By Kamran Chaudhry
Educationists in Pakistan are demanding an alternative course for minority students after Punjab’s governor made studying the Quran compulsory in universities.
Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar said it will be compulsory for Muslim students to attend “Quran with Translation” lectures, adding that it will help them to become good human beings.
Sarwar has constituted a seven-member committee of university vice-chancellors to submit its recommendations by May 10 on how to make the course part of the syllabus. The draft will then be shared with vice-chancellors of other public and private universities and clerics in the province.
“I believe Allah is angry because of our mistakes,” he said, referring to the Covid-19 pandemic that has caused 18,114 confirmed cases and 417 deaths in the country.
Muslim students are already studying recitation of the Quran from grade one to 12. Islamic Studies is also a compulsory subject for every Muslim student in state-run schools across the country. Minority students can opt for ethics as an alternative subject. However, parents often complain of the absence of books on the subject in stores.
The Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association (PMTA) requested the governor to treat religious minority students equally in a letter sent on April 25.
“Unfortunately these students are deprived of civil rights including freedom of religion and equality of citizenship. The decision to oblige only Muslim students is certainly discriminatory and biased,” said Catholic professor Anjum James Paul, chairman of the PMTA.
“Minority students are deliberately deprived of equal rights. Kindly review your decision and make arrangements for the compulsory study of their holy books as well on an equal basis.”
The Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), an interdenominational organization working for persecuted Christians, shared his concern.
“Forcing compulsory teaching of the Holy Quran with Urdu translation against the will of non-Muslim students and their parents will have a negative impact on non-Muslim students. It will promote bigotry and hatred against non-Muslims in Pakistani society, something which is already on the rise,” said Nasir Saeed, director CLAAS-UK.
“It is sad that the government is forcing students to study religion. It is also shameful that there are 11 minority MPs in the Punjab Assembly, and nine of them are Christians, but nobody raised their voice or is asking for an alternative program for non-Muslim students.”
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, in its annual report released last month, recommended the State Department to designate Pakistan as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.