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Religious prejudice still taught in schools.

If you get a chance to visit Pakistan and meet its doctors, journalists, teachers, military officers, and even many farmers and shopkeepers, you'll find they speak in charmingly-accented English and offer genuine friendship to foreign visitors.

But a new study of Pakistan's textbooks, teachers, and schools, funded by a U.S. government commission, shows that a disturbing mixture of religious hatred and violence is being taught to the country's children. The study reports "clear expressions of bigotry" against Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and Jews.

"Government issued textbooks teach students that Hindus are backward and superstitious, and given a chance, they would assert their power over the weak, especially Muslims, depriving them of education by pouring molten lead in their ears said one report cited in the study, which was released in November.

What was most disturbing was that it was not only the religious schools known as madrassas that taught bigotry. Public schools also taught bigotry and one third of students in those schools favored supporting violent jihadi groups.

Despite efforts by some Western academics to portray jihad as a non-violent intellectual effort to conquer one's weaknesses and become a better person, 90 percent of the public school teachers interviewed in the Pakistan study "believed the concept of jihad to refer to a violent struggle" the study said.

The study team analyzed over 100 textbooks and interviewed more than 500 madrassa and public school teachers and students. "The study found systemic and widespread prejudice against religious minorities," said the group which carried out the research and analysis--the Washington DC-based International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD). But the group also reported that it "found encouraging signs of progress in addressing these biases."

The most violent ideas were found among the thousands of madrassa religious schools that have sprung up in Pakistan since the 1980-1989 Soviet-Afghan War when Saudi and U.S. funds and weapons flowed into Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. Some 70 percent of madrassa teachers supported "open war" to reclaim Kashmir from India.

ICRD has for the past few years run programs in Pakistani madrassas and trained 2,700 madrassa teachers and leaders to promote religious tolerance, critical thinking and human rights.

While it has long been assumed that Pakistani madrassas encourage violence against non-Muslims, the new study, published and funded by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has for the first time documented this activity.

The ICRD, working with a Pakistani think tank, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, went through textbooks used in religious and public school, interviewed students and teachers, and carried out focus groups to explore the thinking of students and teachers. The results are chilling. (The full report is on line at

"They [non-Muslims] are not good citizens," said one madrassa teacher. "There is a lot of difference between Muslims and non-Muslims. Allah had said Muslims are pure and non-Muslims are impure. From the point of view of their religious beliefs and practices, they are not good."

Another teacher said that "We wouldn't like to befriend non-Muslim teachers due to various reasons such as Christians are not trustworthy."

And in public schools, some teachers forced Christian students to sweep the school before class, refusing offers by Muslim students to help out, saying that it is the job for a Christian.

"Allah says Jews can't be your friends," said another madrassa teacher. "We can befriend them only to convert them to Islam." Throughout the 139 page study, teachers and students are quoted as saying that they can only be kind to non-Muslims in order to help convert them to Islam.

Shocking as the bigotry taught in the schools is, a large number of teachers and students also said they respected minorities as equals and as friends and had not hostility towards them. However many children were taught and apparently believe that there are enemies of Islam around the world who must be fought violently. "Yes, Jews have always been the enemies of Islam," said one public school student.

Another student said "Non-Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews are the enemies of Islam."

When I visited the Khuddamuddin madrassah in Lahore several years ago, I was stunned to see young boys all pledging to fight and defend Islam from Chechnya to the Philippines. The boys of 12 to 16 years of age seemed so small, thin and immature to pose a threat.

One boy told me he expected to go and fight the enemies of Islam when he graduated. "How will you know who is an enemy of Islam?" I asked.

"If I greet them with 'salam aleikum' and they do not know the correct reply of 'aleikum salem'"

"Well if you come to my country, America, people do not speak Arabic. If you greet them they will not understand 'salam aleikum and not know how to reply. Does that mean they are enemies of Islam?"

The boy pondered his reply as his teachers hovered around us. Finally he said: "No. They are not enemies of Islam."

But despite this boy's common sense reply, rejecting the broad brush of bigotry, many other students in public schools gave the study researchers far more chilling replies such as:

"Non-Muslims are the enemies of Islam;"

"Ones who don't believe in Islam are the enemies of Islam;" "All the infidels are the enemies of Islam."

The study, however, notes that "most students agreed that Islam prescribes good behavior towards religious minorities." The study team has therefore recommended eliminating all biases against non-Muslims in textbooks and highlighting the constitutional rights of all religious groups to citizenship and full human and other rights.

It further recommended training teachers to promote tolerance and interfaith dialogue.

Getting madrassas to eliminate prejudice against non-Muslims is possible, according to ICRD officials engaged in training sessions with teachers and administrators. However textbooks in use in these religious schools date from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries and may be impossible to edit. Training teachers to emphasize tolerance can compensate for ancient stereotypes.

Ben Barber is a journalist, photographer, and communications consultant who has worked with McClatchy Newspapers, Legion Magazine, USAID, The Washington Times, and Associated Press. He has contributed over 50 feature articles to The World & I magazine since 1993.
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Title Annotation:CURRENT ISSUES
Author:Barber, Ben
Publication:World and I
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Feb 1, 2012
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