In retrospect, I now personally believe that attending a convent contributes to some of the best experiences of my life. Students from various religious orientations studied at my school and we coexisted wonderfully; the thought of numerous religious philosophies and how one worshiped never crossed our mind. I clearly remember that one of my favourite teachers focused more on religious harmony than his course outline. His curriculum was customised to ingrain the essence of tolerance within students who belonged to diverse backgrounds. “Regardless of whose teachings you follow, stay close to God and respect humans for who they are as every individual is unique and God’s best creation,” was one of his most frequently used phrases, and will always be a source of solace for me in today’s world.
Unfortunately, the things we were taught in school came to an abrupt end when I left for college – a different story altogether. The first time I heard the term “Jihad against Kafir” during one of the mandatory course session, I immediately looked around to see how those words affected my non-Muslim friends. Their expressions were a mixture of sheer disgust and hopelessness, and an uncomfortable silence shrouded them.
How can we expect our society to become tolerant when our textbooks are filled with venomous content? How can we expect our children to become progressive when we expose them to violent literature, and at such an early age? By using words such as “Hindus can never become true friends for Muslims” and using adjectives such as goondah for Hindus and fanatic clergymen for Christians, how are we possibly trying to teach our youth to be more compassionate or embrace different religious philosophies?
People professing different faiths are not the only targets of the hateful content that is featured in our textbooks. A handful of countries and their citizens are also treated with overzealous hatred, with India topping the list. Why don’t we realise that spreading hatred and intolerance has never brought any positive change in our own society? We corrupt young minds by turning their intrigue into fear and eventually Indophobia.
It is important to understand that by playing with the minds of our children this way we are giving rise to a hopeless society where rights and values of anyone who is not a Pakistani and a Sunni Muslim are irrelevant. Children are impressionable and by designing curricula which fan hatred and deny the idea of coexistence, we are encouraging them to become religious fanatics.
How about designing a curriculum which emphasises religious harmony, where the role of Jihad is given minimum significance and India is termed as a brotherly nation? What about building the foundation of a society in which Indo-Pak wars do not take precedence over human and civil rights movements? Why can’t our curriculum include all the positive aspects of different religions and educate children about the teachings of different prophets, thinkers and philosophers?
I must reiterate that by pumping negativity into our future generations we are neither inflicting any harm to our friends across the border or non-Muslims living elsewhere. The brunt of this so-called “academic fanaticism” is only faced by Muslim and non-Muslim minorities living in Pakistan. Hence, the hatred taught to our children affects only Pakistanis, and harms only our nation.
The statistics show that over 21.5 million Pakistanis, more than half of the population, are illiterate. Whereas, the other half of the country that have the resources and the will to acquire knowledge undergo this hate filled conditioning through the curriculum, and become resentful to people who are different from them, almost by default. Most of us were never taught to appreciate diversity and the difference of beliefs. We were always instructed to consider Hindus, Jews and Christians our enemy but is that truly so? Are we actually so significant and enviable that the whole world is conspiring against us? Why do we need to create fundamentalist soldiers who would defend us from the alleged connivance of other people? Why this paranoia?
Further research and interaction with these so-called enemies of Islam and Pakistan will perhaps help us understand that our basic ideologies remain the same. Most of us are affected and concerned by the same issues of the global state of affairs. We all feel threatened by the presence of radical elements and wish for a peaceful society. The cost of blood and tears of a Hindu are no less than those of a Muslim or Christian. The loss of a Jewish life is as tormenting and saddening as that of a Muslim. Indian children whose parents die in violent attacks are as bereaved as the children of Pakistani families whose lives are cut short in the event of a suicide attack or drone strike. Given the current state of affairs, shouldn’t our primary concern be focused more towards promoting a multicultural society?
The government, amid many other commitments, has announced that the curricula will be cleansed of all hate generating material; however, concrete measures to address the issue are yet to be taken. I hope that the literature is changed and redesigned to accommodate the less than two per cent of the minorities and a fairly large percentage of Muslim minorities living in Pakistan. I hope that our curriculum features facts rather than fabricated stories of heroism that gives us a notion of false honour about ourselves.
William Shakespeare once said, “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.”
The academia should realise that by disfiguring the actual history and creating a sense of animosity between Pakistani Muslims and the rest of the world we are truly raising an ignorant generation which will continue to spread hatred if the status quo is not challenged.
Our hope lies in tolerance, unity and religious harmony. In the absence of the aforementioned elements, our society will sooner or later collapse. It is time to replace ignorance and intolerance with eagerness to learn from what other religions teach. It is time to concentrate on the similarities that we all share. And it is indeed time to impart true knowledge to our students — the knowledge of respect, harmony and tolerance.