Pakistan's textbooks: "Lessons in bigotry, hate and a gross misrepresentation of history"
- Lessons in Intolerance:
The textbooks that form part of the present public school curriculum are
lessons in bigotry, hate and a gross misrepresentation of history.
By Massoud Ansari
Monthly NewsLine, Karachi
"Baba, what is kari?" a young girl asks her father. He ponders over how best
he can explain this barbaric ritual that involves killing women in the name
of 'honour' to his young daughter, and wonders where she has heard the term.
He presumes she has read of it in newspapers, where such incidents are
regularly reported. Before he can muster an appropriate explanation, his
daughter asks if Marvi - a romantic heroine of Sindhi folklore - was a kari.
She gleaned this information from one of her textbooks in school, she says.
Various references to karo-kari are found to crop up in textbooks in current
use in local schools, particularly in lessons pertaining to local folklore.
Many of the references are, however, completely erroneous. Apparently the
concerned authorities believe that karo-kari is now a part of the country's
culture and thus deserving of mention in the curriculum. Ironically,
according to some reports, the Federal Curriculum Wing (FCW) - an authority
that regulates textbooks in the country - rejected the proposal to include
late journalist, Najma Babar's article 'Madam Chairman, Sir,' in a Class 10
English textbook. The article is about a married woman who goes out to work,
while her husband, who is unemployed, takes care of the children and the
home. The fact that male unemployment has become almost endemic particularly
in Pakistan's lower and lower middle classes and economic compulsions have
pushed many women into the workplace - in essence resulted in a role
reversal of traditional male-female positions - apparently does not register
with the authorities who rejected Babar's article on the grounds that "it
goes against Pakistani culture and society."
Meanwhile, a poem by Kahlil Jibran, a world-renowned philosopher and writer
and a Maronite Christian, was rejected by the FCW on the grounds that he was
a Jew. Similarly a lesson containing a letter by Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali
Jinnah's daughter, Dina Wadia, about her father in a textbook was rejected,
because the concerned authorities decreed that since the Quaid had disowned
her and Wadia is not a Muslim, she is not eligible to feature in local
Welcome to Pakistani public schools, which are laying the foundations of
future generations, where children are introduced to bigotry and intolerance
from the primary level, and the conditioning continues throughout school.
The lessons of tolerance included in the country's curriculum in the first
two decades of the country's existence are being systematically replaced
with lessons emphasising militancy, jihad and an ideology of hate. A case in
point: recently a book was returned to its authors by the Federal Curriculum
Wing for not carrying enough material on jihad.
The amount of influence school textbooks wield on students' impressionable
minds is indicated by a survey of schoolchildren published recently. Almost
half of those surveyed do not support equal rights for minorities. A third
of them support jihadi groups. Two-thirds of them want the Shariah to be
implemented in letter and spirit. Nearly a third said Kashmir should be
liberated by force, and nearly 80 per cent of them support Pakistan's
Once a platform from which healthy, informed minds emerged, Pakistan's
public school system today is a cesspool of ignorance, obscurantism and
corruption. A graphic example: when a high school teacher at one of
Karachi's public schools asked her class students to write an essay on any
subject of their choice, one of the boys came up with a detailed and rather
chilling 'Autobiography of a pistol.' The student summed up his essay with
the statement, "I fall into the hands of a burglar who points me at a child,
and demands ransom money from his parents in exchange for my life."
The percentage of the gross domestic product allocated to Pakistan's
education budget is puny. According to a UNESCO estimate, it is smaller than
that of most Muslim countries, smaller even than that of most sub-Saharan
nations. Small wonder then that the country is lagging behind her South
Asian neighbours in assorted respects: Pakistan has the distinction of
having the lowest literacy rate among this group, the lowest female
participation in education, the highest female primary school dropout rate,
and the lowest enrolment in the area of tertiary education. It is also the
only country in the region where the expenditure on education as a
proportion of the Gross National Product (GNP) has gone down since 1990 from
2.6 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 1.7 per cent in the last
Officially Pakistan's literacy rate is 45 per cent, although most education
specialists maintain that the actual figure is less than 30 per cent. A
World Bank report states that more than a third of the nation's 10-year-olds
have never attended class.
According to experts, it is not just the fact that Pakistan's education
budget in relation to the Gross Domestic Product is insignificant;
corruption, mismanagement and criminal negligence by the bureaucracy,
policy-makers and feudal politicians have contributed substantially to the
declining standards of the country's public education system. Combined,
these factors have resulted in a low investment in education, ghost schools,
ghost teachers, open-air schools devoid of even the most basic facilities,
etc. Add to that the curricula of these public institutions and the output
can only too easily be assessed.
A recent study, 'The Subtle Subversion: The state of curricula and textbooks
in Pakistan 2003', carried out by the Sustainable Development Policy
Institute (SDPI), exposing the nature of the curricula taught to
schoolchildren puts to lie claims emanating from the helm of the promotion
of tolerance and moderation in the country. The report illustrates the
myriad complex means used to disseminate ideologies of hate through the
state's educational system.
The 140-page SDPI report contains a detailed analysis of currently used
textbooks and the general curriculum in government schools which
demonstrates how the education system is contributing towards the creation
of a culture of sectarianism, religious intolerance and violence. It notes
how historical facts have been twisted and mutilated at length by certain
vested interests to promote their respective agendas.
Ironically, instead of debating the issues raised in this report, some of
the country's policy-makers and right-wing elements have started questioning
'the agenda' of the organisation responsible for the report, and the
credibility of its authors. And when the government set up a committee to
review the findings of this report and indicated it may consider making some
changes in the academic curricula, the situation turned ugly.
In Karachi, school and college students held a protest march against any
proposed changes. The Islami Jamiat-e-Tulaba (IJT), the youth wing of the
Jamaat Islami, organised the event. The protesters carried banners and
placards inscribed with demands that Quranic verses be included in the
syllabi, the federal education minister be dismissed and US intervention in
Pakistan's affairs be halted. The protestors also condemned the findings of
the SDPI report and issued threats of dire consequencies, if the government
attempted to "secularise" the curriculum.
Members of the six-party alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), also
voiced their protest: They walked out of a National Assembly session on the
grounds that a certain reference to jihad as well as some Quranic verses had
been excluded from the new edition of a state-prescribed biology textbook.
Liaqat Baloch of the MMA alleged, "Under the conditionalities of the US
Agency for International Development, all verses containing any references
to jihad or exposing the anti-Muslim prejudices of Jews and Christians are
being omitted from the syllabi." And Jamaat-e-Islami chief, Qazi Hussain
Ahmad, warned that his party would move a privilege motion against
government censorship in the syllabi.
Federal Education Minister Zubeida Jalal responded to these charges by
stating in the National Assembly that no chapter or verses relating to jihad
or shahadat (martyrdom) had been deleted from local textbooks. She clarified
that the particular verse referring to jihad which the MMA was up in arms
over had been 'shifted' from the biology textbook for intermediate students
(Classes XI and XII) to the matriculation level courses (Class X), not
omitted. The minister was visibly on the defensive when she said that the
government had rejected the SDPI report because the committee she had set up
to look into the report had rejected it as representing an "extremist" view.
One of the co-authors of this report, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, however, accused the
education minister of not sharing the findings of the committee with members
of the National Assembly. He contended that before submitting the report to
the education ministry, nine members of the 15-member government review
committee endorsed the report, while six expressed dissenting views on some
findings. Nayyar wrote in a recently published article, "I don't know what
prompted the education minister to remark on the floor of the National
Assembly that the committee rejected the report."
This is not the first time that Pakistani educationists have researched the
curricula set for local schools. In 1994 another educationist, Dr Rubina
Saigol wrote a detailed paper, called 'The boundaries of consciousness:
interface between the curriculum, gender and nationalism,' in a book called
Locating the Self.
In this paper she demonstrated with several examples how our textbooks
depict Hindus in a negative light enemies and how they incite permanent
enmity, hatred and alienation with India. The author's contention was that
local textbooks promote militarism and violence and indirectly justify heavy
Likewise, some other scholars, such as Dr Mubarak Ali and Professor K.K.
Aziz have also published reports on this issue. KK Aziz has pointed out in
detail the major inaccuracies, distortions, exaggerations and slants found
in each officially prepared and prescribed textbook and in a representative
selection of private commercial publications which are in wide use as
textbooks. Khurshid Hasnain, Pervez Hoodbhoy and Tariq Rahman have also
examined the distortions in history and social studies textbooks.
According to some reports, in 1999, the National Committee on Education,
which was constituted under the chairmanship of the federal education
secretary at the prompting of some eminent educationists, prepared a report
'National Curriculum 2000: A Conceptual Framework,' calling for a paradigm
shift in the curriculum in order to produce "involved, caring and
responsible citizens." This report was filed somewhere in the ministry, and
no action has been taken on it to date.
Experts on the subject disclose how different things were. They maintain
textbooks prepared in the early years of Pakistan did not contain any kind
of hatred or animosity towards Hindus despite the fact that the wounds from
Partition were still raw. "The early textbooks in Pakistan written after
Partition were free of the pathological hate that we see in textbooks
today," says an expert. According to him the early history books contained
chapters not only on old civilisations like Moenjodaro, Harappa, Taxila,
etc., but also on the Hindu mythology contained in the Ramayana and
Mahabharata, and extensively covered, often with admiration, the great Hindu
Kingdoms of the Mauryas and Guptas. While these books admittedly indicated
some bias when referring to more recent history, particularly the politics
of independence, one found school textbooks featuring and praising Mohandas
Gandhi. And the creation of Pakistan was attributed to the intransigence of
the All India Congress and its leadership in respect of accommodating the
Muslim League rather than to 'Hindu machinations.'
Some books also clearly mentioned that the most prominent Islamic religious
leaders were all bitterly opposed to the creation of Pakistan. "Such was the
enlightened teaching of history for the first 25 years of Pakistan even
though two wars were fought against India in this period. The print and
electronic media often indulged in anti-Hindu propaganda, but educational
material was by and large free of hate against Hindus," reads the SDPI
The rot set in with the advent of General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia's 'Islamisation'
of the country - widely recognised as a political tool to legitimise his
rule - saw him cosying up to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a fundamentalist political
party, and his government openly started transforming the education system.
What resulted was a brand of education that officially fostered intolerance,
bigotry and violence.
Experts in the field contend that the concept of jihad was widely
incorporated into the Pakistani curriculum after the start of the Afghan
war. According to Dr. Nayyar, at that point it suited Washington, and its
most allied of allies, Pakistan, to encourage and glorify the mujahideen or
'holy warriors,' in the war against the Soviets - and an American
institution of higher education was asked to formulate textbooks for
Pakistani schools in keeping with his agenda. Says Nayyar, "The
institution - the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which has a centre for
Afghan studies - was tasked by the CIA in the early eighties to rewrite
textbooks for Afghan refugee children. The new books included hate material
even in arithmetic. For example, if a man has five bullets and two go into
the heads of Russian soldiers, how many are left that kind of stuff. This
was exposed in a research thesis from the New School, New York in about
The right-wing Jamaat-e-Islami that was given the task to make changes in
the Pakistani school curriculum at that time, introduced as the cardinal
principle of education the philosophy of its spiritual mentor and political
guide Syed Abul Aala Maududi, who believed that in an Islamic society all
that is taught should be in the context of religious knowledge. Every
subject thus became Islamiat. A new breed of textbook historians came into
existence and lessons emphasising militancy, jihad and hate became a
predominant part of learning. Since actual history - researched, narrated
and compiled by serious professional historians - did not conform to their
agenda, they created a new history of Pakistan which began with the arrival
of Muslims in the subcontinent. "They have rewritten history in a manner
which has impoverished it and taken away from students material that could
enrich their perspective," Nayyar contended.
In the revised textbooks the ancient history of the region, the glories of
Moenjodaro and Harappa, the Hindu kingdoms, the advent of Buddhism, the
incursion of the Greeks and Bactrians, and so much more that has made our
region the cradle of one of the richest civilisations in the world, have all
been eliminated. A sample of what we have instead from a textbook currently
in use: "As a matter of fact, Pakistan came to be established for the first
time when the Arabs under Muhammad bin Qasim occupied Sindh and Multan in
the early years of the eighth century, and established Muslim rule in this
part of the South-Asian subcontinent. Pakistan under the Arabs comprised the
Lower Indus Valley. During the 12th century the Ghaznavids lost Afghanistan,
and their rule came to be confined to Pakistan. By the 13th century,
Pakistan had spread to include the whole of Northern India and Bengal. Under
the Khiljis, Pakistan moved further southward to include a greater part of
Central India and the Deccan. During the 16th century, 'Hindustan'
disappeared and was completely absorbed in Pakistan."
Gradually subjects such as Indo-Pakistan history and geography which earlier
formed part of the local educational curriculum were replaced by Pakistan
Studies. In the new books Pakistan was defined as an Islamic state and the
history of Pakistan became synonymous with the history of Muslims in the
subcontinent. The pre-Islamic history of the region meanwhile ceased to
exist as subject matter. The new curriculum started with the Arab conquest
of Sindh and swiftly jumped to the Muslim conquerors from Central Asia.
Alongside, the seventies saw the so-called 'ideology of Pakistan'
increasingly entering study courses. This involved the creation of an
ideological straitjacket whereby the history of Pakistan, especially that of
the Pakistan Movement was rewritten with an utter disregard for the truth.
Pakistan, it was now said, was created with an aim to establish a purely
Islamic state in accordance with the tenets of the Quran and Sunnah.
Suddenly, the ulema who had bitterly opposed the creation of Pakistan were
cited as the heroes of the Pakistan movement, Muhammed Ali Jinnah (whom the
religious clergy used to refer to as 'Kafir-e-Azam' and was labelled an
infidel by them because of his distinctly liberal lifestyle) was portrayed
as a pious, practicing Muslim, and Hindus began to be reviled as the
According to the SDPI report, the instructions laid out for the revised
curriculum in fact, stressed on portraying Hindus not just as the enemies of
Islam, but as altogether unsavoury. The textbooks read by our students today
elaborate on the alleged 'social evils' of Hindus, including their
disrespect for women, their practice of child marriage, suttee, the caste
system, etc. Even our collective memories were no longer to be trusted. For
example, in describing the tragedy of East Pakistan, the new textbooks
squarely lay the blame on the general elections of 1970 and on the Hindus
living in East Pakistan.
According to the SDPI report, some of the major problems in the current
curriculum and textbooks are the "distortion of facts and omissions that
serve to substantially alter the nature and significance of actual events in
our history; insensitivity to the existing religious diversity of the
nation; incitement to militancy and violence, including encouragement of
jihad and shahadat, perspectives that encourage prejudice, bigotry and
discrimination towards fellow citizens, especially women and religious
minorities, and other nations, a glorification of war and the use of force."
The study points out that the syllabus omits events that could encourage
critical self-awareness among students, and includes outdated and incoherent
pedagogical practices that "hinder the development of interest and insight
The report further states that the educational material attempts to teach
Islamiat to all the students, irrespective of their faith, through the
compulsory subjects of Social/Pakistan Studies, Urdu and English. Although
non-Muslims are not required to take the fourth compulsory subject of
Islamiat, there is an extraordinary incentive for them in the form of 25 per
cent additional marks for learning and taking examinations in Islamiat.
Acording to the report, the post-1979 curricula and textbooks openly
eulogise jihad and shahadat and urge students to become mujahids and
martyrs. The report dilates on the instructions laid out for students:
"Learning outcome: recognise the importance of jihad in every sphere of
life; learning outcome: Must be aware of the blessings of jihad; must create
a yearning for jihad in his heart; Concept: jihad; Affective objective:
Aspiration for jihad; Love and aspiration for jihad, Tableegh
(Prosyletisation), jihad, shahadat (martyrdom), sacrifice, ghazi (the victor
in holy wars), shaheed (martyr); simple stories to urge for jihad; activity
4: To make speeches on jihad and shahadat; to make speeches on jihad;
Evaluation: to judge their spirits while making speeches on jihad, Muslim
history and culture, Concepts: jihad, Amar bil Maroof and Nahi Anil Munkar."
The textbooks require every Pakistani, irrespective of his (her) faith, to
love, respect, be proud of and practice Islamic principles, traditions,
customs, rituals, etc. What the report says is even more disturbing is the
fact that non-Muslim students are expected to read the Quran, not in the
course study of Islamiat, which they are not required to learn, but in the
compulsory subject of Urdu.
Urdu textbooks from Class I to III, which are compulsory for students of all
faiths, contain lessons on the Quran. These progress from a lesson titled
'Iqra' in Class I, where Arabic alphabets are introduced, to the lesson
entitled 'E'rab' on punctuation in the Class II Urdu book, to the lesson
titled 'Quran Parhna' in the Class III Urdu book. In fact, the latter has
seven lessons (out of a total of 51) on learning to read the Quran. It is
mandatory for non-Muslim students to take these courses and take
examinations in them - a clear violation of the rights of religious
minorities. The report also states that the National Curriculum of March
2002 lays down the first objective of teaching English: "To make the Quranic
principles and Islamic practices an integral part of curricula so that the
message of the Holy Quran could be disseminated in the process of education
as well as training. To educate and train the future generations of Pakistan
as a true practicing Muslim "
The religious (Islamic) content of the most recently published Urdu
textbooks in the Punjab and the Federal Area is worth noting: it features in
four out of 25 Islamic lessons in Class one, eight out of 33 lessons in
Class-II, 22 out of 44 lessons in Class-III, 10 out of 45 lessons in
Class-IV, seven out of 34 lessons in Class-V, 14 out of 46 lessons in
Class-VI, six out of 53 lessons in Class-VII, 15 out of 46 lessons in
Class-VIII, and 10 out of 68 lessons in Classes IX and X.
The new textbooks are also replete with gender bias. A 1985 study found that
girls were shown most often in passive roles, enforcing traditional
stereotypes. Experts say matters have not improved over the years, and a
"gender-biased division of roles is woven into almost all the exercises and
stories in these books, thus we have constant references to men performing
active or heroic roles and women engaged in passive, often frippery
The mindset of the policy-makers not only disfigures history at the school
level, it also dissuades those at the employment level from questioning or
differing from the official line as laid out in the texts. For example,
candidates appearing in the Muslim history papers in the Federal Public
Services Commission have strictly been advised to condemn Mughul emperor
Akbar - known as 'Akbar the Great' for his 50-year-long secular rule over
the Indian subcontinent - and eulogise Emperor Aurangzeb, a fundamentalist
Muslim who shunned music and most arts as unIslamic.
Similarly, there are unwritten guidelines to condemn Hindus, criticise
India, support the Kashmir cause, and refrain from expressing independent or
divergent views. All candidates appearing in the country's competitive exams
are, in fact, asked to read only the books written by certain authors, and
to desist from reading books that do not make it to the prescribed list
since these could "confuse" them, leading to their failure in the exams.
Given this backdrop, it would be a fallacy to believe it is only the
madrassahs which are indoctrinating children in the politics of hate and
bigotry. The country's public schools are equally responsible for the rise
of militancy and regressive thought. In the words of Dr. A.H. Nayyar, "The
full impact of what happened under General Zia is now being felt in rising
religious militancy, sectarianism and violence in our society and our
politics, and another generation of young Pakistanis is now going through
the same education."