Gojra and education

Zubeida Mustafa

TALKING to a Dawn panel several years ago, Asghar Ali Engineer, head of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, had commented that every communal riot in India that he had investigated was found to be rooted in economic factors.

Invariably the majority community attacking a minority wanted to undermine it to gain an unfair economic advantage. But the whole incident was garbed in communal terms.

We will not know the underlying reasons for the horrendous event in Gojra until the episode is investigated from that point of view. HRCP’s findings confirm that the violence was premeditated as is tradionally the pattern in cases of seemingly mindless killings. But there is usually a method to the madness. That within the span of a few hours seven Christians should have been consumed literally by fires born of communal hatred and 70 or so of their homes burnt down is most telling.

What, however, also emerges from the terrible events in Gojra — and also Sangla Hill in 2005 and Shantinagar in 1997 — is how very easy it is for the perpetrators of such crimes to incite people in the name of religion. Thus they can veil their ulterior motives by making an incident appear as an emotional reaction in the face of a provocation, that could well have been concocted. It is worrying that popular passions can be inflamed at the drop of a hat. A rational mindset and the ability to reason created by good education can go a long way towards developing interfaith harmony, tolerance and understanding of other religions.

The week Gojra happened, this paper carried another report that seemingly had no relevance to the tragedy that followed. But the connection between the two was not lost on those who have observed closely the obscurantist proclivity in our national psyche and its close link with the education we impart to our children. It was reported that the Pakistan Coalition for Education, a network of civil society organisations and individuals, had expressed its strong disapproval of the government’s failure to expedite the announcement of the new education policy that has been in the works for several years.

A visibly upset Kamleshwer Lohana, PCE’s member from Sindh, had remarked cynically, “The education policy is not a priority for the present government. This policy will be applicable only to the poor people — those who are dependent on government educational institutions.” Since the elite control the government they are not concerned. This is exactly how Javed Hassan Aly, the author of the 2007 White Paper on education also felt. He added, “The government, presently under clouds of public scrutiny, is shy of tackling what it may consider contentious issues. The elite and the for-profit private sector are happy with the status quo which allows them to entrench themselves more securely.”

Why should they want a new policy? Now it seems the delay had an added reason behind it. A revised policy has now been posted on the ministry of education’s website and is to be presented to the cabinet. Compare the draft rejected by the cabinet earlier and the present document. You will discover a new chapter titled ‘Islamic Education: Duty of the Society and the State’. The earlier draft had recognised explicitly the need for educational interventions to be based on the core value of Islam as identified by the constitution’s chapter on principles of state policy.

Apparently that was not found to be adequate. Four extra pages now spell out in detail the Islamic contents of the prescribed courses when earlier a paragraph had sufficed to capture the Islamic spirit to be injected into education in Pakistan. The emphasis on religion in the new draft is overly exaggerated. It is a forewarning that we can expect to see more of the earlier approach that has been responsible for creating the mindset that resulted in Gojra. Numerous surveys have confirmed that. In fact, it is now conceded that the curricula and textbooks in the regular school system have caused more pervasive damage than the madressahs have, given the small numbers which attend them. The policy draft with specific reference to NEP 1998-2010 speaks of an “integrated education system in which Islamic values, principles and objectives are reflected in the syllabuses of all the disciplines in general”. It would be pertinent to recall here that NEP 1998-2010 spoke of evolving “an integrated system of national education by bringing deeni madaris and modern schools closer to each stream in curriculum and the contents of education”. This was to be achieved by introducing Nazira Quran as a compulsory component.

How all this translates into practice for the religious minorities is evident from the eye-opening observations made by Prof Anjum Paul, chairman Pakistan Minorities Teachers Association, on the biases against his community. He analysed 12 Urdu language textbooks for class I-XII, and “found 235 chapters and poems out of 409 having a strong Islamic orientation”. He identifies the biases and discrimination against the religious minorities of Pakistan in textbooks, educational institutions and admission processes. Take the case of Muslim students being awarded 20 marks for nazra (reciting the Quran by heart). This makes it difficult for the minorities to compete for seats in higher education. Even the textbooks for ethics (a subject introduced a few years ago in lieu of Islamiat for religious minorities) are written by Muslims who obviously cannot identify with the teachings of other religions resulting in bias against Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Zoroastrians and others. This has failed to create social and inter-faith harmony, Prof Paul says.

Recently compulsory training courses for teachers in subjects including qirat were announced. The PMTA regards this as discrimination against teachers from minority communities. We may repeat ad nauseam the Quaid’s proclamation on “religion or caste or creed” having nothing to do with the “business of the state”, but if we continue to have education policies that preach religious hatred, many more Gojras can be expected.


One response to “Gojra and education”

  1. Can’t be us, or can it?
    By Nadeem F. Paracha
    Sunday, 10 Jan, 2010

    ‘Can’t be us’, becomes the mantra. Has to be some Christians/ Jewish/ Hindu or other such ‘anti-Islam’ abomination.
    On the day of the devastating terrorist attack on the Ashura procession in Karachi, the MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, pleaded for a complete boycott of those political parties and personnel who he believed were supporting the Taliban.

    Leaders of other secular political parties such as the PPP and the ANP and members of the liberal intelligentsia too have been expressing their concerns about certain political and TV personalities who are said to be mouthing loud, sympathetic sentiments for the Taliban. It must be asked: what does it mean to be an educated, pro-Taliban entity in a modern, urban setting?

    To begin with, the question is riddled with an obvious dichotomy. How can a person or a party in a modern, urban setting sympathise with a set of mountain men who are completely detached from reason and humanity; and whose idea of an Islamic state is actually a stony religious emirate built on the slain bodies of thousands of men, women and children, and a scruffy, violent romanticism derived from glorious myths about jihad, martyrdom and battles?

    Well, supposedly educated men and women can regularly be seen on TV and heard in drawing rooms, passionately giving an economic twist to the shameful ways of the extremists. They say it is economic exploitation and lack of economic opportunities in the rugged areas of Pakhtunkhwa that have forced the locals to take up arms. But if this is true, then are these the only people in Pakistan hit by exploitation and poverty?

    One can come across even worse cases of poverty in the widespread slums of urban Pakistan. This poverty has given birth to all sorts of crime and even a few protest movements, but how many of these people have decided to blow up whole markets and mosques packed with people; and that too, in the name of God? The so-called economic argument by the Taliban sympathisers does not bode well with their supposedly educated dispositions. But then the question arises: what is their education made of?

    Many intellectuals and scholars have constantly lamented the volatile content that exists in the many Pakistan Studies books that have been used in both government and private schools ever since the 1971 East Pakistan debacle and, more so, since the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship.

    These scholars have systematically criticised these books for glorifying jihad and hatred (against both non-believers as well as those Muslims who do not follow a narrow and myopic rendition of Islam). Instead of telling history as a linear narrative based on authentic sources, these books read like badly written fairy tales oozing with half-truths and obvious distortions.

    The space here does not allow one to analyse the number of such ‘history books’ being taught in Pakistani schools, so I will take a single example in this respect to hit home the point. The Illustrated History of Islam by Abdul Rauf is an example. Published in 1993, it is said to be offered by schools as an ‘important side reading’. The cover is a watercolour painting depicting a Muslim warrior on horseback, wielding a heavy sword against what, I’m sure, are infidels.

    Not surprisingly, the book uncritically uses the usual (and clearly polemical) Arab sources (that started emerging some two to three hundred years after Islamic conquests). Insisting on portraying the religion as a culturally homogenous entity (with all other variations being heretical innovations), the author, it seems, uses a war drum instead of a thoughtful pen to jot down his thoughts.

    Then, as is typical of such history books, the author laments the downfall of the Muslim empire and squarely bases the reasons of this downfall on the theological innovations of Muslims that made them move away from true Islam and indulge in luxurious living and social laxities of the infidels. Of course, the author never touches upon the stark economic and political reasons that can explain the fall of empires in a more rational and thoughtful manner. That would require a pen, instead of the sword he seems to be using here.

    My favourite section of the book is a sub-chapter called ‘The Four Anti-Islam Elements.’ This is what the author writes: “Currently Islam faces grave dangers from the following four elements: Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists.” In other words, everyone who’s not Muslim is a threat to Islam.

    If such are the books being taught to children, is there any element of surprise left in watching certain TV personalities, politicians and their largely urban middle-class fans nodding in uncritical approval to what is simply a convoluted charade peddled as history and analysis?

    The scary thing is, the bulk of young, educated middle-class men and women are lapping up these one-dimensional and black and white ‘historical’ tirades, and then using them to understand the issue of terrorism and extremism haunting Pakistan. No wonder then that even in the face of some stark proofs of the local Taliban’s involvement in terrorist attacks and religious coercion, our minds, as if on hypnotic cue, shut down and let the irrational instincts studded with paranoia and denial rule the roost.

    ‘Can’t be us’, becomes the mantra. Has to be some Christians/ Jewish/ Hindu or other such ‘anti-Islam’ abomination.


    Also relevant:

    Rubina Saigol: Some myths vs facts about fundamentalism in Pakistan