From a young age, a child’s education influences the rest of his or her life. A saint once said, “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” It is therefore imperative that we make it a priority to structure our elementary school curriculum very thoughtfully. We must develop a decent academic system that we can entrust our children to and expect great men, and women, in return – adults who value the ideals of freedom, tolerance and mutual respect and who hold no prejudices against fellow humans.
Our present education system is not serving this purpose at all. It is, without our deliberate realisation, brainwashing our children with hate by presenting a selective, tailored, perverted version of our history.
The official narrative has always sought to portray Muslims as superior beings (delusion) and non-Muslims as evil people constantly conspiring against Islam (paranoia). As part of President Zia-ul-Haq’s “Islamisation” process, our curricula were revised and rewritten in 1979 in an attempt to further augment and highlight the role of “hard-line” Islam in Pakistan. The new curricula also sought to downplay the role of non-Muslims in Pakistan and wrote off anything that did not conform to General Zia’s state-sanctioned radical interpretation of Islam.
Today, we emerge from our schools believing Hindus are filthy, Jews are cunning and cruel, and Christians are all at war with Islam. We grow up confused, paranoid and delusional. There is a part of Pakistan’s history unknown to us, which if known, could only help promote interfaith harmony and understanding.
Did you know, for instance, that Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s grandparents were Hindu Rajputs? Jinnah’s grandfather Poonja Gokuldas Meghji was a Hindu Bhatia Rajput from Paneli village in present day Gujarat, India, who later converted to the Ismaili Khoja branch of Shia Islam. Jinnah eventually became a Twelver Khoja Shia.
How many of us know that Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III, a prominent Ismaili Shia Imam, was one of the founding members and the first honorary president of the All-India Muslim League, the party that Jinnah went on to lead? Just because the Imam belonged to a sect considered heretic by General Zia and his confidants, the page detailing his contributions has been conveniently ripped out of our Pakistan studies textbooks.
We believe that the Pakistan Resolution was an important document. Also known as the Lahore Resolution, this was the very basis for the legal battle for Pakistan. But how many of us know that the document was drafted by Chaudhry Muhammad Zafarullah Khan (see video 1 below), who was also the first foreign minister of Pakistan? Pakistan’s boundaries were negotiated by this very man. Just because he was an Ahmadi, he is now forgotten. His numerous other contributions, including his popular role in the independence of many countries across the Muslim world and his legal fight for Kashmir and Palestine, have been deliberately kept hidden from our children.
How many of us know that Allama Iqbal identified with the Ahmadi sect for a significant part of his life? His father and older brother had converted and remained Ahmadi for the rest of their lives. Iqbal however reverted to mainstream Sunni Islam sometime before his death. Pakistani historians fail to acknowledge, let alone make mention, this major part of Iqbal’s life (see video 2 below).
How many know that Jinnah visited the famous London mosque belonging to the Ahmadiyya Muslim community multiple times while in London? It was here that he made his famous speech announcing his return to India to represent the nation’s Muslims in 1933. In fact, it was the Khalifa of the Ahmadiyya community who had persuaded Jinnah to return to India. Mr Abdur Raheem Dard, the Imam of the London mosque, met Jinnah to deliver this message. The Sunday Times of London (April 9,1933) carried a report of this encounter. Mr Jinnah frankly acknowledged, “The eloquent persuasion of the Imam left me no way of escape.” But since this would highlight the contribution of Ahmadis in Pakistan’s creation, this important step in the story of Pakistan is left out of our books again.
It is a shame that hatred and violence against Ahmadis and Shias are rampant and go unchecked in today’s Pakistan. How many of us know that Maulana Maududi and company staunchly opposed the creation of Pakistan? “Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s place is not on the throne of leadership. He deserves to face trial as a traitor,” Maududi said. He also made it clear that “it is haraam to vote for the Muslim League.” Since Maududian Islam was adopted by General Zia himself, these ugly facts were left out of our books. Amazingly, these rightist forces are presented as true patriots who played a major role in Pakistan’s very creation and consolidation.
The aim here is not to make mention of each and every instance of history distorted by right-wing influences. The aim is to invite all Pakistanis to search for the truth and question the official version of history taught in our schools. To curb growing intolerance, extremism and sectarianism in the country, we need a total overhaul of our curriculum. As long as this does not happen, extremism will continue to be seen as the norm.
We will have to tell our children that Ahmadis and Shias are equal Pakistanis who have played major role in its creation and consolidation. We will have to teach them that Hindus, Christians and Jews are to be respected and that humanity comes first before anything else.
“Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man,” said the saint. We have to decide what kind of people we want our children to become: tolerant and progressive Pakistanis, or intolerant and filled with hate?