimah has in fact converted to Islam.

What if a non-Muslim child follows the textbook and recites it? Would it be assumed that the child has converted to Islam? Upon returning home to his parents, the child would presumably continue adhering to his or her original faith, theoretically making the child a murtad (apostate). As is well-known, under certain interpretations of Islamic law, the punishment for apostasy is death.

Some may argue that mere recitation of the Kalimah is not enough — the person converting should believe in it also. But on the other hand, our history is replete with instances of an overpowered infidel’s life being spared for reciting the Kalimah under duress.

The 18th constitutional amendment authorised each province to design educational curricula for use within that province. Over the last two years, the provinces have adopted the national curriculum of 2006 and have invited private publishers to submit textbooks following this curriculum.

One book of each subject is required to be selected in this competition as the sole textbook for the entire province and is then distributed free of cost among students.

Whereas Islamiat has always been a compulsory subject for Muslim students, today non-Muslim and Muslim students both are being forced to learn religious topics in other subjects such as Urdu, Social Studies, and English.

The national curriculum of 2006, for example, requires that all Urdu textbooks of grades I to VIII “should also include two stories, one with an Islamic touch, be it in relation to a personality or an event, and the other should be about an eminent Pakistani personality or a shaheed”.

Thus, in addition to starting with a hamd and a na’at, every Urdu textbook now contains more than one lesson “with an Islamic touch”. A Class 3 textbook that I examined, currently being taught in Punjab schools, has five such lessons: (a) ‘Rahmat-i-Alam (Sallallaho Alaihi wa Aalehi wa Sallam)’, (b) ‘Hazrat Khadijat-ul-Kubra (Raziallah o Ta’ala Anha)’, (c) ‘Jashn-i-Milad-un-Nabi (Sallallaho Alaihi wa Aalehi wa Sallam)’, (d) ‘Waade ki Pabandi’ (a story from Seerat-un-Nabi Sallallaho Alaihi wa Aalehi wa Sallam), and (e) ‘Masjid ki Taazeem’.

Similarly the new Class IV Urdu book in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has the following lessons: (a) ‘Ikhlaq-i-Rasool, Ahed ki Pabandi’, (b) ‘Hazrat Ayesha Siddiqua’ (Raziallah o Ta’ala Anha); (c) ‘Sacchi Dosti (about Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddique Raziallah o Ta’ala Anhu)’, (d) ‘Hazrat Fatima (Raziallah o Ta’ala Anha)’, (e) ‘Imam Abu Hanifa (Rehmatullah Alaih)’.

I could give examples from English language textbooks as well. Like the Urdu ones, they too are compulsory for students of all faiths but have content that rightly belongs to an Islamiat textbook.

The new national curriculum was part of a larger set of education reforms intended to correct the problems of ideology, bias, prejudice and bigotry in the previous school curriculum and textbooks. It is clear that an opportunity has been missed.

If the education system cannot reform itself, others must step in. In this era of judicial activism, will the courts take notice of a flagrant violation of the Constitution, the very document which they have sworn to protect?

The author is a retired teacher of Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

TAM Aug 13, 2013 12:37pm

A H Nayyar:

Please get it right. Ahmadis are Muslims if not, better Muslims than most in Pakistan and throughout the world. What is not right is the forced man-made "godly" amendment in your country's constitution to call them non-Muslims.

Focus for people like yourselves should be to have the constitution amended for a Pakistan devoid of bigotry and self proclaimed custodianship of Islam.

M I Khan Aug 13, 2013 12:49pm

Scary and tragic. These champions of ideology and Islam are destroying the image of both Islam and Pakistan. Pakistan is in the hands of bigots and myopic leaders.

A. A. Naqvi Aug 13, 2013 04:44pm

This article is an important observation/assessment of some flaws in curriculum content. I hope Dr. Nayyer has sent more detailed observations to the relevant/concerned authorities. They might have their own answers to the points raised in this article and whether they agree that constitutional provisions have been violated. Personally, I believe that such discussions should be limited among concerned quarters only rather than in public domain to avoid making it a political issue.

Dr. D. Prithipaul Aug 13, 2013 09:26pm

That is why all talks of friendship between the 2 nations actually are proposals to build castles in Pakistani air space.

Dr. D. Prithipaul Aug 13, 2013 09:27pm

This explains why all speculations about the need for friendship between the two nations are actually proposals for building castles in the air space of Pakistan.

Nebu Chadnazar Aug 13, 2013 09:29pm

@M I Khan: Is that so in the case of Maldives too? Are we saying that country is in the hands of bigots and myopic leaders as well? No one but a Sunni Muslim can even be a citizen there, much less hold any public office. And yet no one alleges bigotry or anything. Owning any kind of religious motif or symbol other than Islam, even for private use - such as a personal copy of the Holy Bible is forbidden by law. An European tourist couple who were renewing their vows in a private resort after decades of marriage were charged with heresy and evicted from the island. An Indian teacher was evicted because she was teaching students geography - using a compass - which - according to the authorities, "....resembles a Roman Catholic cross...." and hence was in violation of law. That way - Pakistan is much more benevolent!

Schazad Aug 13, 2013 09:57pm

@TAM: I think that is the main objective of the article. Not to discriminate against Ahmedis.

Ahmad Aug 14, 2013 07:58am

Pakistan came into being on the name of Islam, those who do not like Islam can chose to live elsewhere (full stop).

Asif Omer Aug 14, 2013 08:05am

@TAM: No offense to Ahmadis, writer is simply pointing to legal jeopardy that may be faced by Ahmadi students when following the National curriculum, or by others who are deemed non-Muslim by the Constitution.

Siddique Malik Aug 14, 2013 08:54am

@A. A. Naqvi: Whether the authorities consider these injustices as a violation of the constitution or not is irrelevant. These so-called authorities and.or their predecessors are the ones who created the problem. If an injustice is not a violation of the constitution, that constitution needs fixing. These issues have been created by insecure politicians and military dictators, but you are afraid that an open discussion on these issues will politicize the matter. What a bizarre logic? Problems are solved through open discussions on the issues, not by hiding them under the carpet. When lives and rights of innocent people are stake, everything is political. Siddique Malik, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Khanm Aug 14, 2013 05:48pm

@TAM: how do you know that some one is better muslim than you, me or any one else ... preach what you is Allah knows what is in your heart....

Khalid Aug 14, 2013 10:05pm

@Nebu Chadnazar: Is that the best we can do? Compare Pakistan to the worst possible country in the world for religious intolerance? No wonder we are quickly becoming the worst in everything?.

Khalid Aug 14, 2013 10:11pm

@TAM: I know one thing. I have not seen an Ahmadi who is not educated, is not articulate or not setting an example of how a Muslim should behave. Are we really not capable of learning anything from anyone ?

Shahjahan Aug 15, 2013 02:56am

You lost me at "IN the eyes of Pakistan

Omparkash Bhatia Aug 15, 2013 10:39am

This is happened with my children. When we brought new books for my children I went through the Islamiyat book of my daughter's class she is only 6 years old and there are questions "What is our religion", "Our religion Islam", "there is no god except Allah" and so on. My children purposely asked me that why there is Allah but not the Bhagwan and other questions like that. But I am not able to convince them about all these differences and I don't want to put these types of differences in their mind. When I asked school administration "is there any other subject, which we can choose instead of Islamiyat for non-muslims?" They replied "No, but you can skip it". According to my knowledge there was subject named "ethics" which was introduced for replacement of "Islamiyat" (although there were general topics in "ethics" and it should not be only for non-muslims) but at this time schools are not following it and they are not giving it any importance. And also social sector is silent because they have to run their business.