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A dangerous proposal

Shamil ShamsAugust 5, 2016

A top Islamic body has recommended to the Pakistani government to include the Koran's jihadist verses in compulsory school curricula. Experts say the move could be disastrous given the country's history of extremism.

Waffen für die Schulkinder in der Provinz Khayber-Pakhtoonkhuwah (Pakistan)
Image: DW/D. Baber

On Wednesday, August 3, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), an influential religious body that advises the Pakistani government on legal matters, demanded the authorities to include verses about the importance of jihad in the proposed school curriculum.

The government is planning to make the teaching of the Koran, the Muslims' holy book, compulsory in primary and secondary schools. But the CII is apparently angry that the Ministry of Education excluded the jihadist verses from its proposal.

"There are some 484 verses about jihad in the Koran, but they were deliberately not included in the syllabus," CII member Maulana Zahid Qasmi told media. "I personally conveyed my reservation over the proposed draft to the government," he added.

Responding to the criticism from the CII, Muhammad Balighur Rehman, a government official, stated that the Ministry of Education did not exclude "even a single word or verse" from the Koran.

A history of controversial verdicts

Sattar Khan, DW's Islamabad correspondent, says the South Asian country's civil society is incensed at the CII's new demand and the fact that the government is mulling over it.

Symbolbild - Koran
Pakistan's government is planning to make the teaching of the Koran compulsory in schoolsImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Al-Shaikh

"Activists believe it might push the country towards more sectarian divisions," Khan said.

It is not the first time that the Council of Islamic Ideology has made a controversial demand. In February, the CII opposed a government bill to prevent violence against women, which is rampant in the Islamic country. Rights groups complain about the state's inaction to protect women from "honor killings" and marital torture.

In January, the council blocked a bill proposing harsher penalties for marrying off girls as young as eight. It also ruled in the past that DNA could not be used as evidence in rape cases, endorsing controversial "Hudood" laws that mandate a rape victim to get four male witnesses to testify in the court.

The jihadist path

"The jihadist culture has destroyed the social fabric of Pakistan, pushing the country towards isolation. Now demanding that Pakistan must continue treading the disastrous path is not wise at all. It will add to our problems," Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a former professor at the Islamabad-based Federal Urdu University, told DW.

The educationist said that Pakistan first introduced the jihadist verses in the curriculum in the 1980s when it began supporting the Islamic mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Then military dictator General Zia ul Haq, who had ushered in a nationwide Islamization program, had full backing for his drive from the United States at that time.

"The world moved on but the Pakistani state hasn't abandoned the extremism narrative. Unfortunately, it continues to support the jihadist groups so that they could be used in Afghanistan, Kashmir and elsewhere," Khan underlined.

Time to abolish the CII?

The calls to abolish the CII have multiplied over the past few months. The organization's chairman, Muhammad Khan Sheerani, has particularly come under criticism from the liberal sections of the country.

"The Council of Islamic Ideology is a redundant body. Its recommendations are neither binding nor are they needed. The CII members should also keep in mind that education is a provincial subject and it is the right of the provincial authorities to review the syllabus. The CII has no say in it," Bushra Gohar, a former member of the National Assembly (lower house of parliament), told DW, adding that the council should immediately be abolished.

Aman Memon, a former lecturer at the Allama Iqbal Open University, shares this view: "The CII cannot meddle with the matters that fall under the provincial domain. Even if the Ministry of Education paid heed to the CII demands, it wouldn't get them through," Memon told DW.

Despite these demands, many believe that the Council of Islamic Ideology would continue to function. They say the CII is an extremely powerful organization that no civilian government in Pakistan would risk scrapping it or even interfering in its affairs. Due to the international pressure regarding Islamic extremism, the authorities in Islamabad might ignore the CII's jihadist demand, but they certainly cannot go beyond that.

Additional reporting by Sattar Khan, DW's Islamabad correspondent.