South Asia

Pakistan makes Islamic teaching compulsory in all government schools

The Pakistani Senate passed a bill making the teaching of the Quran compulsory in all educational institutions which are controlled or owned by the federal government.
‘The Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Bill, 2017’ was presented by the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Shaikh Aftab Ahmed.
According to the provisions of the bill students from grade 1 to 5 will be taught to read the Quran in the Arabic text while students from grade six to 12 will read the Quran in Arabic accompanied by simple Urdu translation as well.
The text of the bill says, “It will make the divine message understood; ensure the repose of society; peace and tranquillity; promote the supreme human values of truth, honesty, integrity, character building, tolerance, understanding others’ point of view and way of life. It will lead towards spreading goodness and auspiciousness and towards ending chaos and uncertainty.”
According to the bill, it will also help the state discharge its constitutional responsibility as article 31(2) of the Constitution states: “[the] State shall endeavor to make the teachings of the Holy Quran and Islamiyat (Islamic Religious studies) compulsory”.
The bill also says that there would be no additional expenses for books and teachers as translations will be donated to all federal government schools and all the educational institutions already have teachers who can easily teach the Quran and its translation.
In April 2017, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed the same bill approving compulsory Quran education for all Muslim students studying in government schools from class 1 to 12.
At that point, Balighur Rehman, the State Minister for federal education and professional training, clarified that the legislation was meant only for Muslim students. The minister said in widely-reported remarks that this bill was demanded by the people and “was the need of the hour”.
In Pakistan, a bill is proposed law under the consideration of legislature and does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and in most cases, approved by the executive. The Parliament of Pakistan has two houses: the lower house (National Assembly) and the upper house (Senate).
Bills can be introduced in any of the houses but they need majority in order to be approved. If the National Assembly passes a bill, as in this matter, the bill is then sent to the Senate for approval by the speaker of the National Assembly. Once approved by the Senate as well, the bills are sent to the President of Pakistan for approval. When the President signs the passed bill, it becomes an Act or Law or Statute. If the bill gets two thirds majority in Parliament, then the President is bound to sign the bill. This is the case in the latest instance of the Bill on compulsory Islamic education.
After the bill was passed in April 2017 it faced widespread criticism.  Describing it as ‘a desperate effort’, Anjum Altaf, Fellow at the Consortium for Development Policy Research in Lahore wrote in The Express Tribune that ‘the growth in strife and intra-religious bigotry’ in Pakistan ‘is there for all to observe.’
Responding to the bill’s passage in the Senate, Nasir Saeed Director of CLAAS-UK said the bill would have a negative impact on non-Muslim students. “Many will be forced to take it as subject, if there is no other choice. It will promote bigotry and hatred against non-Muslims in Pakistani society, something which is already on the rise.”
“It is sad that instead of promoting freedom of religion and belief, the government is forcing children to study religion,” he added.