LAHORE, Pakistan, NOV. 15, 2011 (Zenit.org).- A U.S. commission on religious freedom released a report last week that shows Pakistani school children are taught intolerance of minorities. The findings were backed by the Dominican director of a center in Lahore, who says a reform of Pakistan’s education system is urgent.
The government study, published Nov. 9 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), found that Pakistan’s public schools and Islamic religious schools (known as madrassas) negatively portray the country’s religious minorities and reinforce biases that fuel acts of discrimination, and possibly violence against these communities.
Dominican Father James Channan, director of the Dominican Peace Center in Lahore, told Fides that he finds the report to be “completely correct.” He called for an “urgent reform of the education system.” According to Father Channan: “The teaching of religious intolerance in schools is at the root of the rise of violent religious extremism in Pakistan, the weak religious freedom and national instability.”
Titled “Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan,” the study involved the examination of social studies, Islamic studies, and Urdu textbooks and pedagogical methods in Pakistan’s public school system and its madrassa (religious education) system. The goal of the year-long study was to explore linkages between the portrayal of religious minorities in public schools and madrassas, biases that exist against these minorities, and subsequent acts of discrimination or extremist violence. According to the report, “a significant minority of Pakistan’s thousands of religious schools, or madrassas, reportedly continue to provide ideological training and motivation to those who take part in religiously-inspired violence in Pakistan and abroad.”
The report is comprised of information gathered from interviews conducted with teachers and students about their views on religious minorities, as well as from the textbooks used in the schools.
According to one of the report’s findings, public school textbooks used by all children often had a strong Islamic orientation, and Pakistan’s religious minorities were referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether. Father Channan, who as director of the Dominican Peace Center has been engaged in education and interreligious dialogue for decades, confirms this finding
He told Fides: “In the textbooks used in public schools intolerance is openly promoted; it is said that Islam is a superior religion and speaks negatively of other faiths. We are very concerned about this approach: these ideas, propagated from primary schools to universities in the so-called Islamic Studies, but also social sciences, disorient and manipulate the minds of young people.”
In regards to the representation of Christianity within the public school textbooks, the report states: “The textbooks do not contain many references to Christians specifically. The few references that do exist seem generally negative, painting an incomplete picture of the largest religious minority in Pakistan.”
Christians and Hindus together are only 5% of the population of Pakistan, which is 95% Muslim.
The Dominican priest noted the Church’s involvement in education, saying it even plays a key role in educating Pakistan’s leaders. However, more resources are needed, he affirmed. “We have schools and colleges, but not Christian universities,” the priest said, “which would be necessary. Many Muslim politicians have received education in Christian schools: the current Prime Minister Raza Gilani studied in the Dominican and LaSallian schools in Multan. Of course, more should be done for minorities, not only words but concrete actions, such as reforming the national education system.”
According to Father Channan, the government is hesitant to reform the education system out of fear of Islamic extremists. “The Islamisation of textbooks in Pakistan began with the dictator Zia-ul-Haq and successive governments, including the current Pakistan People’s Party, have never had the strength to reform the education system, because of the pressures and constraints imposed by Islamic extremist groups and religious parties.”
Father Channan told Fides: “The government is weak; it does not have the capacity and does not intend to challenge them. We were expecting reforms, but this did not happen, because in recent years the country has gradually Talibanized, with a loss for minorities and for democracy itself.”
“The bishops,” he continued, “and many institutions working in the field of education have reported these problems publicly and sent recommendations to the relevant federal organizations such as the Ministry of Education. The findings were accepted but when it came to implementing revisions and modifications, the project was put aside. This happened because of the strong influence on behalf of fundamentalist groups.”
The publication of the U.S. commission’s report coincided with the religiously motivated murder of four Hindu doctors in the small town of Chak. The crime is believed to have resulted from a dispute between some Hindus and a group of Muslims. In response to the murders, Hindus and Christians alike organized a hunger-strike, demanding that the government take firmer action against the violent propaganda promoted by Islamic extremists.