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Compulsory Quranic study in Pakistani schools causes angst amongst beleaguered Christians


Pakistan's increasingly extremist Government have recently announced that learning the Quran will be mandatory for school and college students of all ages. Moreover, 15 minutes of Quranic scripture recitations and prayers are to be conducted every day.

Yesterday the State Minister for Federal Education and Professional Learning, Balighur Rahman said:

We have already consulted over and presented the new syllabus to the Islamic Ideology Council and it has met their approval.  We are now awaiting the opinions of the provincial governments who have all been sent a copy of the new syllabus.

Once the proposed national curriculum is implemented children in years 1-6 will be required to learn Quranic recitations (Nazira). Students in years 7-10 will be taught to recite scriptural verses about the incidents in the life of Muhammed and the translations.  Students in years 10-12 will be required to learn the scriptural verses related to orders for the Ummah (Islamic people) and its translation.

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This latest controversy is in contradiction to Article 22 of Pakistan's constitution which states:

"(1) No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or take part in any religious ceremony, or attend religious worship, if such instruction, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own."

The Quran also teaches against forcing people of other faiths to Islam, Surah Al-Baqarah [2:256] - Al-Qur'an al-Kareem, states: 

"There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion...

However this verse, which is found in the early chapters of the Quran is often ignored by hardline Muslims who believe that the weighting in authority in latter books of the Quran, especially those post the migration to Medina, during a period when Muhammed was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the 'People of the Book' (Abrahamic faiths). 

Verses such as Quran (9:29) are used to defend the more aggressive position held by hardliners - " Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued."  

The latest moved by the Federal Government has alarmed the Christian community of Pakistan, many of them already fear the constant bullying, harassment and attempts to forcibly convert their children to Islam.  A report by the United states Commission for International Religious Freedom in 2011, sheds light on the situation, the report stated:

"Religious freedom concerns are also evident in Pakistan’s public schools. Pakistani primary and secondary schools continue to use textbooks that foster prejudice and intolerance of religious minorities, especially Hindus and Christians. Fifth-grade students read official textbooks claiming that “Hindus and Muslims are not one nation but two different nations. The Hindus could never become sincere in their dealings with the Muslims.”

Concerns were raised about the National curriculum textbooks of Pakistan that demonize and caricature Christians and other minorities, even going as far as labeling Christians as 'spies for the West'.  Already, Islamic studies is a mandatory subject for all pupils.  However in 2009 a new education policy heralded a new arena of literacy for all students in Pakistan.  The new policy allows minorities the option of taking an ethics course instead of Islamic Studies from third grade onward, whereas the previous policy offered this option only in grades nine and ten, sadly the ethics course was wrought out of the heavily Islamicised texts pre-2009 which contains many biases.

As If all the above was not enough to prevent Christian parents from sending their children to Pakistani schools, a more alarming statistic is the number of Christian girls being abducted from schools and streets which emerged recently.  In 2014, a report by Muslim NGO 'Movement of Solidarity and Peace' revealed an estimate of 700 Christians girls and 300 from other minorities that are kidnapped, raped and forced into Islamic marriage every year. In their report they described the manner in which crimes of this nature proceed:

"investigations find that cases of forced marriages/conversions follow a distinctive pattern: Christian girls — usually between the ages of 12 and 25 — are abducted, converted to Islam, and married to the abductor or third party. The victim’s family usually files a First Information Report (FIR) for abduction or rape with the local police station. The abductor, on behalf of the victim girl, files a counter FIR, accusing the Christian family of harassing the willfully converted and married girl, and for conspiring to convert the girl back to Christianity. Upon production in the courts or before the magistrate, the victim girl is asked to testify whether she converted and married of her own free will or if she was abducted. (In most cases, the girl remains in custody of the abductor while judicial proceedings are carried out). Upon the girl’s pronouncement that she willfully converted and consented to the marriage, the case is settled without relief for the family. Once in the custody of the abductor, the victim girl may be subjected to sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution, human trafficking and sale, or other domestic abuse."

BPCA's own investigations reveal that a high percentage of the victims are girls who have been invited out for a day of fun with Muslim friends at school.  A trip to the shops and a chance meeting with a father or uncle who 'fortunately' have a car that could make the trip easier, leads to a life of debauchery and torture. In each case the friend and her mother are complicit and culpable in the crime.  Moreover, we believe the figure set by MSP is conservative with truer figures being closer to at least 2000 girls kidnapped per year.

Bearing all this in mind is it a surprise that a huge disparity between the literacy levels between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority exists?

Only 7% of Pakistani Christians attain an adequate level of literacy.  86% of Pakistani Christians work as sewage workers, sweepers, domestic servants or are in bonded labour (modern day slavery). 

It is estimated that 90% of bonded labourers working in the brick kilns of Pakistan are Christians.   a male patriarch will have signed a contract for a loan of £50 to help with medical treatment usually.  When they sign their contract with a thumbprint -illustrative of their illiteracy - they are oblivious that the debt has immediately risen to over £5000, an amount they will never pay off in their lifetime. In fact the contract has now established that  their wives - who are often raped - their progeny, and further generations are to be contracted to a life of slavery. This reprehensible 'business' activity continues and proliferates despite Pakistan adopting anti-slavery laws in 1992 (Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992).

Wilson Chowdhry, Chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association, said:

"Britain and America plough money into Pakistan a nation that can only raise a tax from one percent of its population, leading on dependence on foreign aid.  Europe has ratified Pakistan's application for Generalised System of Preference status .This means that trade between Europe and Pakistan for certain predetermined items, is now duty free. £225 million pounds of Britain's £445 Million budget given to Pakistan last year was allocated towards holistic educational reform.  This places Britain internationally as a sponsor of the state sponsored hatred towards Pakistani Christians in my opinion.  I pray our MP's see sense and either terminate the aid to Pakistan their largest recipient or place conditions in place that insist upon improvements with human rights conditions for retention of, or continued funding. Removing this latest risible drive towards compulsory Quranic studies has to be a priority."

He added:

"The attempted  annihilation of Christians through forced conversion is indicative of a genocide.  Christians are being discriminated and persecuted increasingly through the use of biased legislation and policy.  Christians are subjected to 15% of allegations under the blasphemy laws of Pakistan which only protects Muslims.  This despite Christians only making up 15% of the population. The culture of impunity for perpetrators of violence towards Christians has led to several mob attacks on Christian enclaves, where homes and churches are looted and then razed to the ground.  Christians in Khyber Pakhtunkwa are paying Jizya tax (Islamic protection money) to the Taliban insurgents who seem to have a secret alliance with Pakistan's authorities. Moreover churches and Christians have been targeted  in public places have suffered 3 bomb attacks in four years - worse is still to come!"

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