What constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education?

Published: April 26, 2016

I’m curious to know; what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education and who’s to take a decision on the matter? PHOTO:REUTERS

In Pakistani schools, making it compulsory to study the Holy Quran is a bit like insisting the prime minister to take a cruise along the Panama Canal for his birthday, never mind that it’s supposed to be a beautiful spot.

Yet, compulsory Quranic studies is apparently in store for young Pakistanis according to a speech given by the Minister of State for Education and Professional Training, ‘Engr’ Muhammad Baligh ur Rahman.

Mind you, speeches given by government ministers are often so much chaff, but still, speaking at Al-Huda International School’s fourth annual day celebrations (where else?) ‘Engr’ Rahman said that;

“This process would be initiated after consulting all the provinces through the platform of Inter Provincial Education Minister’s Conference (IPEMC).’’

The minister explained that Nazra Quran (learning to read the Quranic script) would be taught from grade one to grade five, and ‘proper’ Quranic education with translation would be taught to students of grade six to grade 10 in all public schools.

I’m curious to know; what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education?  Whose interpretation takes precedence when our religious ideals constantly conflict with one another? Why on earth should one officially go down that road, when you’re bound to be stuck at an intersection?

It’s sort of like Alice in Wonderland, when Alice, wishing to know which road to take, asks the Cheshire cat:

“What sort of people live here?”

“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. They’re both mad.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice protested.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Seeing that we had little choice and were born here, you could wave your hand towards Gilgit and say,

‘Up that way lives one community of people,’ and this way’ waving your hand around Punjab, ‘lives a substantial population of another.’

‘Down that way,’ waving your hand towards Sindh ‘lives another group of others.’

‘And across that way’, waving your hand vaguely towards Afghanistan, ‘lives a group of people who, along with many of those living in this country think that every community but theirs is mad and bullets are the best way to eliminate the differences .’

The reader looks confused.

‘Does that make sense?’ you ask.

‘No,’ the reader says flatly.

‘Good! Good!’ you say with some satisfaction. ‘It only means you are mad as well, like the rest of us. Welcome to Pakistan.’

Which brings us back to the question; which of these people would you consult as to what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education? And what do you do about those segments of the population for whom the Holy Quran is not valid at all?

Well the government could and apparently does exempt this segment of the population, the non-Muslims, from studying the Holy Quran. Having said that, a little boy Naveed Rafique hailing from Chak-21 GB, Jaranwala enrolled in a government school near Faisalabad was recently barred from sitting the viva for Islamic studies because the examiner felt he must perform ablutions before the exam, and Rafique, being Christian, did not know how.

Now in Punjab, Islamic studies is already a compulsory subject. If you happen to belong to one of the hapless non-Muslim communities you can take Ethics instead. But Rafique’s school could not afford to hire an Ethics teacher for him – the only non-Muslim in the school. Rafique was therefore forced to opt for Islamic studies, but come exam time, he was unable to take the viva.

Question 1: How many schools are there in the country that can ill afford additional teachers like Rafique’s school?

Answer: Many.

Question 2: How many people do you suppose think the way the examiner did in Rafique’s school?

Answer: Many.

Question 3: Are they mad or are you?

Answer: I’m not, so they must be.

Well then, good luck for a consensus on what constitutes ‘proper’ Quranic education. Oh, and welcome to Pakistan. You fit right in.

Now duck, there’s a bullet headed your way. Or mine.


Rabia Ahmed

The author is a freelance writer and translator.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Subhan Ahmad

    There are more than 90% muslims in Pakistan. It is actually democratic and logical to develop polices and systems that make muslims a better muslims. The writer is dwelling in ifs and buts which shows a lack of will power. Picking up one case of non muslim student and saying that there are many interpretaions of Quran does not mean to wrap up the whole project. Have the writer ever evaluated that how these interpretions differ from each other? These interpretations are way more similar than they are dissimilar.
    The writer is rather happy of keeping the 90% muslims of Pakistan illetrate of Quran. It is time to end this crisis of parrot reading. And at the end, thinking that others are mad and while your the sane one is plain arrogance. Thank youRecommend

  • Razia

    This article makes complete sense. Let’s say we agree with your concept of minority being unimportant.

    What about these hundreds of sects inside Islam we have created since Prophet PBUH. Who’s version of Islam are you going to teach?

    Sunni, Shia, Barelvi …..should i go on?????Recommend

  • Rabia

    like with any debate this is very true. And what’s more, either answer could be perfectly rational. The deciding factor is faith which brings us back to the question: which faith? Which sect, su-bsect, etc? You can never really settle that one amicably, and the best thing to do is to allow the matter to rest in decent, private repose, and officially go with the most neutral policy available.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Yes I suppose discretion is the answer…..it should not be this way, but it is.Recommend

  • Jibraeel

    Only Allah can translate Quran. Whenever humans try to do so they form a new sect.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I hope I understood you correctly….because if I did, all I can say is that you are so right and its so unfortunate.Recommend

  • Parvez

    In a way I’ll agree…..its not religion that’s at fault, it’s the misuse of religion by people and I like to call it ‘ the business of religion ‘ that is widely practiced today that is …… for want of a better word, bad.Recommend

  • Subhan Ahmad

    Quran is as easy to understand as any text book. All you need is qualified teacher.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The answer is neither obvious nor simple…….because what you understand is not necessarily what I may understand…….and therein lies the rub.Recommend

  • SamSal

    This brings you back to the same question. Message in whose interpretation? Arabic is not every muslim’s language – so whose translation should one refer to?Recommend

  • SamSal

    Translations of whom: Shia, Suni, Barelvi?
    If only recitation is concerned, then basically you want people to learn Arabic.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    There in no Qur’an in any other language. Tampering with the Qur’an is cursed by God.Recommend