ASIA/PAKISTAN - Islamic studies no longer compulsory for non-Muslim students

Tuesday, 23 January 2024 education   islam   religious minorities  

Islamabad (Agenzia Fides) - It is a turning point for religious minorities in Pakistan: the study of Islam is no longer compulsory for non-Muslim students in schools at all levels. The Federal Ministry of Education and Vocational Training has approved the "Curriculum for Religious Education 2023", which is intended for students in grades 1 to 12 (from first grade to high school) who, for those who do not profess the Islamic religion, will replace Islamic studies, which was previously compulsory. As reported by the "Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association", the notification officially announced by the government on January 22nd concerns the educational path of Pakistani students who belong to officially recognized religions other than Islam, namely Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Kalasha, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism. For each of these groups, the Ministry undertakes to develop and approve a specific text for the "Religious Education" curriculum. From now on, these students will no longer necessarily have to study Islam, a subject that influenced their average and school grades, but will delve deeper into topics and contents relating to their religion. The new curriculum for religious education in grades 1-12 will be introduced from the next school year 2024-2025. Anjum James Paul, a Pakistani Catholic and teacher at the head of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers' Association, who has always campaigned for equitable education in the country, tells Fides: "We have been working on the issue of religious education for minority students since 2004. After a 20-year struggle in which we appealed to various bodies, institutions, governments and the Supreme Court, the Pakistani government has finally recognized this right and exempted non-Muslim students from the obligation to study Islam. We are grateful to the Secretariat of the National Curriculum Council and to all those organizations who, like us, are committed to ensuring that all students have equal rights and opportunities without discrimination and that pluralism is preserved".
"According to Article 22 of the Pakistani Constitution", said the professor, "no person attending an educational institution is obliged to receive religious instruction, participate in religious ceremonies or follow any religious cult other than his own." "This article is intended to guarantee freedom of religion or belief, which the government in Pakistan must protect in order to eliminate all forms of intolerance," he stressed. Anjum James Paul teaches social sciences at a government high school in Lahore, where he works to nip in the bud a mentality that promotes hatred and prejudice. "Another goal is to ensure that the textbooks used in Pakistani schools are free of religious prejudices that are harmful to minorities.
When the textbooks for religious education only talk about Islam or portray other religions negatively, there is an original flaw in the mentality, which has strong negative repercussions on the minds of children and young people, and therefore on society as a whole". Paul hopes that "the textbooks used in public schools promote peaceful coexistence, social harmony, equality, human dignity, cultural and religious diversity, non-violence and equality and portray Pakistan as a multi-religious and multi-cultural country." Following the campaign and the associations' request, the National Curriculum Council (NCC) allowed the publication of school books for students of the seven recognized religious communities under the supervision of the federal government already in 2023. After the approval of the NCC, the National Book Foundation (NBF) can publish textbooks on Hinduism, Sikhism, Christianity, Bahai, Zoroastrianism, Kalasha and Buddhism. As the head of the NCC, Maryam Chaghatai, said, this practice has already been introduced “ad experimentum” in the educational institutions of the federal capital Islamabad (the institutions under the direct administrative control of the Federal Ministry of Education) and will now be extended to the provincial governments. The Christian community in Pakistan has already presented and published textbooks for the new national religious education curriculum for grades 1 to 6, while teams of teachers and specialists are preparing texts on other religions, "free from any cultural and religious bias", Paul concluded. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 23/1/2024)