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Unveiling the Facts of Compulsory Religious Education in Pakistan

Pakistan is among few countries where governments ensure compulsory religious education for its messes with the tax money in public educational institutions. The state collects tax money from its citizens from Muslims and non-Muslims.

The government directs privately owned institutions to follow the same policy and curriculum of religious education. According to 1998 census, Muslims are 95 percent of the total population and non-Muslims are made up 5 percent. Among the non-Muslims, Hindus are in big number in Sindh and Christians in Punjab.

For decades Islamic education (called Islamiyat Compulsory) had been taught to Muslims and non-Muslims. However, the subject of Ethics was introduced for non-Muslims for the last decade. The government has given the option to students belongs to religious minorities to take Ethics from grade one to fourteen. However there is no curriculum for grade one to eight. Neither book nor any trained teachers to teach the subject. The details are given below.

For grade one to five. No books and staff is available alternate to Islamic education for students of religious minorities. When grade five exams are conducted. Half chapters of social studies book are declared Ethics. From grade six to eight the case is similar.

For grade nine & ten, Jamshoro University, Sindh developed the curriculum of Ethics. The Punjab textbook board approved that curriculum for its non-Muslim students of the province but never ensured the availability of books in the market. Nor special trained teachers were assigned to teach the subject.

The subject of Ethics for the students belongs to religious minorities from class one to ten makes it hard to study when the books are not easily available in the markets despite Lahore markets in few shops. The subject creates miseries for the students. One, lack of books and secondly lack of trained teachers. The students who have to study the Ethics or religious education from Class one to ten, like from one to eight grades no curriculum is there from the government or schools. When a child gets admission in grade nine, he/she is given a subject for whom they do not have basic knowledge in their previous classes. Thus it becomes difficult for them to understand and learn about the subject alternate to Islamic education.

Taking subject of Ethics and struggling for the book for months caused more vulnerability for the students. It creates frustration and depression for the students. The same case is with the students studying in colleges for Intermediate and Bachelors Degree programs.

Another question arises; Ethics is definitely not the alternate subject of Islamic Education. For instance, Islamic education is taught to Muslims, for Christian students, its must be Christian education based on Christian beliefs similarly for other religions.

It is strange no government has realized the need to ensure religious education to the student belongs to other religion in Pakistan. The governments have violated the fundamental rights of religious minorities for not been able to arrange the religious education.

Since the educational reforms were introduced and free books are distributed in government schools. Textbooks of other subjects are printed in millions but no books of Ethics are distributed among the students of religious minorities. The Punjab government does not have the data of students to distribute the books. These books are sold in the markets of Lahore only. Students from central & south Punjab are helpless.

There have been no serious efforts made by the state and federal governments to ensure religious education to minorities’ students. The government hired experts’ years back to formulate curriculum for Islamic education. These experts were paid high stipends and special teachers for Islamic education were trained and appointed by the governments. Everything was paid from the tax money to educate 95 percent population with Islamic Education. The government is appreciated for such zeal to provide religious education for its citizens but neglected the students belongs to religious minorities. The following steps are proposed to government to ensure religious education for the minorities’ students:

* Establishment of National Commission for Religious Education for Minorities. The Commission must be tasked to develop agreed curriculum based on the beliefs of the minorities’ religion.

* State governments should establish training centers at least one in each province in the capital city where the teachers will be trained.

* Appointments must be ensured in schools for Religious education.

* National and state level Conferences must be organized for the religious, social, political and educational experts of religious minorities. The government can prepare a plan of action on the recommendations of the minorities’ leaders.

* The state governments should collect the data of students belongs to religious minorities to produce free books alternate to Islamic Education.

* The state governments should make sure each student has books until the new curriculum is replaced by Ethics.

Interestingly the book of Ethics does not contain a single chapter about the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ. The non Muslim students appearing for the exams of board of Intermediate and secondary education written clearly the Subject Ethics alternate to Islamic Education but it has been noted each year many students are issued roll no slips with the subject of Islamic education. When a student highlights the error of the board, rather board apologize the student it rather directs the complainant to reach board office and get the correction done. Students who become victims have to pay the money for fare and have to gone through a trauma like situation until the correction is made.

The similar case is with Allama Iqbal Open University. The students appearing for intermediate and Bachelors degree programs take Ethics but they are sent book of Islamic Education. It has been occurring repeatedly. If a student complains he/she is directed to get the correct book from the nearer regional offices. The error is committed by the sections distribution of books or admission department but a student belongs to minorities have to pay and suffer.

United States Commission on Religious Freedom (USCRF) has also mentioned the miseries of minorities’ students for the subject of religious education in its recent report. USCRF has declared Pakistan, a Country of Particular Concern.

Ashfaq Fateh, 38, studied civic and human rights at Pakistan’s leading University, The Aga Khan University, Karachi. He has been working to promote peace, human rights and particularly for Christian’s rights. He has also been working against the discriminatory laws prevailing in Pakistan. His wife, Rafia Salomi, is serving as deputy director for Society for Human Development, popularly known as Human Development Center, an icon of Christian’s rights in Pakistan since 1984.

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