If like me you were born and raised in Pakistan, probably you have attended a local school where we as children learnt at an early age the “conspiracy of the non-believers against Muslims.” You may say whatever in its defense, but our reality is troubling.
Little children’s minds are forced to study the strangest of the strange possible theories. Just think of a 7, or 8, or for that matter an 11 year old kid being taught glorifying accounts of how conquerors like Muhammad bin Qasim and Mahmood Ghaznavi occupied the sub-continent to free the Muslims under threat from enslavement. Our text books shamelessly go on and son stating that “being enslaved by Hindu masters was worse off then being colonized under the British Queen.”
Having said that, certain disturbing phrases like…
“All non believers will go to hell.”
“The Hindus and Muslims could not live together and therefore Pakistan was made for Muslims to live freely.”
“Caravans that were on the way to Pakistan were attacked by Hindus and Sikhs. Not a single Muslim was left alive in trains coming to Pakistan.”
Most sociology books refer Christians are “violent crusaders” and Hindus as “gangsters” and we are in no doubt that here in Pakistan, our textbooks preach falsehoods, hatred and bigotry. The construction of most non - Muslims is evil and bad. Just think for a moment that you are back in a public school where children of different faith are learning Pakistani history in particular “Ideology of Pakistan”. And your teacher reading the passage out loudly, “Who am I? I am a Muslim. I am a Pakistani. I love my country and I love my people.”
Suddenly your best friend, a follower of Jesus Christ, becomes your greatest enemy. Because according to that ignorant school teacher the message is clear – it is clear that you are Muslim; your religion is Islam and that being a patriotic Pakistani means to be a Pakistani Muslim only. And that only Muslims are true Pakistani citizens.
The obsession of equating the notions of patriotism with Islamic zeal clearly alienates religious minorities by teaching religious discrimination to little minds.
Present day intolerance in our country has roots in our education system, for as long as we teach religious hatred to young minds, discrimination and intolerance towards minorities will thrive in young people. We cannot complain on why most Muslims behave so badly towards minorities, because we are teaching them to do exactly that. Not every child comes from moderate and literate family background.
Within the country, the debate to revamp educational curricula is going on for more then two decades with slow progress. Last year, for the first time in our history, school books for middle and high school students made amendments to their curriculum by describing the positive role of religious minorities including Christians, Hindus and Sikhs have had in nation building since 1947.
Despite being a small change, it is hailed as a victory by most local human rights defenders and minority campaigners. The new history text book contains a separate section of chapter VIII titled as “Population, Society and Culture of Pakistan.”
Among campaigners, there is one very bold, social activist and human rights defender Tahira Abdullah who has been very open in her critique of local text books. Recently, a local NGO PEAD led by her conducted a review of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s public sector education curriculum and textbooks from 2002 to 2015. This review is an excellent example to all those who dream of a youth raised on ideals of diversity, inclusion, and respect for human and women rights. It also points out how little the textbooks offer in terms of inducing critical and analytical thinking among students.
On the occasion of the report launch, she stated that “Our curriculum and textbooks are very wrong. They do not show love, they do not show respect and they do not show plurality. The concept of us being divided as Shia, Sunni, Ahmedi, Christians and Hindus had to be removed. Let us instead include a concept of being human.”
Like her, many others including myself question why Pakistani text books still use the word of “Islamiyat.” A county where people of different religions and ethnicities live together, enforcing Islamiyat on all children is contrary to rationale and has little to do with common sense.
Our high authorities claim that Hindus, Christians and other minorities are our brethren and we hold them dear. If truly they are, then stop drilling hate into innocent children’s minds and remove all anti minority content from educational curriculum.
We can still repair the damage to our already extremist society, because we simply cannot afford to teach innocent minds hatred and then complain later. Let’s stop teaching traumatizing and distorted information to new generations and help Pakistan towards a peaceful future, shall we?