By Rabia Ahmed
April 26, 2016
In Pakistani schools, making it compulsory to study the Holy Quran is a bit like insisting the prime minister to take a cruise along the Panama Canal for his birthday, never mind that it’s supposed to be a beautiful spot.
Yet, compulsory Quranic studies is apparently in store for young Pakistanis according to a speech given by the Minister of State for Education and Professional Training, ‘Engr’ Muhammad Baligh ur Rahman.
Mind you, speeches given by government ministers are often so much chaff, but still, speaking at Al-Huda International School’s fourth annual day celebrations (where else?) ‘Engr’ Rahman said that;
“This process would be initiated after consulting all the provinces through the platform of Inter Provincial Education Minister’s Conference (IPEMC).’’
The minister explained that Nazra Quran (learning to read the Quranic script) would be taught from grade one to grade five, and ‘proper’ Quranic education with translation would be taught to students of grade six to grade 10 in all public schools.
I’m curious to know; what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education? Whose interpretation takes precedence when our religious ideals constantly conflict with one another? Why on earth should one officially go down that road, when you’re bound to be stuck at an intersection?
It’s sort of like Alice in Wonderland, when Alice, wishing to know which road to take, asks the Cheshire cat:
“What sort of people live here?”
“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. They’re both mad.”
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice protested.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Seeing that we had little choice and were born here, you could wave your hand towards Gilgit and say,
‘Up that way lives one community of people,’ and this way’ waving your hand around Punjab, ‘lives a substantial population of another.’
‘Down that way,’ waving your hand towards Sindh ‘lives another group of others.’
‘And across that way’, waving your hand vaguely towards Afghanistan, ‘lives a group of people who, along with many of those living in this country think that every community but theirs is mad and bullets are the best way to eliminate the differences .’
The reader looks confused.
‘Does that make sense?’ you ask.
‘No,’ the reader says flatly.
‘Good! Good!’ you say with some satisfaction. ‘It only means you are mad as well, like the rest of us. Welcome to Pakistan.’
Which brings us back to the question; which of these people would you consult as to what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education? And what do you do about those segments of the population for whom the Holy Quran is not valid at all?
Well the government could and apparently does exempt this segment of the population, the non-Muslims, from studying the Holy Quran. Having said that, a little boy Naveed Rafique hailing from Chak-21 GB, Jaranwala enrolled in a government school near Faisalabad was recently barred from sitting the viva for Islamic studies because the examiner felt he must perform ablutions before the exam, and Rafique, being Christian, did not know how.
Now in Punjab, an Islamic study is already a compulsory subject. If you happen to belong to one of the hapless non-Muslim communities you can take Ethics instead. But Rafique’s school could not afford to hire an Ethics teacher for him – the only non-Muslim in the school. Rafique was therefore forced to opt for Islamic studies, but come exam time, he was unable to take the viva.
Question 1: How many schools are there in the country that can ill afford additional teachers like Rafique’s school?
Question 2: How many people do you suppose think the way the examiner did in Rafique’s school?
Question 3: Are they mad or are you?
Answer: I’m not, so they must be.
Well then, good luck for a consensus on what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education. Oh, and welcome to Pakistan. You fit right in.
Now duck, there’s a bullet headed your way. Or mine.