If Imran Khan’s government implements the Bill on mandatory Quran recitation in schools, it will create new social anxieties.
From Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan to Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan, the religio-military nexus has produced a well-oiled skills training programme for the youth. Even the dons’ family members now appear to be opting out of the empire’s spoils and are dropping the gun to pick up the rosary.
The news about Shakeel’s family coincided last week with the news that Imran Khan’s new government may implement the Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Bill 2017. If that happens, memorising the Quran and becoming a hafiz may just become the new social currency in Pakistan.
The Bill is yet to become a law, but social media in Pakistan was abuzz this weekend over the anticipated move.
Many outside Pakistan perhaps assume that the country already has such a law in place since Zia’s rule in the 1980s. But the truth is that if the new Bill is enforced, what was put in place three decades ago will intensify and create new social anxieties.
The 2017 Bill stipulated that it should be mandatory for (Muslim) students from ‘grade one to five to recite the scripture in Arabic, while children in grade six and above will be required to recite the Holy Quran along with the translation’.
Under Zia, memorising the entire Quran was incentivised with 20 extra points in school. But even those students who did not want to benefit from the extra points had to undertake mandatory memorisation of select verses of Quran, study Islamic history and translation. So, with or without the extra points, every student still had to study the Quran in school.
Now, under the new proposed law, there will be mandatory recitation of the entire Quran and its translation.
Learning to read the Quran is a private, family endeavour or an activity wherein you include a neighbourhood maulvi or maulani ji. Or, you take the help of the specialised ventures that make reading the Quran interesting for children with audio-visual aids. But now, the agency of the families can be taken away if reciting Quran becomes a formal school project.
If you succeeded in getting the 20-point incentive introduced under the Zia rule, you would use them at the time of your entrance into professional colleges and bureaucracy in Pakistan. Under Zia, it was also decided that a degree from a madrasa/seminary would be recognised by Pakistan’s Board of Secondary and Intermediate Education.
To help students get those 20 points, evening classes in the mosque sprung up with guaranteed Quran memorisation modules, seminaries opened their doors to speedy learning.
Non-Muslim students appeared for an ethics/social studies exam in lieu of Islamic studies in school and board exams all these years. However, the text and biased marking encouraged many non-Muslim students to mug up on Islamiyat and appear as ‘Muslim’ candidates.
If Pakistan’s rulers really read and understood the Quran, they would not have missed an essential injunction that specifies that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’. But instead, what we have in Pakistan are laws that deduct charity at source (in addition to taxes), and legislation that makes non-fasting a crime (when Islam itself provides for concessions).
Zia constituted committees that could knock on your door to monitor whether you were praying.
If the new PTI government implements this legislation, it can open a Pandora’s Box. The blasphemy law can crash into students mandatorily studying the Quran: what happens when a classroom tiff among young children snowballs into blasphemy or someone drops a copy of the Quran and is accused of disrespecting it?
One has to be in the state of ablution while reciting the Quran. Can the government ensure cleanliness, water, toilets in every school? Also, it would be far harder for families to challenge the all-powerful maulvi-instructors at schools if they dish out corporal punishment to students for mispronouncing certain words in the Quran.
It can also fuel a bigger debate about certification of tutors in schools – where sectarian and political loyalties can come into play in employment. It will be a massive project to find just the right kind of tutors for all the federal government-run educational institutions and private educational institutions regulated by the federal government.
Perhaps, the wily D-Company scions have sensed the new opportunities that may unfold in Naya Pakistan. Dawood may be ruing his fate over his empire’s legacy. But Dawood and Shakeel scions are not interested in the Karachi turf wars over prime plots and water tankers. Instead, they appear to be equipped for a more promising career in Naya Pakistan.
Aneela Babar is a gender and cultural studies specialist, and the author of ‘We Are All Revolutionaries Here: Militarism, Political Islam and Gender in Pakistan’.