Pakistan’s Layers of Persecution: Education
From an early age, students in Pakistan are told to be intolerant of non-Muslims, which is reinforced by behavior modeled and tolerated by Pakistan’s educators.
By William Stark
02/03/2021 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The persecution of Christians in Pakistan is severe and complex. Pakistani Christians are treated as second-class citizens simply because of their religious identity as non-Muslims. Christians face many forms of abuse, including false blasphemy accusations, physical assaults, attacks on places of worship, abductions, and forced conversions to Islam.
Due to this discrimination and abuse, Pakistan is recognized as one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians. Open Doors USA ranked Pakistan the world’s fifth-worst persecutor of Christians in its 2021 World Watch List. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also designated Pakistan a “Country of Particular Concern” in part due to the persecution faced by the country’s Christian community.
In a series of articles entitled “Pakistan’s Layers of Persecution,” International Christian Concern (ICC) continues to explore the many facets of Christian persecution in Pakistan. These articles look into issues like Pakistan’s discriminatory laws, hate speech against Christians, a biased constitution, and Christian untouchability.
Many human rights experts have pointed out that the country’s education system teaches the hatred and intolerance experienced by Pakistan’s Christian community. From an early age, students in Pakistan are told to be intolerant of non-Muslims, which is reinforced by behavior modeled and tolerated by Pakistan’s educators.
In 1979, Pakistan’s education policy was brought into line with Islamic teachings by the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. The new policy used social and physical sciences to promote religious intolerance in which religious minorities, particularly Hindus, were depicted as enemies of Pakistan. During this time, Pakistani colleges and universities also adopted military Jihad as part of on-campus culture.
In 2009 a new education policy was launched as part of a social reform agenda. This policy sought to promote a tolerant and peaceful image of Islam. However, this new policy was opposed by Pakistan’s religious conservatives. Nationwide protests were launched rejecting the educational reform, deeming it a Western conspiracy.
In a 2011 report prepared for USCIRF by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, researchers found many examples of intolerance in Pakistani schools’ textbooks. According to this report, textbooks were found to have a strong Islamic orientation in which religious minorities were either referenced derogatorily or omitted altogether.
In an Islamic Studies textbook used for grade seven in Sindh, the following passage is included: “Most of the (other) religious of the world claim equality, but they never act on it.” Another Islamic Studies textbook used in grade eight in Punjab states, “Honesty for non-Muslims is merely a business strategy while for Muslims it is a matter of faith.”
A social studies textbook used for grade seven in Punjab states, “European Christian governments and especially priests had hatred against the Islamic Sultanate. They were anxious to destroy the power of Islam. The false stories of Christian pilgrims were the major causes of the crusades.”
Another Islamic Studies textbook used for grade five in Sindh states, “Christians cannot follow Jesus Christ even if they wanted to because they lack authenticity.” The same textbook goes on to say, “Other religious communities usually keep engaged in useless activities during religious events. There is no concept of worship and relationship with God in their midst.”
As the examples provided in the USCIRF report indicate, religious minorities are presented as dishonest, disloyal, and untrustworthy in Pakistan’s public school curriculum. This sentiment is also modeled within the classroom by educators and is tolerated when acted upon by classmates. In recent years, ICC has reported many incidents of outright persecution against Christian students.
In October 2018, Sharjeel Masih, a grade four student at a primary school in the Attock district, was reprimanded and humiliated by the school’s headmaster because he took a drink from a water fountain. This discriminatory action reinforced the idea that Pakistani Christians are untouchable and should not use the same facilities as Muslims.
In February 2019, Haroon Irfan, a Christian student at a primary school in Karachi, was stabbed by a Muslim classmate and had a kidney removed. According to local sources, Haroon’s Muslim classmate attacked him because he was the class’s top-ranked student. When ICC talked with the school’s headmaster, he referred to Haroon affectionately as little Einstein.
For Pakistan’s Christians, the classroom and the curriculum introduces, normalizes, and instills the religious intolerance that comes to dominate their daily lives. After decades of intolerance and discrimination being taught, it is little wonder that Pakistan ranks among the world’s worst persecutors of Christians.
However, as stated at the beginning of this article, Christian persecution in Pakistan is complex and multi-faceted. Caste history, discriminatory laws, and many other issues all play their part in why Pakistan is one of the world’s worst persecutors of Christians today.
For interviews, please contact Alison Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.