Minority students in Pakistan forced to study 'Islamiyat'

Karachi, Pakistan - Non-Muslim students in government-run schools in Pakistan struggle with studying 'Islamiyat' as they are unfamiliar with reading and writing Arabic. But lack of alternatives and facilities means they don't have a choice and are forced to continue in these schools.

This affects the lives of thousands of Hindu and Christian students who have no option but Islamic studies in state-run educational institutions, The Daily Times has said.

Though almost all Pakistan's 145 million citizens are Muslims, there are a small but significant percentage of minorities as well -- 1.5 percent are Christians and 1.5 percent are Ahmadis/Qadianis, Hindus, Zikris, followers of other faiths, or persons of no organised religion.

A majority of over two million Pakistani Hindus have lived and worked in Sindh for centuries and half a million of them live in Karachi city alone.

But the Sindh government and the education board of Karachi have failed to implement a separate syllabus in the city's primary and middle schools for minority students.

Islamiyat, or Islamic studies, is compulsory for all Muslim students in state-run schools but there is no parallel curriculum in other religions. The education board has introduced 'akhlaqiyyat' or ethics to cater to them but most state-run schools in Karachi do not allow non-Muslim students to take it up.

"In reality, teachers often force these students to sit in Islamiyat classes. This takes place even though no written permission has been acquired from the parents of the child in question," said the newspaper.

Most teachers at the schools the paper's correspondents visited were unaware of alternative curriculum for the non-Muslim students. In most of these schools, non-Muslim students were said to be studying Islamiyat.

"What else can we do if the state is encouraging such practices," said Ganesh Maheshwari, a resident of Lee Market. His three children, studying in different classes, are studying Islamiyat rather than ethics or any other parallel religious studies.

Besides the fact that this is confusing for them, they don't do very well in the subject either. "How can a child who has never heard Arabic in his or her life at home suddenly study Islamic education," the report quoted Satpal, another Karachi resident, as saying.

"Sometimes our Arabic teachers behave strangely with us and order us not to touch 'Lughat ul Quran' as we are Hindus," said John Blanai, a Class 6 student at Sindh Madrasul Islam School.

The school's principal, Brig. Taj Muhammad Memon, rejected these allegations and said that the subject of ethics was offered as a parallel course.

The report also cited the example of Angela, a Hindu and a Class 3 student at N.A. Bechar Government Primary School that has been converted into the Syed Mahmood Shah Ghazi Government Primary School.

But Abdul Salam Abbasi, the headmaster of the school, tells an entirely different story: "Many non-Muslim students who study Islamic education appear to be keen about the subject and they get more marks as compared to the Muslim students."

When asked about possible solutions, former parliamentarian Khatoo Mal Jewan suggested Hinduism education for Hindu students. "Islam as well as the constitution of Pakistan fully protects the basic rights of religious minorities and it is the duty of the state to protect their rights," he told Daily Times.

Advisor to Sindh chief minister on minority affairs, Kishan Chand Parwani, said bluntly: "Islamic education is not a compulsory subject for all students, there is an option for non-Muslim students to study ethics but if the students and their parents do not want to avail the option then what can we do?"

According to him, no school in Karachi forced students to study Islamiyat. "I will personally look into the matter if any school has issued a written circular for non-Muslim students to study Islamic education by force."

"Not only that, we recently hired a Hindu teacher to teach religion to the Hindu students," he added.