Faith in Education

Yesterday morning started with a few tweets that I saw regarding the new Single National Curriculum being introduced in Pakistan. It has generated plenty of discussion and criticism, and rightfully so. The pictures and discussion in these tweets immediately took me back to the day before, when I was in fact going through the pages of Pakistan Quarterly, from the 1950s. I’ve been looking at the formative years of Pakistan and the role played by women, which is far too often side-lined or a footnote in support of the main body.

Below are extracts from two articles, which illustrate some of the discussions that were taking place on the importance of education in the making of a “new Pakistan” and the role of religion (especially girl’s education). Julian Duguid was a journalist, writer and wrote his article while posted in Pakistan. The second article though is by the Vice-Chancellor of Peshawar University, Raziuddin Siddiqi. Dr Siddiqi was born in 1908 and educated in the newly established Osmania University, Hyderabad. Indeed, he was from the first batch that graduated from there and later went on to serve as the Vice-Chancellor of Osmania. In 1950, however, Dr Siddiqi migrated to Karachi and joined Karachi University, at the request of the Government of Pakistan. There was a serious skills shortage in Pakistan following the Partition, and the development of educational institutions and an educated workforce was key to future prosperity.

Lifting of the Veil by Julian Duguid

Pakistan Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1952

After hearing the story of the chaos, so bravely met and overcome, I watched with a special interest the young girl students whom it freed. A few still went in burqas, but most of them walked and bicycled as if they’d never heard of purdah. At lunch time, they passed Zam-Zammah, the gun on which Kim used to sit; and in the evenings they did athletics or played tennis. There was nothing whatever to distinguish them from any other healthy young students. Yet, even four years ago, many of them could hardly have dreamt of such freedom.

Of course, liberation on this scale has not gone quite uncriticised. Now and then, a fanatical old mullah, his beard abristle with zeal, will creep behind a girl and cut her hair off to teach her not to be shameless. When this happens, he is taken to the police-station and lectured on the new Pakistan and kept in jail for a few days to cool his ardour. He leaves unconvinced, and muttering; but his generation will pass, and then the veil will be lifted more and more widely among the middle-class city-dwellers as it is among the labouring village people whether in town or country.

It may take many years, but it will come.

Education in Pakistan by Raziuddin Siddiqi, Vice-Chancellor, Peshawar University.

Pakistan Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1953.

Immediate steps were, therefore, taken in all Provinces to rehabilitate the old schools and Colleges and establish new ones. Classes were held in several shifts to cope with the enormous increase of students. Adequate measures were adopted for training school teachers in large numbers. Education was given high priority along with defence and law and order in the Central and Provincial budgets. A number of new Universities were established in order to provide suitable teachers for the schools and colleges. Educational materials, such as books, journals and scientific equipment, was imported in a large quantity from Europe and America. Young men and women were sent in considerable numbers for training abroad. A six years Plan was formulated to give effect to considered policy of all-round educational development.

It would not be out of place to give here a short account of our policy in this scheme of educational development. The fundamental aim before the authorities in this matter has been ensure to that each and every individual gets the best and highest education and training commensurate with his capabilities. Islam lays down the acquisition of knowledge as an integral part of the duties of every individual Muslim of either sex. It is a unique and distinguishing feature of this religion, which enjoins its followers to think and know for themselves. It has been explicitly stated in the Holy Quran that “God exalteth and elevates to higher ranks only those who are believers, and who have been accorded knowledge”.

Islam does not allow the sharp division of an individual’s existence into a religious and secular life, as believed necessary by the people following other religions. There is no priest-class among the Muslims. Non-observance of this essential principle of Islam, has been one of the main factors in the deterioration of our condition in the past. On the one hand the general body of Muslims were educated in secular schools, and knew very little of the fundamental principles of their religion. For even a little bit of information about their faith, they were entirely at the mercy of the ‘Mullas’. On the other hand, the ‘Mullas’ studied in religious institutions which were completely divorced from all modern knowledge. This was affecting adversely the national life at both ends. The educated young Muslims were generally absorbing atheistic or agnostic tendencies more and more, and instead of proving a source of strength to the community, were undermining its very existence. The ‘Mullas’ were becoming more and more ignorant, fanatic and narrow minded, thus bringing the religion itself into disrepute and contempt.

It was necessary, therefore, to evolve a new system of education, or rather to revive the older system of the early days of Islam in which all knowledge was one, and there was no artificial distinction between religious and non-religious knowledge. 

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