On August 11, 1947, three days before the announcement of the independence of Pakistan, the Father of the Nation Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his speech said, “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State.”
But on the other hand, students of government schools in Punjab and even other provinces are being taught, “Muhammad Ali Jinnah felt that Hindus wanted to make Muslims their slaves and since he hated slavery, he left the Congress.” At another place in grade-III, it says, “The Congress was actually a party of Hindus. Muslims felt that after getting freedom, Hindus would make them their slaves.” Moreover, Pakistani textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies: Pakistani Christians as Westerners or equal to British colonial oppressors and Pakistani Hindus as Indians, which causes hatred for minorities among the Muslim population. Such history books are poisoning and brainwashing the young minds with systematic and institutionalised lies and bigoted teachings.
The good thing is that the Sindh Textbook Board has included this part of Quaid-e-Azam’s speech in the eighth and ninth grade syllabus, but practically, students are not being taught in the real sense. The latest study in this regard made public by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended the review of the Pakistani textbooks, insisting that overemphasis on Islam as being the “only correct” faith in textbooks was against the Constitution of Pakistan, as well as the ideals of the Quaid-e-Azam.
The report titled ‘Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan — Religious Bias in Public School Textbooks’, claims that the foremost recurring trend in textbooks from all grade levels is an overemphasis on the glorification of war and war heroes. “In particular, the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim and 17 famous attacks by Sultan Mehmood Ghaznavi are included proudly in every textbook. Highlighting these two events as the beginning of civilisation in the Subcontinent, while ignoring the evolution of art, architecture, and culture, remains a key problem in textbooks,” the report said.
Another research study, conducted by the Pakistan-based Peace and Education Foundation (PEF), says that in the social studies, Pakistan studies, and history curriculums, students are taught a version of history that promotes a national Islamic identity of Pakistan and often describes conflicts with India in religious terms. The report says that the findings of the study substantiated much of the evidence found in the 2011 study and analysis that textbooks typically emphasise the concepts of communalism and Islam. “Conflation of these concepts is an attempt to build a nation-state anchored in religion, which was pursued by the Bhutto, Zia, Nawaz Sharif, and Musharraf governments from 1971 till 2008.”
Another report, prepared by a local non-profit organisation, National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), says that the government has failed to keep its promise to eradicate religious “hate material” from textbooks used in schools. The report, ‘Freedom from Suffocating Education’ claims that no curriculum reforms have been adopted at the school level, aside from the production of a few booklets — which I also highlighted in one of my previous articles titled “History at the alter of Dogma.”
The report, which focused on textbooks used in the 2015-16 school year, noted that “hate material” previously identified had not been removed from the curriculum. The NCJP study cited several passages from textbooks that teach falsehoods about other religions, or criticise or encourage animosity toward them:
The Sindh Textbook Board’s Class VII (ages 11-12) book on Islamic Studies teaches: “Most of the [other] religions of the world claim equality, but they never act on it. The Punjab Board’s Islamic Studies textbook for Class VIII (ages 12-13) reads: “Honesty for non-Muslims is merely a business strategy; while for Muslims it is a matter of faith.” The Punjab Board’s Class VI book on Islamic Studies says: “Though being a student, you cannot practically participate in jihad, but you may provide financial support for jihad.”
The History textbook for Class VIII students, published by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Textbook Board, reads: “Sikhs used to do many brutalities to Muslims and did not allow them religious freedom. The British did not trust Muslims and the policy of injustice and brutality hurt economic and educational conditions of Muslims. And the discriminatory attitude of Hindu landlords further made their condition worse. Under the influence of Hindus, they adopted several heresies.”
We believe that the “Islamisation” policies introduced by General Ziaul Haq also included a complete revision of the curricula so that the entire content could be re-organised around a certain variant of Islamic thought to inculcate Islamic ideology in the young generation supposedly. Though political analysts have severely criticised the educational system of Zia era for creating the bedrock for militant extremism, no later administration showed any resolve to address the questionable content. That is why the biased material in the syllabus is one of the major aspects of growing religious intolerance and extremism secondly it is in contradiction with the constitution of Pakistan. Any material considered ‘inflammatory’ or ‘discriminatory’ to religious minorities should be removed from the syllabus as the government should seriously take action on this matter. Secondly, unless and until the young minds are encouraged to develop a critical mind, and the willingness and ability to research and reach for the truth and facts, a country’s national ethos cannot become progressive with social justice and economic development of the citizen as the primary priorities.
Salman Ali is a social and political activist based in Lahore. He can be reached at email@example.com. Saira Ahmed is a social activist, having great command of socio-political issues of women. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org