Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our Poisoned Education System

 I still remember that day when a healthy discussion over some issue was going on in my economics class at university, when my professor, a PhD, uttered the words ‘Alhamdulillah, I am a sunni, I am a muslim.’ These words took me and many other likeminded students in my class by surprise. I could not get the bizarre logic of uttering these unnecessary words in the midst of a socio economic discussion, especially when the class, although in minority, comprised of students from diverse religious backgrounds. Even if she considered it essential to make a reference to the Islamic economic system, she could have easily done that in a mild tone without boasting about her own religious and sectarian affiliations wrapped in an ‘Alhamdulillah’. Moreover, the way this sentence was uttered, and the order in which her sectarian view followed by her religious affiliation was mentioned, it gave an impression as if her views are divinely superior to others. At that point of time, none of the students present, including me, dared to cut her off in the middle and question, protest or confront her on the statement that she made.

            This issue remained on my mind for a couple of days and for some reason I could not find the courage to speak to my professor about it. I tried to explain myself that may be I am overreacting as even the people who were the potential victims of her statement did not react to it, and perhaps it was expected from students at mature ages (age groups between 20 to 23 years) to remain tolerant towards difference of opinion. Some part of me was but still unsettled and was insisting that this statement itself had a heavy intolerant undertone.
            I had forgotten about this seemingly minor incident, until after three years, when I took up teaching. It was somewhere between the first ten days of Moharram this year, when one of my students confronted me as I entered the class.
‘Ma’am, why are you wearing black?’ She inquired.
‘Why, what’s wrong with that.’ I replied casually as it didn’t occur to me what she was pointing at.
‘You are not a shia, are you?’ She threw another question.
‘Well, there is no connection between my religious identity and what I wear and there is nothing wrong with that.’ I was paranoid about how to reply to this young lady clad in a pair of jeans.
‘There is a connection. Since Shias wear black during Moharram, it is not appropriate for us to use a similar dress code.’ She confidently explained her reasoning behind questioning me.
            This attack of hers not only did refresh the buried memory of the three year old incident I quoted above, but was even much more hard hitting than the one I experienced as a student. Hard hitting, because my student was as young as fifteen years of age. I might have find some lame explanation to calm myself and let go off this incident as well like the earlier one, had I not received another blow in the stomach only a few days later, which primarily became the reason why I decided to write about it. I came across one of the students from a renowned ‘islamic school’ based in Karachi that claims to impart modern education (Cambridge system) along with providing an environment for ‘islamic grooming’ simultaneously. The said school is known as part of the mainstream modern English medium schools in Karachi that follow Cambridge system curriculum, and has its branches spread throughout the city. It so happened that I found her studying ‘Islamiyat’ from a book that was not a part of the books endorsed by GCE syllabus, nor did I ever come across any other major schools using any such book. When I inquired her about why isn’t she studying from the book used by all other schools and is part of the book list given by the GCE, she explained that her school does not allow using that book. When I further asked her about the reason behind that, she told me that it is because that is a Shia book, which was of course not true.
            The truth however is, that the said book had certain content that was not in agreement with the self-righteous, orthodox religious philosophy that the school adhered to and aimed at inculcating the same in the young minds. Upon further inquiring about the ‘islamic grooming environment’ of the school, I figured out that it is essential for all the female students of the school to wear a hijab and for all the male students to wear a muslim cap, regardless of how young they are. Moreover, female teachers are only given a job in the school on the condition of wearing an abaya in the premises, thus justifying their claim of a ‘Shariah Compliant’ faculty.
             Over a period of time this trend of modern educational institutions offering Cambridge system in Islamic environment has grown stronger, with many such institutes opening up all over the metropolis. The student population of these schools come from urban families with a decent economic background, mainly those who are torn apart between their modern lifestyles and the new wave of ‘religion mania’ to the extent that even whether to say ‘Khuda Hafiz’ or ’Allah Hafiz’ is an issue of concern for them.
            No, I am not at all against teaching religious values to young children, but my contention is the definition of ‘Shariah compliant Islamic education.’ Almost all of these Islamic schools serve the aim of propagating religious views of their own sect, rather than preaching on common grounds and peaceful coexistence. This is much more dangerous than the sectarianism spread through madrassah system, which is usually justified by making poverty and illiteracy as an excuse. These ‘modern’ education institutes are dangerously poisoning young minds by inculcating sectarian differences sugar coated in the name of ‘modern education.’ Ironically, these schools are registered as part of the conventional private educational schools and are not registered as part of authorities regulating the madrassah system, which means that there is almost no check and balance on what is taught in these schools in the name of modern Islamic education.
            Only a decade back, when I was at the same age, I was least concerned about what colour I wear in a certain month. Back then, we competed with other schools in terms of sports, drama, and oratory skills. I am afraid that if the trend of imparting sectarianism through modern education continues at the same rate, by the next decade students in this country will compete each other in terms of Barelvis, Deobandis, Salafis and Shias, and I do not even want to imagine how severe the degree of that competition would be? 

An edited version of this article was published in Express Tribune Blogs on January 29, 2012.


  1. Gandhi once addressing Hindus said:
    "It is a matter of deep humiliation that we Hindus regard several million of our own kith and kin as too degraded even for our touch."
    I think this quote goes for us Muslims also.

    1. Agreed Sumaiya. The way minority views are being treated in our society is dangerously similar to the class system in Hindus that Gandhi highlighted.

  2. @ Sana Iqbal

    1st after reading the title on tribube i thought another discriminant article towards sect . . . But i really admire your truth fullness and positive approach .

    We all are Pakis n Muslims v should stick to common teachings socialy not emphasize on differences . . . I my self have faced this M graduate of A Well known University in khi, During a class on of teacher said to student while degrading Shias by saying something absurd about " Imam Jaffar e Sadiq " .

    It was very sad to hear that but as u said no buddy knew how to reply as it also matters about grades also . . .

    But in no way extremism should be allowed in paki society all should live in peace n harmony without creating sectrian debates specially in high profle private university sector . .

    As we all live eat and go togather in uni life regardless of sect, we do combine study togather even ppl also have tolerance towards eat other they don mind if some1 wears black during muharram etc But current wave of such preaching is slowly started ruining also the university life which is meant to b remembered always . . .

    Lastly I really appreciate ur article as u have said many ppl's heart voices . . . if u further write something keep us informed, Positive thinkers should not remain silent atleast not in this information age . . :)

    1. Thank you for your support and appreciation Khizar :-)

  3. This is polarization, which can be eroded by mutual harmony ,education,exposure and awareness responsibilities at individual level.When topic of Library wil be discussed in streets, than above irrationalities are prone to mashroom growth,

    1. I agree that this polarization can only be eroded by mutual respect which has to be taught through education. This is where the danger comes into the picture. The education system, which in essence should be the source of teaching peaceful coexistence and mutual respect, is rather being used to spread venomous levels of hatred against opposing views. In a society, where we cannot expect much from our political and religious leaderships, we as individuals should take the responsibility of creating awareness and raising our voices against any kind of discrimination.

  4. Beautiful writing. I am an Indian and I have always been concerned about situation in your country.It's good to see people like you writing about serious issues. I have found that most of the writers/thinkers in Pakistan talk too much about geopolitics and conspiracy theories.Thank you for exposing the systemic problem. I am of the view that wrong ideologies should be tackled by literature and moral persuasion rather than by guns. People like you should write more and more :)).. All the best.. :)

  5. Well written Sana :)Pakistanis are divided in every way be it religion, ethnicity, linguistics, culture etc. We are a nation who is groping in the dark, pushing every one who blocks us. Keep it up.

  6. I am khan and i am not a terrorist

  7. i m khan and i m not a terrorist

  8. Good blog! I really love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I've subscribed to your feed which must do the trick! Have a nice day!
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  9. Even though one can't criticize the education system based on your 3 examples(more facts are needed to support such a broad statement) but i'll still agree with you the shia people in our society are mistreated. I am a sunni and i have been time and again told by the society to stay away from shia people. Now i understand that they are all like our brothers and sisters just like any other sunni relation.
    It is quite evident that sectarian issues are bound to rise in an uneducated and uncivilized society. The only was to undo such injustice is by giving quality education especially about islamic morals and ethics.
    If only we can united as a one nation, we can become invincible.

  10. Education and religion should stay as far from each other as possible.

    Some day I hope we all shall classify each other as humans and humans only.

  11. Well, If the objective of this article is to respect FREEDOM OF SPEECH then the pointed institution comes under same rule. Secondly, We are all muslims and off course our objective should be to achieve bounties in afterlife. So we should be in search and struggle for truth that can drive us for ultimate success, AAKHIRAT.

    Debates and taunting are not the solutions.. We just point the problems rather than solutions. So every writer should have some conclusion or suggestions to solve these issue.

    So my questions are :

    1. I am a Muslim and I want to please Allah and have Janna'h. What should I do for that? A Firm Belief, Qur'aan and Sunnah is the only way to follow. Coz GOOD or BAD cannot be decided by me, It is already decided by Allah and we have to follow. If I am wrong please advise.

    2. Being a Muslim, (Not Those people who use Relegion for their own benefits) everybody want and consider himself on a right path. So is it my duty to learn Islam on a correct way or I should believe in what people say around me in the name of FREEDOM OF SPEECH?

    3. Lastly, this issue is not only in Karachi or in Pakistan... google it and you'll find killings for sects allover. And those who dislike Islam is using this as a perfect tool to damage us. So in this case, Kindly tell everybody the schema to solution What is a duty of a Muslim, I repeat A MUSLIM in this scenario?

    Hope I won't be criticize as EXTREMIST, TERRORIST, BACKWARD or blah blah. I would be happy if suggestions arrives for solutions

  12. Thank you all for appreciating. Keep visiting.