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Jehad And The Curriculum

By Beena Sarwar

03 April, 2004

Pakistan's so-called religious parties are up in arms at the rumour that
references to Jehad are to be removed from Pakistani textbooks - biology,
for example. Never mind the relevance of jehad (and that too, a particular
kind of jehad) to biology; the Pakistan government's policy of appeasement
continues. "I am a fundamentalist," declared Federal Education Minister
Zubeida Jalal in a television discussion recently ('Capital Talk', Geo TV,
March 25, 2004), meaning that she believes in the fundamentals of Islam.
"But I am not a terrorist." Good for her. However, the point is not what her
personal beliefs are, but what kind of beliefs the Pakistani education
system is inculcating.

Those who blew themselves up at the Quetta Imambargah, taking dozens of
innocent lives with them, would also undoubtedly affirm that they are devout
Muslims, and deny that they are terrorists. But actions speak louder than
words, and those who think that by killing others they are participating in
a jehad, obviously have a very narrow and distorted view of Jehad, its
principles and its true spirit. Where does this view come from?

The idea of Jehad was incorporated into the Pakistani Curriculum after the
start of the Afghan war. This "is not a coincidence", as Pakistani academic
A.H. Nayyar notes. At that point it suited Washington, and its most allied
of allies, Pakistan, to encourage and glorify the "Mujahideen", or holy
warriors, in the war against the Soviets - and an American institution of
higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for Pakistani schools
accordingly, says Dr Nayyar. "The institution was University of Nebraska at
Omaha, which has a center for Afghan studies which was tasked by CIA in the
early eighties to rewrite textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new
books included hate material even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has
five bullets and two go into the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are
left, kind of stuff. This was exposed in a research thesis from the New
School, New York in about 2002."

Since the Soviets are no more, the "Mujahideen" have not only mutated into
"Taliban" but have also outlived their usefulness, the same American
university has been given an additional grant to "re-re-write textbooks,
taking out material on jehad, etc", as announced by none Laura Bush, wife of
US President George W. Bush in early 2002, adds Dr Nayyar. "But the funny
thing is that the books of early eighties were very acceptable to the
Taliban, except figures and pictures. So they continued with them, only
blackening the pictures. After the rout of the Taliban, because the new
books could not arrive in time, the Karzai government (read the Americans)
was forced to use the earlier books already available, but perhaps now
perhaps the newer books have arrived in sufficient quantity to make the
older books redundant."

Meanwhile, Ms Jalal is vehement in her denial that the Pakistani curriculum
is being changed at the behest of either Washington, or because of a recent
study titled The Subtle Subversion: The State of Curricula and Textbooks in
Pakistan, co-authored by Dr Nayyar and Ahmed Salim (text available at The point is not who is behind the changes being discussed,
but the urgent need for such changes, which the government of Pakistan
itself is cognizant of.

In the same TV talk show, columnist Ataul Haq Qasmi argued that if
references to Jehad were removed from textbooks, then all Islamic references
might as well be discarded. This again is not the point, especially since no
one is advocating the removal of all Islamic references from our curriculum.
But it is clear that what has been propagated since 1979 is a very narrow
view of Islam, taught with the specific aim of getting the youth to follow a
certain path. The result, says the Subtle Subversion study, is that our
children have been "educated into ways of thinking that makes them
susceptible to a violent and exclusionary worldview open" to the
"sectarianism and religious intolerance" that President Musharraf identified
as a major crisis facing Pakistan even before the attempts on his life.

Opponents of the report have taken issue with its focus and tried to divert
attention from its findings by questioning the 'agenda' of its authors. But
there is no arguing with the facts and findings it presents in great detail,
including textbook references and their page numbers. Going through the
study, it becomes clear that it is not just some madrassahs that are
spreading hatred, sectarianism and religious bigotry, but also the
prescribed government textbooks.

Those who are opposed to the SDPI study would do well to examine previous
such studies that have been undertaken, most notably the historian K.K. Aziz
's 'Murder of History' (Vanguard Books, Lahore, 1992). Based on the scrutiny
of 66 textbooks used in the schools and colleges of Pakistan by students of
classes of 1 to 14, one of the chapters was published as a series of 11
lengthy articles in The Frontier Post, in April and May 1992.

`The cumulative effect of these shoddy textbooks, as summed up by Mr Aziz,
is horrifying and stunning. The inbreeding from these repetitive, incoherent
and subjective books compulsorily prescribed in all schools and colleges of
the country generates hypocrites, blindfolded zealots, fundamentalists,
intriguers, time servers and ignoramuses with the highest degrees," wrote
one Professor M. I. Haq in a letter to the editor (The Frontier Post, May
11, 1992).

This was by no means the last such study until the SDPI work. Dr Rubina
Saigol in her book Locating the Self (ASR, Lahore, 1994) has scrutinized how
Pakistani textbooks construct India and Hindus as enemies, and incite
hatred, bigotry and alienation with our eastern neighbour. It is another
matter that similar activities are being carried out in India, where the
Sangh Parivar is busy re-writing history to the extent of leaving out the
religious identity and political affiliation (RSS) of Mahatama Gandhi's

Government bodies in Pakistan have not always turned a blind eye to such
slanting of history. As Zubeida Mustafa pointed out in a recent article, the
National Committee on Education, constituted under the chairmanship of the
federal education secretary, in 1999 prepared a report National Curriculum
2000: A conceptual Framework, "calling for a paradigm shift in order to
produce 'involved, caring and responsible citizens'. This report was stored
away in the minstry's records on some dust-laden shelf." (Curriculum of
hatred, Dawn, March 31, 2004)

Nor is on just on issues of communal and religious intolerance that one can
fault our textbooks - they fare no better on gender issues, as Ruqaiya Jafri
's study, "Gender Bias in Pakistani School Textbooks" (presented at the
SPELT seminar, Karachi, 1993) found. More recently, The Subtle Subversion's
chapter 'Gender Biases and Stereotypes in School Texts' alleges that the
producers of Pakistani textbooks "are actively resistant to the idea of
women's rights and believe in the preservation of the status quo". It cites
the 1959 Report of the Commission on National Education, in which women are
viewed not as individuals and equal citizens in their own right, but as
wives and mothers only, disregarding all other categories.

Do later textbooks reflect the increasing participation of women in the
public and professional spheres over the years? The Gender Biases chapter
says not. A 1985 study found that girls were shown most often in passive
roles, enforcing traditional stereotypes. Matters have not improved over the
years - a "gender biased division of roles is woven into almost all the
exercises and stories in these books, thus we have constant references to
men performing active and/or heroic roles and women engaged in passive,
often frippery activities".

This mindset is obvious in the Federal Curriculum Wing's recent refusal to
incorporate the late journalist Najma Babar's article 'Madam Chairman, Sir',
in a proposed Class Ten English textbook submitted by the Sindh Textbook
Board. The article is about the young Najma going to work, while her husband
got the children ready for school and looked after them, since she had a job
and he didn't. The reason given for censoring this article from the proposed
textbook, was that it goes against the values of Pakistani society!

Obviously, the Curriculum Wing officials don't believe in moving with the
times, or allowing texts to include views that do not reflect the dominant
ideologies and traditions. But how else are our children to learn that there
are other ways of thinking and seeing?

Little wonder then, that "Instead of being able to acknowledge diversity in
points of view, they (students) are likely to look at the world in
oversimplified, uncritical 'black and white' and 'us versus them' terms and
to develop single dimensional, exclusivist mindsets". (The State of
Education, Annual Review, 2002-2003, Social Policy and Development Centre,

The English course has not changed in over forty years. Many children
struggle with English as a second language, which they know is still the
language of power in this country. Accordingly, the senior English language
teaching (ELT) experts, who were commissioned by then Sindh Education
Minister Prof. Anita Ghulam Ali to formulate new English language textbooks
for Classes 8-12, tried to include material in these new textbooks that
would make English learning more interesting, accessible and

However, the Federal Curriculum Wing rejected much of the new material and
provided a list of topics that the new English textbooks should include --
like drug abuse, traffic rules, festivals of Pakistan and so on. Topics
which are hardly likely to excite the imagination of most students.

But it is the material that was removed from these proposed English
textbooks that is of particular concern. Besides Najma Babar's article, a
poem by Khalil Jibran was also censored, apparently on the grounds that he
is Jewish. Even if he was, should the religion of a great poet and
philosopher be reason enough to remove his work?

Similarly, an essay by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's daughter Dina
Wadia about her father was removed. The reason given was that he had
disowned her, and in any case she is not a Muslim. Are these reasons valid?
Dina Wadia was recently given the status of a State Guest when she visited
Pakistan for the first time since her father's death. She has stayed away
all these years because, as she has said, she didn't want to be didn`t want
to be appropriated by anybody for political purposes. One wonders how she
would feel about being censored for political purposes.