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Education should not promote ignorance

DHAKA (UCAN): In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday massacre in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Christian religious leaders across Asia are calling for their counterparts from the Islamic faith to take a strong stand against Islamist extremists, as well as to promote reconciliation, forgiveness and a proper, balanced interpretation of religion.

“The attack is an outcome of a barbaric and insane interpretation of religion by a group of misguided people who exploit religion for vested interests,” Bishop Gervas Rozario, the chairperson of the Bangladesh Justice and Peace Commission, said.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a Taliban splinter group, claimed responsibility for the March 27 suicide bombing naming Christians as the target, although they were a minority of the more than 70 casualties and 300 or so injured.

Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which once was part of Pakistan, has seen a series extremist attacks and threats on religious minorities, including Christians.

“From Europe to Asia, no one is safe from fundamentalist threats and attacks, not even in Bangladesh where the majority of Muslims are peaceful. But minorities continue to be attacked sporadically and possibilities of a gruesome attack like that of Lahore can’t be dismissed,” Bishop Rozario said.

The bishop added that it is not possible for governments in Pakistan or Bangladesh to contain fundamentalism unless large sections of their citizens are involved in a mass social movement against extremism.

The Justice and Peace Commission in Karachi, Pakistan, points to hate material that it says in prevalent in text books used in a majority of schools in the country.

“The first priority of the education system should be teaching students about humanity, moral and ethical values,” Father Saleh Diego, from the commission office in Karachi, said.

“Inculcating hatred among innocent children will lead to massive disasters in the future,” he said. “We have to discourage such discriminatory material in our textbooks that creates division among children belonging to different religions, castes, ethnic groups, tribes and cultures.”

Kashif Aslam, a programme coordinator for the commission, said researchers reviewed 70 textbooks, which are used in 74 per cent of Pakistani schools.

He revealed that many of them contained what he termed hate material and content against other religious beliefs and nationalities.

Authorities in the provinces of the Punjab and the Sindh have gone through many of the books and edited this type of material out. However, he pointed out that in Khyber Paktun Khwa and Baluchistan provinces there has been no progress in reducing hate content in school texts.

“This has been due to political compromises,” Aslam told the conference.

He said one textbook used in Baluchistan contains the lines, “Muslims are superior to the people of all other nations.”

He then gave other examples from a social studies book that say, “Hindu India poses a danger to Islam” and a history book that states, “British rulers of the sub-continent considered Muslims as their real enemies, because they took over the rule from Muslims.”

Shafi Muhammad Jamote, a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, told the conference that instead of promoting fundamentalism and extremism through education, it would be better if the focus was placed on moral and ethical values.

A member of the parliamentary opposition, Syed Hafeezuddin, said he appreciates the work done by the text book commission, but added there is a long way to go in addressing the issue.

“It is only the beginning… it will not be easy to change the mindsets of people in a short period of time,” Hafeezuddin said. “But we have to speak about such matters and dialogue with governments and political parties.”

Karamat Ali, the executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, said religious intolerance is an extremely serious issue. The use of religion in politics and society should be curtailed, otherwise the future of this country will be bleak.

Charles Amjad Ali, a professor from the Luther Seminary in the United States of America, voiced his concerns over the direction in which Pakistan is heading.

“Any state which is incapable of looking after the rights of minorities is dysfunctional and not a state in the true sense,” Ali stated.

Discriminatory laws in Pakistan, particularly the infamous blasphemy laws, give state patronage to militant groups, which breeds deep-rooted intolerance and reaffirms the chronic ignorance that makes the country a living hell for the minority Shia Muslims, who along with Christians, Hindus and Ahmadi Muslims a prime target of Sunni extremists.


While Ahmadi Muslims are constitutionally declared non-Muslim, Christians and Hindus are made to suffer from the blasphemy laws, while Shia Muslims are regarded as infidels.

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