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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The School of Tomorrow: Part 3 - The Religio-Political Factor

An important issue to consider in the face of increasing polarization, but one from which many shy away ...

It is no secret that a tussle exists between the religious right-wing forces, on the one hand, and the middle-of-the-roaders (plus the few remaining liberals) on the other. The latter have no clear-cut, or even well-defined, agenda (other than not accepting the views of the right-wingers), perhaps because of the lack of a common platform or coordination among themselves. The former, for all their internal disputes - mainly over aspects of shariah or fiqah, that would primarily affect the teaching of Islamiyaat in schools - are committed to the Islamization of Education, always a puzzling notion to me, since I thought Islam recommended all Education. (Sorry. I must correct myself. It recommended Learning, not Education. Subtle difference, no?).

The process of Islamization of Education, it has often been stated, should cover every aspect: from the educational environment, itself, to the content and the way it must be taught. Among several questions that must be looked at, in this light, should the religious parties come to power (or form an even stronger opposition), are:
• Will Arabic be made compulsory (as some have demanded)? Does that mean our children will - in addition to Arabic - have to learn a provincial and/or community language (their need and genuine right), plus Urdu (the National language), plus English or some other language (as an International language, for Business or Higher Education abroad)?
• Will Co-Education at any level be acceptable? If women are, eventually, to be excluded from certain jobs or fields, as many Ülema have suggested, will the State stop teaching them those subjects or skills?
• What limits, if any, will be placed upon the freedom of Private Schools?
• How will non-Muslim Missionary Schools be affected?
• Will non-Muslim students (although even the definition of this label seems fluid), in State or all schools, need to sit through History or other subjects where, by implication, their beliefs and heritage are often subject to ridicule, as is occasionally the case now? (Download the SDPI Report — Nayyer and Salim’s The Subtle Subversion — on the state of our text books. The report caused much furore, chaos and embarrassment all around.)
• Even if we 'excused' the non-Muslim kids and sent them off to attend Morality 101, or some other Character-Building class, will not highlighting the differences affect the behaviour of the Muslim children toward them? Even more important, will emphasizing such differentiation (in any way) not make it easier for ‘the enemy within’ to exploit and incite violence among our population?
• Will access to education via the new media (considering just the TV and the Internet, for now) be curtailed?
• Will the Media itself — a greatly useful resource in Education — be heavily censored?
• Will the Virtual University be supplemented or replaced by a Virtuous University?
Further difficulties will arise, inevitably, and will also demand to be tackled. For example, the curriculum will need to undergo a massive change as the objectives of Education are re-defined, or split into two separate objectives on the basis of gender. Even three, if one of the goals is to help the minorities to live peacefully as 2nd Class Citizens. Lest you feel that I am trying to make things seem worse than they would be, this idea of all non-Muslims being 2nd Class Citizens under a Muslim State was introduced by a popular leader in Islamic thought (at least in Pakistan), Dr. Israr Ahmad, during a recent Aaj Islam TV segment.

The Islamization of content and teaching methodologies brings to mind examples from the bleak Zia era, when suggestions, such as those from the Jamaaté Islami run Institute for Policy Studies, included the following. (These and more examples can be found in Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy's book, Islam and Science: Religious Orthodoxy and the Battle for Rationality)
  1. • Teaching Cause and Effect was deemed unIslamic as God was the cause of all. So the correct methodology of teaching such basic facts as 'Two parts of Hydrogen and one part of Oxygen combine to form Water' had to be supplemented by "God willing" or similar phrases.
  2. • Since all laws are God's Laws, it is unIslamic to call them Boyle's Law or Charles' Law.
And we are not even touching Evolution, a subject that seems to annoy many (but, thankfully not all) members of the Religious Right, the world over. The recent Dover School Board Trial in the USA, where Creationism - under the rather flimsy guise of Intelligent Design - was being introduced as Science, represents one end of the spectrum. At the other end lies this country.

It is more likely, here, that it is Evolution which may need to be cloaked in order to be taught. Although no law (to my knowledge) exists against its teaching, chats with numerous students and teachers reveal that this highly important portion of teaching Biology is now glossed over in many classrooms. The reasons include, sadly, the fear among teachers, of being trapped into answering a question that could then implicate them in a long brawl, and even punishment, under Blasphemy Laws.
Commonly known as the blasphemy law, section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 stipulates that any person who ‘by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly’ defiles the name of the Islamic Prophet, Mohammad, is liable for blasphemy. In additional to a fine, he shall be punished with the death sentence or imprisonment for life.

In 1990, the Federal Shari’at Court ruled that the penalty for blasphemy should be mandatory death sentence, with no right to reprieve or pardon. The decision of the Federal Shari’at Court is binding but the Pakistani Government has so far failed to pass the necessary bill to amend the law. Hence the current situation is that the clause ‘or life imprisonment’ is void, even though the Pakistani Government has often used this anomaly to defend itself against critics of the death penalty.

The final post in this series will cover issues connected with Globalization, New Media, and Regional Cooperation.

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