Essence of Islamic teachings missing

The narrative being presented by the religious extremists that incites violence against religious minorities contradicts the essence of Islam, which is based on the principles of tolerance and harmony

Religious education is considered important in all religions as It is thought to be a must for character building, purity of soul and a successful survival in the society. The sacred teaching of course starts from home as per religion of the family. There are various occasions in life when your religious beliefs support you, give you strength and peace of mind. Islam is the newest among all major religions of the world and is complete code of life, as we have been taught since childhood.

The debate over a certain amendment in the Election Act 2017 removing the Khatam-e-Nabuwwat oath, followed by a sit in by religious extremist groups in Islamabad and the outbreak of protests as a reaction to the subsequent police action happened in this sacred month of Rabiul Awal when the birthday of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) was yet to be celebrated.

The sit-in, however, ended after a controversial agreement between state and the protesters. The most socking aspect of it all was the filthy language used by the protesting leaders who ironically claim to be the protectors of the Prophet (PBUH)’s honour.

Islamiat is taught as a compulsory subject from grade one to Bachelors level at all educational institutions of Pakistan. Since we are a Muslim majority country, the religious studies and religious content is a part of the textbooks of other subjects as well. Religious teachings in books of all subjects at times include replication of the topics like the stories of the four pious caliphs in Islamiat as well as in Urdu books with certain moral lessons.

The best examples from the life of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), describing his affection for mankind and how he forgave the worst of his enemies, are found in textbooks of almost every subject. But the question is, why isn’t it exhibited when we observe the sit-ins, demonstrations and the overall attitude and behaviour of people? Why is it that the attributes of exemplary peace, tolerance forgiveness, affability and leniency which are found in our books as well as media content are missing in our real lives?

The last time our national curriculum was modified was back in 2007. Looking at the scheme of studies and break up of topics in books of Islamiat, the five broader areas are learning and reciting of the Holy Quran. The fundamentals of faith and prayers, life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), ethics and ethical values, great personalities of Islam are the broader themes divided in sub themes.

Religious scholars these days focus on prayers but ignore the Islamic code of conduct towards others that Muslims are supposed to follow

In Madaris (religious seminaries), Islamiat is also a compulsory subject and a series of books for Islamiat approved by Wifaq-ul-Madaris, named Taleem-ul-Islam, is a part of the curricula. It talks about basics of Islam and the code of conduct given by religion. These books are taught at madaris till grade 7.

In public schools, the study of Islamiat begins from grade three. In grade one and two, it is a part of the general knowledge book with basics of Islam. The objectives are very clearly written and self explanatory in the 2007 Curriculum of Islamiat.

Why is it that the qualities of a true Muslim that are part of the scheme of studies, are not exhibited in general in our attitudes and behaviour?

Firstly, the teaching or study of Islamiat at schools is just a case like a soulless body. The teaching of Islamiat and religion is carried out like all other subjects where the answers to certain questions are memorised with or without the understanding of the actual meaning of certain terms. The content is based on facts about Islam and the authentic examples from the life of Holy Prophet (PBUH), but the teaching methodology for this is very important.

A teacher, no matter male or female, talks about tolerance, patience, lenience and equality, but would rarely exhibit these traits in actual classroom scenario. Secondly, reliance is just upon the content present in the book. We are well aware that the incidents from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)’s life and the verses of Holy Quran were all in a specific context and to understand the actual meaning one has to understand the context first, which remains missing from the classrooms.

Thirdly, Islamiat is taught in isolation as there is hardly any connectivity and integration of examples from the life of the Prophet with current times and situations.

Fourthly, although we have subjects specialists in public and private schools, at times a person who isn’t a subject specialist is involved in the teaching of a subject they are not expert in. It is done as every teacher is supposed to complete a specific number of lectures in a day and week. There are some constraints such as the large number of students, completion of syllabus etc, which don’t let the lesson delivery to be as effective as it should be.

Various religious organisations are also in promotion of religious studies and guidelines like Al-Huda, Minhaj-ul-Quran to name a few. The availability of sermons of religious scholars sometimes with unauthentic and fabricated information, like we observed in the speeches of recent dharans, is also a source of confusion at times.

It has been observed that when it comes to Islamic teachings, more emphasis is laid by the cleric on the prayers and rewards of individual rather than the community as a whole. Religious scholars these days focus on prayers but ignore the Islamic code of conduct towards others that Muslims are supposed to follow. Both are inter-related and dependent on each other but unfortunately the emphasis is more on individual prayers. The connection between the individuals prayer and its benefit for the community is rarely discussed.

The recent events in which religious extremist groups that follow a twisted version of the religion have appeared powerful before the state have pushed us back to square one. More focus and energy will be needed to undo what such groups have done by misleading the less educated people. The people need to be educated that the narrative being presented by the religious extremist groups and incitement to violence against religious minorities contradict the essence of Islam, which is based on the principles of tolerance and harmony.

The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector

Published in Daily Times, December 5th 2017.