Islamic extremism in Pakistan has its roots in the country’s educational system. As long as religious hatred is taught in school text books, discrimination and intolerance towards minorities will continue to thrive among young people

Islamic extremism in Pakistan has its roots in the country’s educational system. As long as religious hatred is taught in school text books, discrimination and intolerance towards minorities will continue to thrive among young people

Schools are at the heart of the problem but at the same time, they are the key to defeating terrorism and religious extremism in Pakistan. Many are adamant about this: experts, educators, bishops, civil society organisations, politicians and scholars alike. “For as long as the jihad begins in the classroom and religious hatred is fostered through state school text books, it will not be easy to imagine this country as one that exudes tolerance, a peace-building country that strives for harmony,” Professor James Paul Anjum explained to Vatican Insider. Mr. Anjum is a Christian and President of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association (PMTA).

The organisation is engaged in a widespread social, political and institutional campaign that calls for the review educational policies on a federal level and above all for the monitoring of ideas that pass into public school curricula and text books in Pakistan.

What it is asking for is simple: the formation and education of Pakistani children, teens and young people in schools, institutes and state universities, should espouse the principles of citizenship, inclusion, dignity and rights for all, without discrimination being shown towards citizens  who do not profess the Muslim faith. Educational institutions must offer young people an interpretation of national historical events that acknowledges the contribution of religious minorities in building the nation, as Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted.

Instead of spreading religious hatred, fuelling prejudice and intolerance, thus instigating violence, state education should be based on values such as respect for people’s dignity and harmonious co-existence in society. 

The issue has been brought to the attention of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the Ministry of Education on a number of occasions. Representatives of religious minorities are asking to become members of the committees that examine text books that are then used in state education bodies.

Widespread research carried out by the PMTA has shown that text books used in the academic year 2014-2015 for various subjects including history, social studies, Urdu language, English, general knowledge and Islamic and ethical studies, all of which were approved by the competent authorities, “use vulgar language and contain propaganda, controversial topics and elements of misinformation against religious minorities in Pakistan”.

The current national curriculum violates the Pakistani Constitution as it accepts “text books that only preach the Muslim faith, inviting students to convert to Islam, promoting Islamic religious identity”.

Anjum noted that “there is patent discrimination against religious minorities in text books. These books shape a certain mentality: when reading and studying them, young people can easily be convinced that it is ok for Hindus and Christians to be burned alive, kidnapped, abused and raped because they are inferior”. This, he noted, is the source of all discrimination and persecutions against religious minorities in Pakistan.

The subject was raised and investigated by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Pakistan (NCJP): a detailed report meticulously examines the texts books for a number of subjects taught at schools of all kinds and levels and the conclusion it came to was this: “Books that promote extremism against religious minorities urgently need to be pulled from schools. Instead, young people need to be taught respect for all human beings, human rights, social harmony and peaceful co-existence.”

International entities and organisations agree on the diagnosis which makes the age-long problem of terrorism and extremism a question of political will. According to Madiha Afzal – a Pakistani researcher, who is author of “Education and attitudes in Pakistan”, a study on the country’s educational system, published by the United Institute of Peace in 2015 – the system gives “a confused narrative” on terrorism, attributing it solely to foreign factors or powers.

School text books and curricula play a decisive role in shaping the minds of young people on the causes of violence and terrorism. If one bears in mind that most acts of violence witnessed in Pakistan from 2001 onwards were committed by young people under the age of 30, it is clear to see that the education challenge is crucial and a serious reform of the educational system is a process that is to be taken seriously.

Vatican Insider