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But here in Pakistan things work differently.

The Punjab government impounded the books on comparative religion and its education minister announced with the selfassurance of a person mesmerised by the glitter of high office: o one would be allowed to change the basic ideology of the education system of Pakistan and stern action would be initiated against people behind such a conspiracy.! The minister could do with a crash course on the basic law of the land. "e claimed unabashedly: #rticle $% of the constitution of Pakistan is &uite clear about the provision that no Pakistani citi'en should be taught a religion other than his own religion ( )slam.! This is simply not true. The relevant clause is #rticle $$ *+,- which is discussed later. The response of the school administration to the misguided messianic 'eal of the T. anchor and the Punjab government was: /ur institution believes in inculcating values such as tolerance and empathy in all our students. 01omparative religion2 is essentially a 0history of religion.2 )t is not comparing religions3 we aim to educate about )slam1hristianity...4oing so- we believe- will enlighten our students about the importance of peaceful coe5istence.! This is in accord with the fre&uent references in the 6uran to the histories of several "ebraic and pre-"ebraic prophets mentioned in the Bible. # te5tual study of the 6uran shows that it constantly urges believers to learn from history and- in particular- from the e5periences of the earlier prophets. But the "oly Book does not go into details about the lives of these men of 7od. arrative is not its purpose- and- in the words of a respected scholar- whenever it refers to past events ( whether recorded in the Bible or alive in #rabian tradition ( it does so e5clusively with a view to bringing out elements that are relevant to the ethical teachings it propounds.! #s a conse&uence- many of the most outstanding 6uran commentators- both classical as well as modern- have relied on Biblical accounts and Talmudic te5ts for the elaboration of some of the 6uranic passages- particularly those pertaining to the earlier prophets. 8or instance the 6uran says the coming of Prophet 9uhammad *pbuh, was foretold in the earlier scriptures and this is confirmed in the Biblical passage: The :ord thy 7od will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee- of thy brethren- like unto me3 unto him ye shall hearken! *4euteronomy 5viii- +%,- and- by the 1reator "imself- ) will raise them up a prophet from among thy brethren- like unto thee- and will put my words in his mouth! *4euteronomy 5viii- +;,. #ll )slamic scholars are convinced that the 0brethren2 of the children of )srael *<acob, were the #rabs- and particularly the 0mustaribah2 or #rabianised group among them which traces its descent to )shmael and #braham. )t is to this group that the tribe of the last of the prophets- the 6uraysh- belonged and all commentators concur that the Biblical passage foretells his advent. #nother e5ample is that the 6uran affirms that some of the earlier prophets were slain but does not name them *$:=+- ;>- ?+3 @: ++$- +;+- +;@3 A:+%%,. This problem is again

partially addressed by the Bible. The story of the beheading of <ohn the Baptist is given in the ew Testament- and- in more general terms- by <esus: / <erusalem- <erusalemthou that killest the prophets- and stonest them which are sent to thee! *9atthew 55viii@>,. The murder of Bachariah is referred to in 9atthew 55viii- @A-@% and :uke 5i- %+whereas- the slaying of prophets is mentioned in ) Thessalonians ii- +%. Beyond the earlier scriptures- the scholars of )slam have even delved into the findings of historians- and a case in point is the account of the Prophet Calih- the second #rabian prophet after "ud- who belonged to the abataen tribe of Thamud. 8rom theDncyclopaedia of )slam ).- >@=- for instance- one learns that the >+% B1 inscription of Cargon speaks about the Thamud as a tribe of eastern and central #rabia who were overwhelmed by the #ssyrians. The tribe is also mentioned as Thamudaei and Thamudenes in the works of the stoic philosopher #risto *$%E B1,- the Foman philosopher Pliny *#4 $@->?, and the 7reco-Foman writer Ptolemy *#4 ?E-+=;,. )slam has never claimed to be a new religion. /ne of the functions of the 6uran is to confirm the truth of whatever still remains! of the earlier scriptures and to correct the distortions that had come into their te5ts. )t accepts all the prophets of previous ages and says clearly: #nd- indeed- */ 9uhammad-, Ge have sent forth apostles before thy time3 some of them we have mentioned to thee- and some we have not mentioned to thee...! *AE:>;3 A:+=A,. 8urthermore- 9uslims are told: But as for those who believe in 7od and "is apostles and make no distinction between any of them ( unto them- in time- will "e grant their rewards *in full,...! *A:+%$3 $:$;%,. Gith this emphasis on the acceptance of all the prophets ever sent to mankind- and not merely the $% named in the 6uran- it becomes obvious that a study of other faiths does not undermine but reinforces and e5plains the fundamental teachings of )slam. The controversy sparked by the over'ealous television anchor brings the rot that is progressively contaminating Pakistani society into the open. This is again evident from the Punjab government2s decision to also confiscate the biology te5tbook because it contained material that could provoke se5ual desire.! Githout batting an eyelid the provincial education minister announced: Ge will not allow anyone to teach our children with material which is against our social values and religious beliefs.! These undefined 0religious beliefs2 are completely at variance with what a respected modern scholar describes as the many references in the 6uran to the positive- 7odordained nature of se5uality.! The outrageous reaction to the biology te5tbook is summed up in the words of /scar Gilde: Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. 8or these there is hope.! The allegation that the school no longer teaches )slamiat is downright dishonest.

#ccording to a :ahore-based educationist )slamic and Pakistan studies are mandatory courses for a local and overseas e5amination! and- as such- cannot be dropped. But there is a problem insofar as non-9uslim children are obliged to learn )slamic principles in public schools. The te5tbooks currently being used in all the four provinces violate #rticle $$*+, of the constitution which clearly states: o person attending any educational institution shall be re&uired to receive religious instruction- or take part in any religious ceremony- or attend religious worship- if such instruction- ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.! )n the central )ndian state of 9adhya Pradesh- the ruling "indu right-wing Bharatiya <anata Party was recently constrained- because of stern criticism by 9uslim organisations- to rescind its order aimed at introducing te5ts from the Bhagavad 7ita into school curriculums. But here non-9uslim children are forced to learn about )slamic tenets even in subjects as diverse as general knowledge- Hrdu- social studies and Dnglish despite the provisions of the constitution. 8or them there is no hope so long as public opinion is swayed by the electronic mediawhich is obsessed with ratings. The immediate casualty is investigative reportingjournalistic integrity and professionalism. The writer is the publisher of 1riterion 6uarterly. Dmail: iftimurshedIgmail.com