Madrassah students’ tolerance in other countries

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A need to teach similar moderation in Pakistan

School textbooks can be one of the sources of providing information about the political perceptions and national beliefs and ideologies of entire educational and government systems. Textbooks depict ideological perspectives of the social context and political groups through words and pictures based on a particular ideology. Peace Education Islamabad said in their report that “the content of Pakistani public school textbooks related to non-Islamic faiths and non-Muslims continue to teach bias, distrust, and inferiority”. If this finding is coming from the mainstream schools then what can we expect from madrasaahs in Pakistan, that already have a negative public perception outside the highly conservative religious sector of society. Research studies have reported that the madrassah education system promotes sectarianism. The media presents a picture of Pakistan as an intolerant society, where majority religious groups are less tolerant of religious differences. Friction between the different leaders of sects and their followers incites events of hate and violence. The national identity registration has a compulsory column of religion in which people have to mention their religion. It is not clear why this is necessary information for the state’s knowledge and how it is used.. It is estimated that of the Muslims in Pakistan, 50% are Barelvis; 20% Deobandis; 18% Shia.

Considering the ongoing situation, I investigated the madrassah students’ perceived views regarding the political relationship of neighboring and other countries with Pakistan. The students were asked general questions regarding the role of other countries in relation to peace development in Pakistan, and whether madrassah education system is developing extremist views about other countries. Their perceptions were scaled up through a descriptive survey in May -2019.

According to the survey findings, the students particularly disliked “watching Indian films” and “friendship with America”. There were also negative views about introducing Western education, Western culture, friendship with Israel, and that Saudi Arabia was a promoter of terrorism in Pakistan. Osama Bin Laden was not considered to be “a great Islamic leader”, but the students were more neutral on his role in “the expansion of global terrorism”. The students were non-committal on Afghanistan as a cause of terrorism, but shaded towards the Taliban as “friends of Pakistan”.  It was recognised that Iran was not friendly towards Saudi Arabia with a conflict history between Shia and Sunni. India as a source of most of Pakistan’s terrorist problems received a positive but not excessively high rating. The students agreed strongly that Kashmir should have the right to become part of either India or Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, the highest rating was that given to the support of Islamic Sharia Law in Pakistan.

Peace Education Islamabad said in their report that “the content of Pakistani public school textbooks related to non-Islamic faiths and non-Muslims continue to teach bias, distrust, and inferiority”

Analyzing the results by students’ sect shows that it must not be assumed that all Muslims speak with the same voice. For instance, blame for terrorism tends to be located in Saudi/Aghanistan by Shia and Barelvi students but Deobandi and Ahle Hadith students disagree. Shia students give much lower ratings to the importance of Islamic Sharia in Pakistan. Ahle Hadith students are more attracted to development plans like those of India. Deobandi female students have particularly strong positive views about self-determination for Kashmir, and indeed tend to display more extreme attitudes than any of the other groups.

The different results when I looked at my data in terms of religious sect made me ask myself:
“Are sect differences widespread in our society and not just characteristic of our madrassahs?”

Instilling tolerance among the members of various sects is the need of the hour. Pakistan has far too many problems of an economic and societal nature for people to be fighting over religious differences. It is better to direct our resources, time and energy to efforts of nation-building rather than to waste that energy over inconsequential religious debates that often lead to intolerance and sometimes violence. Pakistanis must be united towards this goal. They must work towards alleviating the suffering of the poor and downtrodden, they must strive to clean up the corruption in our society and institutions and use Islam’s universal principles to achieve this end. Such principles are common to all sects. It is better to focus on the common elements rather than the differences for tolerance to emerge as the governing force in Pakistani society.