Seeds Of Islamic Radicalism In Pakistan Sown In State School Textbooks: Study 


Religious exclusivity and hostility to non-Muslims are stressed in Grade 9 to 12 textbooks, says researcher Habib Qazi of Leicester University

Pakistan is currently under siege on two fronts – the economic and the ideological. The challenge on the economic front can be tackled by ample foreign financial assistance and prudent local management. But the harder challenge is on the ideological front.

Islamic radicalism and militancy have now risen to new heights in Pakistan. A local variation of the Afghan Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is now at center stage, killing, with impunity, hundreds, including school children and Security Forces personnel. The TTP is difficult to handle because it is touting an ideology (the supremacy of Islam, Muslims and the Sharia) that the Pakistani State and its polity cannot easily brush aside. 

Pakistan has defined itself as an Islamic State. It was established as a Homeland for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent supposedly because the Muslims could not preserve their religion and culture in the midst of Hindus (known as the Two-Nation theory). This being so, the question arises as to how the present-day Pakistani State and polity can easily reject the TTP’s ideology. 

Keen observers of Pakistan have noted that among the people, there is a growing affinity with the TTP’s ideology due to the failure of the political system in existence since independence 75 years ago. This is the reason why governments and the army have not met the TTP head-on. They have been talking to the extremists and even had a ceasefire with the TTP from June to November 2021.  

While the foundation of religious exclusivism and hostility to Hindus  was laid by the Two Nation theory in 1947. As the years rolled on the “othered” category included the Ahmadiyyas, Christians and Shias too.

This ideology’s perpetuation after independence was done by indoctrination in schools through textbooks. In his 2021 paper on the content in State school textbooks from Grade 9 to 12, Muhammad Habib Qazi of Leicester University UK ( says that students are told to see the world in terms of Muslim versus Non-Muslim. Self-righteousness and ethnocentricity mark the content. The idea of plurality and inclusivity is conspicuously absent.  

Qazi points out that the Pakistan Constitution, drafted in 1973, had declared Islamic ideology as the basis for the creation of Pakistan. It required both the Prime Minister and the President to be Muslim. Subsequent amendments made the Ahmadiyyas “non-Muslim”. A Blasphemy Law with death sentence followed, which targeted non-Muslims essentially.  

Pakistan’s first Martial Law Government of Gen. Ayub Khan (1958–1969) made Islamic education compulsory at elementary levels. But the present high school curriculum contains enormous religious content but these are exclusively Islamic, Qazi says. The textbooks feature absolutely nothing about non-Muslim minorities.

Sunni religious beliefs dominate in the compulsory textbooks on  “Islamiat”, Urdu and Social Studies. The exclusion of Shia beliefs  triggered riots resulting in deaths and closure of schools in the Gilgit District of the Northern Areas in May 2000, Qazi recalls. 

A lesson on the ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ insists that people must strive to make Pakistan an Islamic state. The textbook argues that Muslim nationalism rests on the idea of Kalima-e-Shahada (there is no God, but Allah – the first tenant of Islam); and that all Muslims are one nation based on the Islamic ideology beyond territorial constraints. 

The Grade 9 textbook emphasizes that the idea of Pakistan was fought based on the “Two Nation Theory”. And the Muslim revivalist movements in the Indian Subcontinent led by Shah Waliullah and Sayyed Ahmad Shaheed are featured to illustrate the origins of the Pakistan idea.

The textbook notes that Pakistan’s date of creation falls on the 27th of the Holy month of Ramadan and goes on to state that “the creation of Pakistan was not a political incident of ordinary nature, but it had deep spiritual implications”. 

The Pakistan Studies textbook for Grade 12 commences the first lesson with an explanation of the concept of nationhood as follows: “The Muslims believe that by virtue of their faith, they an identity, separate and distinct from other nations of the world.”

The textbook for Grade 9 discourages students from pursuing art, crafts and music. It maintains that “most of the Muslims believe that playing musical instruments as well as sculpturing and painting living objects is not permitted by religion”.  The textbook promotes calligraphy stating, that it “is basically a Muslim art”. It undermines Muslim painters and sculptors by declaring their contribution as undesirable or done under the influence of (un-Islamic) local Hindu practices. 

Discouraging the popular kite flying festival in the Basant season (January-February) the textbook says that a “majority of Muslims avoid Basant for having a Hindu background.’  Christmas and Dewali are also mentioned as ‘non-Muslim festivals’, which only Christians and Hindus celebrate. 

The textbooks approach regarding the use of religion for shaping students’ monolithic Islamic identity is in line with the guidelines provided in the National Education Policy (2017). The Urdu textbook for Grade 12 argues that “with the creation of Pakistan not only in the Indian sub-continent and Asia but also in the whole Muslim world an incredibly powerful change has occurred. This has far-reaching consequences, which the world has not fully realized yet.”  

The lesson establishes the political event of the creation of Pakistan as transcendental and extraterritorial and signals that Pakistan is more than a nation-state, Qazi points out.

Both teachers and students in the schools studied went along with the ideology of the textbooks, Qazi found. One teacher said: “We must tell them (the students) more and more about ideology. If we forgot about the ideology of Pakistan, the country would perish.”

To most students, Islam is the sole raison d’être for the creation of Pakistan, and they took it as a symbol that characteristically defined Pakistan’s national identity. 

Answering the question as to how they defined Pakistan and why it was created, one girl said: “There are two nations in the world, Muslims, and non-Muslims. Pakistan is for Muslims.” Another girl said Pakistan was formed to “separate Muslims from the non-Muslims, and to follow Islam.”. The third one said: ” (Pakistan was established) to not live under Hindus who are against Islam.” Pakistan is a gift or miracle of God, two others said.

Boy students also said that Pakistan was created for Islam on the basis of the Two Nation Theory, according to which Hindus and Muslims could not be in one country. Another said that Muslims wanted a country where Muslims could practice their religion and principles.

All boy participants in the study unanimously declared Hindus to be “inherently evil”. Out of the girl-participants 55% expressed a dislike for India and 24% for the USA. America was dubbed as “morally corrupt”.

A survey of girls’ views showed that the Christian church and Western dresses were two other “demons”. 64% of the girl-participants also condemned music and dance as “non-Islamic”.

P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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