Children in Pakistan are forced to learn about Islam from an early age – even those that don’t come from Muslim families. CSI’s local partner is leading a campaign to keep religion out of school books, which fuel hatred against Christians and other minorities.
The teaching materials used in Pakistan’s schools are written by Muslims for Muslims and extol Islam and Muslim culture. Other religions are ignored or even denigrated. This practice has been allowed to continue even though it goes against the constitution, which says no one should be forced to have religious instruction in a faith other than their own. Anjum Paul, of the Pakistan Minorities’ Teachers Association (PMTA), says it’s time to treat minority religions with respect.
Imagine you are a Christian girl in the second grade at a public school. You love learning new things. But you don’t like school because your classmates make fun of you. They call you an unbeliever and put pressure on you to become a Muslim. Sometimes in class you read negative things about Christians in your schoolbook. Everyone, including the teacher, turns to look at you and asks how you could believe such things. You even read lies about your faith, for instance that Jesus did not die on the cross but was saved by God.
At times you feel marginalized and sad. In your English book you read “My grandfather is in the living room, reciting from the Holy Koran.” But your grandfather is a Christian.
A Christian friend of yours from the fourth grade has already dropped out of school: she couldn’t take the ridicule any longer.
Anjum Paul, who set up the PMTA in 2004, is leading calls for Islam to be taught only in religious education classes. He also argues that Christians and other minorities should be allowed to educate their children in their own faith, as guaranteed by the constitution.
CSI’s project partner has conducted studies of the teaching materials used in all Pakistan’s provinces and presented his findings to the local and national education authorities. He argues that schoolbooks need to be rewritten to remove religious bias.
In his own province of Punjab, Anjum Paul has already made a difference. He contributed a chapter to a history book for the eighth grade showing how Christians played a positive role in the creation of Pakistan.
Anjum Paul is hopeful that the situation in Pakistan’s schools will change for the better. “I am sure that the day will come when Pakistan recognizes the beauty of diversity, and everyone will be treated equally,” he says.