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Pakistani educationists reject committee on religious education

Catholic academic says minorities are more suited than Muslims to preparing books for non-Muslims

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Pakistani educationists reject committee on religious education

Students attend school in Karachi on Sept. 15 after educational institutes were reopened nearly six months after the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP)

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Catholic educationists in Pakistan have denounced a review committee for developing the school religious education curriculum for non-Muslim students for the next academic year.

Nine Muslim members as well as the convener of the committee will review the present curriculum of ethics for grades 3-5. The committee will also suggest an “appropriate name” for the subject of ethics.     

Catholic professor Anjum James Paul, chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, criticized the plan.

“Minority experts are in a better position to prepare such books. We reject any content on interfaith harmony or Islamic interpretation of minority faiths. This notification seems to be like the National Commission for Minorities, which is dominated by Muslims,” he told UCA News.

“India’s national education policy 2020 based on plurality, diversity and inclusiveness is highly appreciable. We only demand implementation of Article 22 (1) of the constitution of Pakistan which prohibits the teaching of a religion to students other than their own.”

Islamic Studies is a compulsory subject for every Muslim student in state-run schools across Pakistan. Minority students can opt for ethics as an alternative subject. However, parents often complain of the absence of books on the subject in stores. The proposed subject of religious education will replace ethics.

In March, the government announced it was finalizing a draft uniform syllabus for grades 1-5, completing the first phase of the implementation of the single national curriculum.

The new plan involves reading the entire Quran with translation in the primary section, learning Islamic prayers and memorizing a number of hadith (words, actions and approval of the Prophet Muhammad) in Arabic with their translation.

It also stipulates that every school and college must employ a pair of certified hafiz (a person who has memorized the Quran) and qari (a Quran reciter) to teach these subjects. The new policy will ensure jobs for 6,000 madrasa graduates, analysts say.

Asher Javed, chief executive of the Catholic Board of Education, also expressed his concerns. 

“We are still awaiting a draft of the single national curriculum but have strong reservations about it. The young students will be uncomfortable reading Islamic content given the situation in our country. The government must think about incorporating minorities in the review committee,” he said.

In 2017, Christian girl Muqadas Sukhraj was moved to evening classes at a school in Attock after she opted to study ethics instead of Islamic Studies. According to her family, a Muslim teacher punished her for not learning Islam and ordered Muslim students to avoid eating with her.

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