Pakistani Textbooks Teach Discrimination Against Non-Muslims, Says U.S. Commission

Patrick Goodenough | November 9, 2011 | 4:51am EST
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A Pakistani Christian schoolboy walks past a poster of slain Christian leader Shahbaz Bhatti, posted on a school gate in a predominantly Catholic village near Faisalabad. This photo appears on the cover of a new study of Pakistani school textbooks released by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on Nov. 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

( – Textbooks used in Pakistani public schools and religious madrassas promote intolerant views of non-Muslim minorities, extol jihad, and portray non-Muslims not at citizens with rights but as infidels, pagans, apostates or subservient dhimmis,  according to an unprecedented new study.

Interviews with teachers and students, carried out as part of the investigation, found that negative views of non-Muslims contained in the books are widely held by teachers and transmitted to children.

The study was funded by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) while the research was conducted by the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy in partnership with a Pakistani think tank, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute.

A 139-page report was released by the USCIRF in Washington on Wednesday.

“This study – the first-ever study of its kind – documents how Pakistan’s public schools and privately-run madrassas are not teaching tolerance but are exacerbating religious differences,” said USCIRF chairman Leonard Leo.

“Education reform incorporating religious tolerance is critical to the development of a society that values human rights, including religious freedom, for all its citizens,” he said. “Teaching discrimination increases the likelihood that violent religious extremism in Pakistan will continue to grow, weakening religious freedom, national and regional stability, and global security.”

The USCIRF, an independent, statutory body that advises the U.S. government on religious freedom around the world, has called every year since 2002 for the State Department to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” (CPC), but to no avail.

Under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, CPCs are countries whose governments either perpetrate or condone “systematic, ongoing, and egregious” abuses of religious freedom. The U.S. may impose sanctions or take other diplomatic steps designed to encourage improvements.

In the new study, researchers reviewed more than 100 textbooks, used by Muslim and non-Muslim students from grades 1-10, in Pakistan’s four provinces – Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They also interviewed hundreds of teachers and students at 37 public schools and 19 madrassas.

“The goal of this study was to explore what linkages, if any, exist between the portrayal of religious minorities in Pakistan’s public schools and madrassas, biases that exist toward these minorities, and acts of discrimination or extremism resulting from such biases,” Leo wrote in the preface to the report’s preface.

The results, he said, were “eye opening and concerning.”

Despite efforts by Pakistani authorities to reform the education system over the past six years, including revisions to the national curricula, the investigation found that problematic content remains in textbooks, including those that have been reprinted since the revisions were introduced.

Even ostensibly non-religious textbooks contain significant Islamic content, and they are used by Muslim and non-Muslim children alike.

For example, in grade 3,4,5 and 6 Urdu-language social studies textbooks used in all four provinces, lessons with Islamic content comprise about one-quarter of the total.

The study found that the defense of Pakistan is equated with the defense of Islam.

“The anti-Islamic forces are always trying to finish the Islamic domination of the world,” reads an excerpt from a grade 5 Punjab social studies textbook. “This can cause danger for the very existence of Islam. Today, the defense of Pakistan and Islam is very much in need.”

Where reference to non-Muslims or non-Islamic beliefs do appear, they are often derogatory.

“Religious minorities are often portrayed as inferior or second-class citizens who have been granted limited rights and privileges by generous Pakistani Muslims, for which they should be grateful, and to whom religious minorities should be subservient,” the report states.

“The contributions of religious minorities towards the formation, development, and protection of Pakistan are largely absent.”

Hindus are often singled out, as are Ahmadis, adherents of an Islamic sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims.

“Although an unbiased review of history would show that Hindus and Muslims enjoyed centuries of harmonious co-existence, Hindus are repeatedly described as extremists and eternal enemies of Islam. Hindu culture and society are portrayed as unjust and cruel, while Islam is portrayed as just and peaceful.”

The few references to Christians “seem generally negative, painting an incomplete picture of the largest religious minority in Pakistan,” while Jews are depicted as predatory moneylenders.

The report acknowledged that many public school teachers and students do “advocate respect for religious minorities, but a large portion do not understand minority citizenship rights and are wary about them ever holding public office.”

‘Fight until they submit or convert to Islam’

Books used in madrassas, privately-run religious institutions, were especially worrying.

“In every madrassa textbook reviewed, the concept of jihad has been reduced from its wider meaning of personal development to violent conflict in the name of Islam, considered to be the duty of every Muslim. The Qur’anic verse commanding the believer to ‘kill the pagans [or infidels or unbelievers] wherever you find them’ is often cited with no context.”

“At no time is it suggested that decisions regarding warfare should be left to the state, creating the possibility that the reader could consider it his or her individual responsibility to fight,” the report says.

While public school textbooks tend to make negative generalizations and omit positive facts about religious minorities, those used in madrassas prescribe unequal status and treatment for non-Muslims, who are generally portrayed as fitting in one of three categories:

--Infidels or pagans:  “They are treated as enemies, and there are clear, recurring orders to fight against them until they submit or convert to Islam.”

--Dhimmis:  Referring to those who have “protected” status under Islamic law and are subjected to humiliating regulations and taxes, textbooks encourage segregation, instruct that dhimmis are not equal to Muslim citizens, and instruct Muslims to make them uncomfortable.

--Apostates:  Madrassa textbooks reviewed gave instructions that a person who has turned away from Islam must be arrested and given three days to repent on pain of death. One book advised that an apostate should be killed immediately.

Hardline views were also evident in the interviews.

“As many as 90% of the teachers interviewed for this study had a reductionist understanding of jihad, referring only to killing or fighting in the name of Allah or for Islam,” the report stated. “As many as 80% of the respondents considered non-Muslims to be enemies of Islam.”

The report’s recommendations include: full implementation of the curricular reforms introduced six years ago; removal of derogatory content and inclusion of content highlighting contributions of religious minorities to Pakistan; anti-discrimination training for school leaders and faculty; and the creation of an effective, confidential reporting mechanism for incidents of minority discrimination.

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