The textbooks being used in Madrassas were originally written in Arabic centuries ago. The books on philosophy and logic were written in thirteen and fourteen centuries. Books on health and medicine, written in the eleventh century, are still considered relevant and books on religion were written between eleventh and seventeenth centuries.
Early schooling builds basic foundations of students’ character by setting ethical parameters and teaching a universal value system to children in schools. With this goal, school curricula in developed countries teach their children basic human values of honesty, cleanliness, love for humanity, respect for others, accountability, human rights, hard work, gender equity, justice and fairness.
In our society, however, the school curriculum propagates an extremely narrow worldview, spreads hatred toward minorities, and indoctrinates a militant ideology. With an overall religious overtone, this curriculum tends to develop a pseudo sense of superiority in Muslim children.
This invisible strategy of producing a highly prejudiced generation is implemented through three tactics of distortion, omission and degradation. Thanks to these tactics, by the time school children grow up they develop a clear perception of who the “inferior others” are in all social contexts.
Through distortion most school textbooks in Pakistan offer an inaccurate historical view of the subcontinent where history starts and ends with Muslims as a dominant cultural, military and economic force in the region. Through the practice of omission and exclusion, positive contributions of minorities in the society are completely excluded from textbooks. Finally, the curriculum portrays religious minorities as an insignificant part of the society degrading them as second class citizens.
A recent study of textbooks in Pakistani schools “Fanatic Literacy or Education” conducted by the National Commission on Justice and Peace (2012)indicates that minority religions are viewed with “contempt and prejudice” in the school curriculum. These books are so much overwhelmed with the information on Islamic studies that even the books on sciences and linguistics have about 20 percent of information on Islam and related issues.
The study also deplores that minority students are forced to learn Islamic studies as a mandatory subject on the pretext that either qualified teachers are not available to teach minority religions or they are expensive to hire if available. In an environment where intolerance rules the day, thousands of Christian and Hindu students have no choice but to study Islam for their own safety.
Another study published in 2011 “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan” conducted by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) in partnership with the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) analyzed textbooks and interviewed students and teachers in public schools and Madrassas in Pakistan.
The overall conclusion of the study also confirms that religious minorities are portrayed either in derogatory terms or they are entirely excluded from textbooks. The Social studies and Pakistan studies textbooks, for instance, generally treat India and Great Britain negatively but “Hindus are often singled out as particularly inferior or evil,” the study reveals.
The textbooks for grades four, five, six, eight and ten also either degrade Hindus or ignore them altogether and distort the history of the subcontinent. The following comment, for example, in a Social Studies textbook for grade six, bluntly distorts historical facts:
“Before the Arab conquest, the people were fed up with the teachings of Buddhists and Hindus.”
Although these textbooks have limited references to Christians, whatever information they have on them is highly negative and demeaning. In historical contexts, for example, it is mentioned that despite good treatment “Christians never appreciated nor liked Muslims’ rule on Jerusalem.”
The textbooks reviewed also include limited but mostly negative and derogatory comments on Jewish and Sikh communities completely ignoring positive contributions of religious minorities in Pakistan who served as successful judges, administrators, artists, army officers, researchers and educationists.
Surprisingly, the study also reveals that the textbooks being used in Madrassas were originally written in Arabic centuries ago. The books on philosophy and logic were written in thirteen and fourteen centuries. Books on health and medicine, written in the eleventh century, are still considered relevant and books on religion were written between eleventh and seventeenth centuries. No wonder why the generation educated in religious schools still lives in the past, untouched with the realities of the 21st century.
This dangerous indoctrination of our children not only echoes how their teachers view minority religions, it also transforms students into chauvinist monsters. Some of the following comments made by teachers and students as part of the study amazingly reflect stunning patterns of their thought proecess:
- For public school teachers Jihad refers to violent struggle against the enemies of Islam
- Over 80 percent of public school teachers viewed non-Muslims as enemies of Islam
- School teachers also thought that non-Muslims do not respect their religion
- Although most students thought minority religions should be respected, they criticized these religions anyway
- Students also viewed non-Muslims as enemies of Islam.
Realizing that school textbooks are poisoning our youth with the information full of hatred toward minority religions, education reforms of 2006 attempted to change the school curriculum. Although the reforms accomplished the task successfully, these two research studies demonstrate that roots of fundamentalism are still strong in our school textbooks.
Creating a civilized society does not happen in a vacuum, it starts from classroom. It’s a sin that we have not only failed to educate a large number of our children during the last half-a-century, we failed to educate them in becoming a civilized member of the society.