New Pakistani school books to promote tolerance

Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistan is amending school text books to promote more modern, broad-minded education and encourage more tolerance towards religious minorities and women, the education minister said on Monday.

Islamic studies in the predominantly Muslim country, founded in 1947 as a homeland for the subcontinent's Muslims, would still be compulsory but students would be taught the country was not set up as a theocracy, said Minister of Education Javed Ashraf.

Religion would also be removed from text books for general subjects and schools would discourage narrow-minded religious tendencies among students, he said.

"We do not want our children to be just simple religious maulvis," Ashraf said, referring to Muslim clerics.

"We also want them to be good citizens," said the tall, former general in an interview in his office at the education ministry.

Pakistan's education system has long been a bone of contention between liberals and Islamists locked in a struggle over the direction of society.

Text books used across the country were infused with religious injunctions in the 1980s as part of an Islamisation campaign by a military ruler, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq.

President Pervez Musharraf, a major ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism who espouses a vision of "enlightened moderation", has called for the modernisation of education as well as reform of Islamist schools, some of which are seen as breeding grounds for militants.


Ashraf, a former head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency, said schools would highlight the country's Islamic identity but religious teaching would be confined to the compulsory religious classes.

"It has nothing to do with secularism or anything else. That's all propaganda and nonsense. We are remaining within our Islamic curriculum ... but what we have done is shifted it (Islamic teachings) from other subjects into Islamic studies."

Schools would also try to introduce more humane teachings of Islam, apart from simply focusing on religious rituals.

"Islam also teaches them how to behave. How to treat minorities, how to treat women ... how to treat neighbours." The new books will be used from September.

Introduction of the new texts follows a government-led amendment of Islamic laws on rape that were for decades deemend unfair to women.

Islamists, who fiercely opposed the changes to the rape laws, have also vowed to resist what they see as secularisation of education.

Ashraf rejected any suggestion the government was watering down the country's founding ideology known as the Two-Nation Theory. It states Pakistan was carved out of British India on the basis of cultural and religious differences with the Hindu majority.

"We continue to maintain the Two-Nation Theory because Pakistan was founded on the basis of this theory," he said.

However, while maintaining the theory, the new curriculum would stress the country was not meant to be a theocracy.

"The rationale for Pakistan ... was not that it would be a theocratic state. Pakistan was made for the Muslims of the subcontinent so they can ordain their lives in accordance with their culture, religion, values and also live honourably, emancipated from Hindu domination."

The United States and Britain have both promised millions of dollars in aid for education in Pakistan.