Pakistani Christian students will be forced to study Quran if gov.’s plans move ahead

Men say their prayers during Eid al-Fitr at the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan.
Men say their prayers during Eid al-Fitr at the Badshahi mosque in Lahore, Pakistan. | (Photo: REUTERS/Mohsin Raza)

The governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province has asked all provincial universities to recommend how the teaching of the Quran with translation could be made part of the syllabus, saying the Islamic holy book is a complete code of life and will help students “win favor of Allah Almighty.”

It will be compulsory for students to attend lectures on the Quran, Punjab Governor Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar said at a news conference, saying that the Quran will also help them become good human beings, according to The New International.

The news conference was held to announce that the governor, who is the chancellor of universities, has constituted a seven-member committee of vice-chancellors to submit recommendations on how to make the Quran part of the syllabus.

The committee has been asked to submit final recommendations on May 22, according to a statement by CLAAS-UK, a Christian legal advocacy group.

“It is sad that for minorities, especially Christians who are living in large numbers in Punjab, their religious and fundamental rights are totally ignored,” Nasir Saeed, director of CLAAS-UK, said. “No alternative program has been announced for non-Muslim students of Punjab universities.”

Saeed said forcing non-Muslim students to study the Quran against their will, and that of their parents, will have “a negative impact.”

“It will promote bigotry and hatred against non-Muslims in Pakistani society, something which is already on the rise.”

Saeed added that it was “shameful” that apparently none of the nine Christian lawmakers in the Punjab Assembly raised their voice against the move.

A controversial bill making the teaching of the Quran mandatory in all schools and colleges in the entire country was passed by the National Assembly and the Senate in 2017.

Balighur Rehman, the state minister for Federal Education and Professional Training, insisted at the time that the Compulsory Teaching of the Holy Quran Bill 2017 would only apply to Muslim students.

“It will lead toward spreading goodness and auspiciousness and toward ending chaos and uncertainty,” the bill claimed, stating that it would make “the divine message understood, ensure the response of society, encourage peace and tranquility, promote the supreme human values of truth, honesty, integrity, character building, tolerance, understanding others’ point of view and way of life.”

The bill states that students in first grade through fifth grade will learn to read the Arabic text of the Islamic holy book, while students in sixth grade through 12 grade will also learn to read the Arabic text with simple Urdu translation, Hindustan Times reported at the time.

Christians are often targeted both by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws meant to protect Islamic sensitivities and by hardliners who carry out violence and have killed scores of believers in the past several years.

Persecution watchdog Open Doors USA ranks Pakistan at No. 5 on its 2020 World Watch List of 50 countries where it's most difficult to be a Christian.

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