Teaching Comparative Religion: Lahore Grammar School did the right thing

Published: September 19, 2013
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It’s high time that we tackled extremism head-on and help make Pakistan a safer, freer place for its citizens.

Is it really wrong for our children to learn about other religions?

A branch of Lahore Grammar School (LGS-55 Main), has introduced a subject titled ‘Comparative Religion’, which aims to “educate about Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism”.

The course received considerable backlash, gaining mainstream attention following an episode of a talk show aired on ARY News, Khara Sach on September 16, 2013. In the episode, hosted by anchor Mubasher Luqman, the school was falsely accused of attempting to convert students to other religions, as well as ridding Islamiat from the curriculum following the sixth grade.

Following this episode of Khara Sach, considerable outrage was visible on social media, condemning the school.

Clarifying the schools stance on the subject following the backlash, Mrs Shah, the principal of LGS-55 Main, posted a message on the official Facebook page of the school:

“Our institution believes in inculcating values such as tolerance and empathy in all our students. ‘Comparative religion’ is essentially a ‘history of religion’. It is NOT merely comparing religions; we aim to educate about Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism – and their fundamental teachings. Doing so, we believe, will enlighten our students about the importance of ‘peaceful coexistence”

Ignoring the necessary need for a subject like comparative religion, Luqman’s highly biased coverage has stirred up a storm; the internet is awash with posts and tweets claiming that the school is trying to rid Islam from its curriculum in an attempt to indoctrinate its students. One viral image from a website with over 100,000 Facebook fans equates Hinduism and Sikhism with satanic beliefs.

Had Luqman done his research before spouting his bigoted untruths on national television, he would have learnt that Lahore Grammar School-55 has not, and has no intention of removing pure Islamiat Studies from the curriculum. As part of Mrs Shah’s message on the Facebook page stated,

“We must also clarify that we have NOT abandoned teaching pure Islamiat”

Comparative Religion is simply a supplementary course, which aims to teach children tolerance, broad-mindedness and compassion. And considering the increasing amounts of intolerance and sectarianism in the country, it is a step for the better.

In Pakistan today, militants are being harboured in prominent universities, anti-Ahmadi conferences are taking place in densely populated urban cities, and targeted killings and assassination of minorities are rampant.

Furthermore, textbooks in Pakistan have, in the last few decades, been filled with bigotry and hatred towards minorities, which inculcates fanaticism in our children. As Raza Rumi states in his article,

“They [textbooks] have constructed most non-Muslims, especially Hindus, as evil and primordial enemies… It is time to correct these wrongs.”

Following these unsettling facts, it is surprising that so many Pakistanis have issues with Comparative Religion. Does studying the history of other religions, many of which preach some of the very same values of Islam (goodness of heart, generosity, kindness and the likes) automatically make you a bad Muslim? Is our faith so fragile that simply gaining knowledge puts it at risk? Does teaching our children that other religions, and their followers, aren’t “bad” put our nation at risk?

I believe it is quite the contrary.

Pakistan’s own founders envisioned a pluralistic, diverse nation where minorities would be free to practice their religion in peace. As part of Article-20 of the Constitution of Pakistan clearly states,

“Every citizen shall have the right to profess, practice and propagate his religion”.

Considering the plight of religious minorities today, I personally applaud Lahore Grammar School for taking a bold step towards encouraging and fostering plurality, inclusiveness and tolerance for the children of this nation and would like to see other schools follow suit, and allow for similar subjects to undo some of the damage that has been wreaking havoc on our nation. I truly believe, and hope that there are many others too who feel the same way, that this will set a great example for other schools in the nation. Why would any parent have a problem with allowing their children to respect the faiths of other members of our society?

It’s high time that we tackled extremism head-on and help make Pakistan a safer, freer place for its citizens. Our schools should be bastions of learning and uninhibited enquiry, and comparative religion classes are a positive step and should be treated as such.

As an anchor with over 300, 000 followers on Twitter, Luqman has a responsibility to air educated opinions as opposed to populist rhetoric that panders to his audience’s prejudices.

Our greatest hope of combating extremism is education and our schools should be bastions of learning. I applaud the decision made by Lahore Grammar School to teach Comparative Religion and believe that it is indeed a very bold step in the right direction. I wish them the very best of luck and hope that may be some other schools will be brave enough to learn from LGS.

Do you approve or disapprove of students being taught about other religions in school?

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Ameer Gilani

Ameer Gilani

A sociology major, activist, and aspiring journalist working on educational reform who tweets @Ameeratron (twitter.com/Ameeratron)

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