PAKISTAN: Islamic studies no longer compulsory for Pakistan’s non-Muslims
In a notification on Jan. 22, the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training approved a new curriculum, which makes studying Islam non-compulsory for Christian, Bahai, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, and Zoroastrian students in the Islamic nation.
The Religious Education Curriculum 2023 for Grades 1 to Grade 12 will be introduced from the next academic year in 2024-2025.
The Catholic Church has been urging the government to make provision for non-Muslim students to receive religious education in their faith instead of Islamiat, which comprises courses on Islamic beliefs and practices.
Naeem Yousaf Gill, director of the National Commission of Justice and Peace, the rights body of the Pakistani bishops’ council, welcomed the development.
“We appreciate the government for involving Catholic bishops in developing the syllabus of Christianity. However, its monitoring and implementation is another challenge. Policies for minorities often flop in our country,” he told UCA News.
Pakistan has one of the lowest budgetary allocations for education in South Asia. The nation allotted 1.7 percent of its GDP for education in the fiscal year 2022-23 against 1.4 percent earlier.
“The long-term process will require training of teachers and a salary structure,” Gill observed.
In 2020, the provincial Punjab government made it compulsory for Muslim students to study the Quran, and non-Muslim students were asked to study ethics in lieu of Islamiat from Grade 3.
Jaipal Chhabria, president of the Pakistan Hindu Forum, rejected teaching religious studies in educational institutes.
“Civilized nations don’t do it. It was never the vision of our founding father [Mohammed Ali Jinnah],” he said.
“You are free, you are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan,” Jinnah had said in a speech to the nation after independence from Britain.
“In an environment where the majority thinks its religion is superior, it is impossible for a Muslim teacher to teach Christianity or Hinduism,” said Chhabria.
In the last national census of 2017, Pakistan had 2.6 million Christians who made up 1.27 percent of a population of 207 million. Hindus were at 1.73 percent.