Ahmed al-Ghamdi is no unbeliever. He is not even a liberal. The conservative Muslim lead the mutaween in Mecca. One day, he was devotedly studying Qur’an and Sunnah when he discovered something that surprised him:
“I wanted to go to their underpinnings, so I began collecting all the texts relating to [gender mixing] from the Quran and the Sunna. My conclusion was that not a single text or verse in the Quran and Sunna specifically says that mixing is haram. The word ‘mixing’ is not even in the Quran.”
When Al-Ghamdi reported his discovery, he was fired from his position with the religious police. He was fired not due to his being wrong, but because his discovery had challenged the ruling power structure. In this instance, education and critical thinking were seen as a threat to the status quo and were therefore punished. In Pakistan, we are experiencing a similar backlash against critical thinking and education, but the stakes are much higher than merely losing ones’s job.
This week, the PTI government in KP mandated changes to school curriculum at the request of their partners in Jamaat-e-Islami. These included the addition of 18 Quranic verses to Grade 9 Chemistry books and lessons on jihad for Grade 11. These changes come one year after Malala Yousafzai’s book was banned due to concerns that it “will challenge the ideological foundations of our next generation”.
Also this week, Executive Director Higher Education Commission Dr Mansoor Akbar Kundi delivered a letter to Universities requesting them to “remain very vigilant and forestall any activity that in any manner challenge the ideology and principles of Pakistan”.
This letter was delivered one day after students and staff at an Islamabad University were suspended for including information about Israel in a “Model UN” exercise.
That Pakistan is experiencing an education emergency is well known, but even this usually refers to the deplorable number of children who do not attend school at all. But even those who are most highly educated, what are they learning? This is what Dr Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi wrote about 1971 in his book, Education In Pakistan:
This was written by one of Pakistan’s top academics, yet it very easily could be believed to have been from the pen of Zaid Hamid or some other discredited conspiracy fantasist.
By replacing the findings of Hamoodur Rahman Commission with conspiracy theories about ‘world Jewry’, we make it more likely that we repeat the same mistakes in places like Balochistan. By teaching religion as chemistry, we make it less likely that we are able to train a new generation of scientists to solve our energy problems. Replacing facts with ideology has consequences. Ahmed al-Ghamdi lost his job for challenging the status quo. Salmaan Taseer lost his life.