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In Pakistan's Public Schools, Jihad Still Part of Lesson Plan

The Muslim nation's public school texts still promote hatred and jihad, reformers say.

August 18, 2005|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

LAHORE, Pakistan — Each year, thousands of Pakistani children learn from history books that Jews are tightfisted moneylenders and Christians vengeful conquerors. One textbook tells kids they should be willing to die as martyrs for Islam.

They aren't being indoctrinated by extremist mullahs in madrasas, the private Islamic seminaries often blamed for stoking militancy in Pakistan. They are pupils in public schools learning from textbooks approved by the administration of President Pervez Musharraf.

Since joining the U.S. as an ally in its "war on terror" four years ago, Musharraf has urged Pakistanis to shun radical Islam and pursue "enlightened moderation."

Musharraf and U.S. officials say education reforms are crucial to defeating extremism in Pakistan, the only Islamic nation armed with nuclear weapons. Yet reformers who study the country's education system say public school lessons still promote hatred against non-Muslims and urge jihad, or holy war.

"I have been arguing for the longest time that, in fact, our state system is the biggest madrasa," said Rubina Saigol, a U.S.-trained expert on education. "We keep blaming madrasas for everything and, of course, they are doing a lot of things I would disagree with.

"But the state ideologies of hate and a violent, negative nationalism are getting out there where madrasas cannot hope to reach."

The current social studies curriculum guidelines for grades 6 and 7 instruct textbook writers and teachers to "develop aspiration for jihad" and "develop a sense of respect for the struggle of [the] Muslim population for achieving independence."

In North-West Frontier Province, which is governed by supporters of the ousted Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan, the federally approved Islamic studies textbook for eighth grade teaches students they must be prepared "to sacrifice every precious thing, including life, for jihad."

"At present, jihad is continuing in different parts of the world," the chapter continues. "Numerous mujahedin [holy warriors] of Islam are involved in defending their religion, and independence, and to help their oppressed brothers across the world."

The textbook for adolescent students says Muslims are allowed to "take up arms" and wage jihad in self-defense or if they are prevented from practicing their religion.

"When God's people are forced to become slaves of man-made laws, they are hindered from practicing the religion of their God," the textbook says. "When all the legal ways in this regard are closed, then power should be used to eliminate the evil.

"If Muslims are being oppressed," the book says, "then jihad is necessary to free them from this cruel oppression."

"Jihad" can mean peaceful struggle as well as holy war. Jihad can be waged on several levels, beginning with a peaceful, inner struggle for one's own soul and escalating to killing "infidels."

But Pakistani critics of the public school system maintain that jihad's softer sense is easily lost in lessons that emphasize that Muslims are oppressed in many parts of the world, and that encourage fellow Muslims to fight to free them.

"Some people coming from the regular school system are volunteering for various kinds of jihad, which is not jihad in classical Islamic theory, but actually terrorism in the modern concept," said Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani author and professor of international relations at Boston University.

"All of that shows that somehow the schooling system has fed intolerance and bigotry."

About 97% of Pakistan's people are Muslims, so it's not unusual for its government to promote Islamic values in public schools. Many Muslims find that versions of history taught in countries dominated by non-Muslims are biased against Islam.

But Pakistan's public education system goes beyond instilling pride in being Muslim and encourages bigotry that can foment violence against "the other," said Haqqani, who has written a new book on the links between the Pakistani military and radical Muslims.

Under Pakistan's federal government, a national curriculum department in Islamabad, the capital, sets criteria for provincial textbook boards, which commission textbooks for local public schools.

Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired army general and former head of the military's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, was named education minister in September to revive a stalled reform effort. He acknowledges that the job is still only half finished.

In a nation with one of Asia's highest illiteracy rates, Qazi said he was determined to have specialists rewrite course guidelines and textbooks, from the first grade to the college level, so that "the curriculum will be in line with that of any other advanced country."

"We don't want to condemn any religion -- which we will not," he added.

A study of the public school curriculum and textbooks by 29 Pakistani academics in 2002 concluded that public school "textbooks tell lies, create hatred, inculcate militancy and much more."

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