'Fake Religiosity To Cover-Up Poor Governance': Bill Mandating Teaching Of Arabic Raises Eyebrows

'Fake Religiosity To Cover-Up Poor Governance': Bill Mandating Teaching Of Arabic Raises Eyebrows
Pakistan's Senate on Monday passed a bill making teaching of the Arabic language compulsory in Islamabad schools, in a rare display of consensus between ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and opposition party Pakistan Muslim League - N (PML-N). Titled 'Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020', the legislation was presented by PML-N Senator Javed Abbasi and says that Arabic will be taught in schools in Islamabad from grades 1 to 5, while Arabic grammar will be taught to grades 6 to 12.

Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan announced that the government would categorically support the bill, adding that the Constitution requires measures to 'spend our lives according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah'.

'Attempt to erase Pakistan's cultural diversity'
Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Senator Raza Rabbani was the only lawmaker who opposed the legislation and offered a dissenting note, saying that the bill was the state's attempt to use Islam to achieve a political agenda. By importing Arab culture, Senator Rabbani maintained, the state was trying to erase Pakistan's multicultural and multi-lingual diversity.

Renowned academic and activist Pervez Hoodbhoy agrees with Rabbani's assertion. Speaking to Naya Daur, Hoodbhoy said that imposition of Arabic onto schoolchildren was 'yet another use of fake religiosity being used to cover up the smell of bad governance'. "The bill passed by the Senate is a reminder of the 'abdication of control to men with guns, a boom in land grabbing, multiple failures of Pakistani state and private corporations, and the ever declining quality of education," he said.

Is Pakistan witnessing a fresh wave of Arabisation?
In June last year, the Punjab government made the teaching of Holy Quran with translation mandatory for all university students, without which they would not be awarded degrees. Activists and educationists had raised concern over the development, but their reservations fell on deaf ears. Hoodbhoy suggests that there is a pattern in the recent instances of the state forcing Arabic onto citizens. "This is a degree of foolishness that even the most wretchedly conservative among countries have not demonstrated," he said.

Politics of exploiting religion

Analyst Yousuf Nazar said that the move to make teaching Arabic compulsory in Islamabad schools is motivated by the same kind of politics which has exploited religion over decades.
“The establishment and the politicians continue to play with the future of the young generations by making agenda driven moves instead of treating curriculum as an issue that is best left to experienced educationists.”

Nazar noted that Pakistan spent less than 1% of its GDP on education under former President Zia ul Haq because he thought Madrassas would fill the gap. “This medieval mindset harmed Pakistan. It seems some politicians want to continue on the same path which has led Pakistan to having one of the worst educational standards in the developing world,” he added.

Activist Marvi Sirmed is of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with learning new languages at a young age and having proficiency in Arabic might also mean the kids won't need Mullahs to teach them the Quran. She however expressed the concern that 'overloading them with Arabic teachings while keeping them aloof from their own language and culture' will prove to be a recipe for disaster.

"Punjabi kids, for instance, are not required to learn their own language. They have no exposure to Punjabi literature, poetry and culture through the language learning. A Pashtun, Sindhi, Siraiki and Baloch kids have the same dilemma in elementary and secondary education. In this backdrop, we will produce polyglot children who at an average would know two to four languages completely foreign to them, but not their own mother tongue," she told Naya Daur.

'Bill might not be taken forward'

Meanwhile, PPP parliamentary leader in Senate Sherry Rehman told Naya Daur that the bill might not be taken forward by the PTI in its current form. She reiterated that the PPP opposed the bill and said that her party called for making the learning of Arabic language optional, not mandatory.

Reacting to the legislation, PPP Information Secretary Shazia Marri said that connecting language with religion by making Arabic compulsory in the name of Quran ignores the country's diverse society and regional cultures. "The argument put forth by the mover of the bill is not convincing," she said.
Managing Editor

The author is Managing Editor, Naya Daur Media. She covers counter-extremism, human rights and freedom of speech among other issues. She tweets at @AiliaZehra and can be reached at ailiazehra2012@gmail.com