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Teaching Intolerance in Pakistan: Religious Bias in Public School Textbooks

Introduction

School textbooks represent the political perspectives and national ideologies of whole edu­cational and government systems. As such, school textbooks are one of the most important indicators of official and popular perspectives of the cultural and political communities they depict both in words and images.

The major findings of this report are that the content of Pakistani public school textbooks related to non-Islamic faiths and non-Muslims continue to teach bias, distrust, and inferiority. Moreover, the textbooks portray non-Muslim citizens of Pakistan as sympathetic towards its perceived enemies: Pakistani Christians as Westerners or equal to British colonial oppressors, and Pakistani Hindus as Indians, the arch enemy of Pakistan. These perceptions predispose students early on that the non-Muslim population of Pakistan are outsiders and unpatriotic. These grossly generalized and stereotypical portrayals of religious minority communities signal that they are untrustworthy, religiously inferior, and ideologically scheming and intolerant. These messages are reinforced by the absence of deeper content addressing the complexity of religions, the rights of religious minorities, and the positive contributions of religious minorities in the development and protection of Pakistan.

Outright errors about minority faiths and cultures are a major problem. Another significant issue is the inclusion of widely-disputed historical “facts” presented as settled history. Consider this quote found on page 23 of the tenth grade Urdu textbook: “Because the Muslim religion, cul­ture and social system are different from non-Muslims, it is impossible to cooperate with Hindus.” This kind of education closes all doors for a new generation of Pakistani Muslims to see a peace­ful future with Hindus of India, and worse yet, it provides a rationale to treat Pakistani Hindus as outsiders. In contrast, it ignores how Hindus and Muslims have cooperated and coexisted peacefully for centuries in the sub-continent.

Another quote from the Sindh province seventh grade Urdu textbook mixes facts and con­spiracies, portraying Hindus and Christians as partners to destroy Muslims.

“There were two enemies of Muslims, the Englishmen and Hindus. Both of these were against the formation of Pakistan. On one hand, the Englishmen renounced the divi­sion plan of Hindustan, while on the other hand, Hindus were planning to occupy the entire Hindustan and enslave Muslims....”
Urdu Textbook, Grade 7, Sindh Textbook Board, p.14

In 2010–2011, the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) conducted a review of Pakistan’s primary and secondary education systems to assess the level of prejudice and intolerance against religious minorities, particularly Hindus and Christians, in both the curriculum and attitudes of teachers and classmates. These research findings, along with ICRD’s analysis and recommendations, were published by the U.S. Commission on International Reli­gious Freedom (USCIRF) in 2011 under the title: Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan.”

As a follow-up to USCIRF’s Connecting the Dots study, the overall objective of this research is to determine the degree to which negative stereotypes and/or biased portrayals of religious minorities (Christians, Hindus, Ahmadis, Sikhs, and Jews) remain in current textbooks. The research compares the current instances of intolerance and bias in the public school curriculum with Connecting the Dots’ findings to determine the extent of Pakistan’s progress in eliminating religious bias from its public school textbooks.

Read the full report here.