Islamiat and Pakistan Studies: By Fr. Abid Habib

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APROPOS of Mr Z.A. Jalali’s letter ‘Islamiat and Pakistan Studies’ (Sept 11) I should like to say that he is wrong when he says that millions have been converted to Christianity. Muslims in rural areas may be ignorant about their religion but have not been converted because the laws of the country do not allow it.
I agree with Professor (Dr) Muhammad Ali Sheikh that Islamiat and Pakistan Studies should be discontinued at college level but Mr Jalali too is right in his observation that the argument given by the professor could be termed absurd logic. But here are some arguments that will make sense.
For the last 30 years the subject of ‘Islamic Studies’ has been made compulsory in colleges. Has it done any good? It has brought more damage than good to the cause of education. Prejudices and biases on account of religion, sect and gender that have been part of the curriculum are an obstacle to creating a tolerant society and moderate social behaviour. If we see sectarian division among the Muslims, the cause can be seen in the separate syllabus for Shias and Sunnis.
The common error the rulers make is that they think only for the benefit of the Muslims. They do not realise that we are living in a multi-religion society. And when they do consider anything for the minorities, it is still done for the benefit of the majority Muslim population. Here is one example in the field of education.
Students belonging to minority communities are offered Ethics in place of Islamiat but they are not inclined to study it as the subject is presented from the Islamic point of view and, furthermore, taking the subject would only isolate and enhance discrimination against them. That is why in order to avoid discrimination they are forced to take Islamiat as a subject. Therefore, in making policies and laws the authorities must take this particular fact into consideration.
Another fact is that the Christian community has contributed much in the field of education and though the policymakers recognise this fact, they never take them into confidence and never seek their advice.
Taking all these points into consideration, the Archbishop of Lahore, Lawrence John Saldanha, wrote an open letter to the President of Pakistan on July 24. The arguments he has put forward in this letter are based on facts and thus make sense and should be considered.
He requests the government to treat religion as an optional subject. Moreover, when religion is discussed in other subjects, the lessons must show equal respect to all religions and a reference to religion should be avoided in subjects of secular nature, or else the government should provide curriculum and teaching staff for all children to receive religious lessons in their own respective faiths, as prescribed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Articles 29, 30 and 40), which is signed and ratified by Pakistan.
He strongly recommends that the curriculum in Pakistan should comply with the ideal set out in Article 25 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality of citizens in all aspects.
Thus for the benefit of the country’s education, I strongly suggest that policymakers take into consideration the suggestions put forward by Archbishop Lawrence J. Saldanha. And in future, whenever they have to bring about a change in the education policies, they must include members of the minority community and come forward with such a curriculum that would benefit all.

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