I support the Compulsory Education of Arabic Bill 2015

Published: February 20, 2017

Students at a madrassa in Karachi on March 4, 2015. Religious schools in Pakistan are sometimes the only source of education for children. PHOTO: AP

Recently, a friend asked me if I had seen the movie ‘Fifty Shades of Grey. Being averse to things I have no real interest in, I told him I see it every day. Surprised, he asked me what I meant, to which I replied, 

“In Pakistan, we are all to some level masochistic. Either that or we are just plain servile. How can we be bombed, killed, raped and beaten into submission every day and just go on with our lives as if nothing is happening?”

Pakistan has a history of insurgency and violence, which reached its peak during the ‘War on Terror’ years. Any smarter nation would not only have reacted to this violent upsurge as the Pakistan Army did, but also attacked the root causes of the violence. That is where the real battle lies. How can we stop the factories that produce these terrorists? Any talk of restructuring the madrassa system or revamping their curriculum is met with fierce resistance primarily from religious groups and then from the ‘secular’ political parties as well. The debate automatically deteriorates into an emotional moral relativist realm, massively complicated by Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Any attempt at correcting anyone’s erroneous beliefs is vetoed by the cries of ‘blasphemy’ from the defending party.

These grey areas in our political structure have led to mass murder and rape becoming acceptable.

Our political leaders unfortunately fit the Quranic description of ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ (Surah Baqarah 2: 18). Having leaders who are more afraid of terrorists than the thought of being answerable to God for their actions, don’t warrant any more censure. I am actually starting to feel tired of criticising our current political appointees, frankly because they don’t really give a damn about the populace they claim to represent.

Our interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar, had refused to arrest Lal Masjid’s Abdul Aziz aka Mullah Burqa (a name he acquired when he tried to run from the siege of Lal Masjid in a burqa), claiming that it would have serious repercussions on the law and order situation in the country. All this went to hell when the current spates of violence were committed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as part of ‘Operation Ghazi’. Abdul Rasheed ‘Ghazi’ after whom TTP have named their terrorist upsurge, was Mullah Burqa’s brother who was killed by Pakistan’s SSG during the siege of Lal Masjid.

For our interior minister, capturing and killing a known terrorist facilitator is more problematic as opposed to dealing with the hundreds of innocents deaths that have occurred during the last two weeks all across Pakistan. I was thinking of writing a few expletives as a follow-up sentence but I am sure The Express Tribune editors will censor them, so I’ll just let the readers think up a few of their own. Our politicians enacted the National Action Plan (NAP) only to throw it away in the parliamentary archives similar to all other useful pieces of legislation.

Recently, another piece of legislation is up for debate, which might have a positive impact on our ability to tackle pseudo-religious terrorism. The Compulsory Education of Arabic Bill 2015 is currently on the discussion table in the National Assembly. Similar to other such useful bills, the debate is on-going without any real end in sight. Is teaching Arabic really a good option?

I, for one, am a supporter of this bill provided the language to be taught is classical Arabic, which is compulsory for the understanding of the Holy Quran rather than the modern language. There are some pertinent facts that should be known to all why the teaching of classical Arabic is not only important, rather it would be criminal not to approve this bill.

A study conducted by psychologist Dr Sohail Abbas post-9/11 – also published as a book titled ‘Probing the Jihadi Mindset’ (National Book Foundation, 2007) – gave a great insight into jihadi ideology and recruitment. He studied 517 militants captured at the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan ranging between the ages of 17 and 72 years. These men had gone to Afghanistan to fight against the Americans. His study showed that unlike the stereotypical myth that most people have regarding the insurgency’s motivation, recruitment and more importantly participation, the jihadis are not entirely poor, illiterate, rural youngsters from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Demographical data accumulated by his study showed that 42% of the captured recruits were from the Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), closely followed by almost 40% from Punjab and 14.1% from Sindh.

Seventy four per cent of the captured fighters were below the age of 30, clearly making it the largest age bracket, and around 68% of them belonged to rural areas. These fighters were mostly young but most of them had received some sort of education or another as only 44.3% were illiterate. Despite the obvious perception that these fighters are hardened Islamists, only 29% of them had attended a madrassa and surprisingly a whopping 72.5% of them had attended it for only six months or less. Another surprising figure is that only 52.5% of the militants had received any sort of religious education at home or abroad, further debunking the Islamist myth.

Dr Abbas’s data proves that almost all of Pakistan is prone to recruitment by extremists, who target youngsters in particular belonging to rural Pakistan. Another element that stands out is that people with little religious knowledge are highly susceptible to fall for convoluted religious propaganda. The largest number of people joining such militant causes are the ones convinced by a mullah from their frequented mosque.

If we can teach our children English to further their careers and economic standing, I am sure we could teach them Arabic to at least make them capable enough to withstand convoluted ideologies. With the jihadis moving into the online realm, saving our children is becoming increasingly difficult. The war for hearts and minds is being fought in our homes, on television, computers, tablets and cell phones. If you are a caring parent, please don’t wait for this lame duck government to enforce Arabic as a language – please hire a tutor who can teach your children the beautiful language. We can’t be everywhere to protect our children from these hatemongers. Let us at least give them a fighting chance to survive what’s coming for them in the age of cyber terrorism.



The author holds an MPhil in Public Administration and has taught Politics and Public Policy at the University of Karachi.

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

  • Eddied

    well written article…Recommend

  • Critical

    If learning of Quran in original Arabic form can stop ordinary Muslims from becoming jihadis…then how come so many Arab Muslims have embraced terrorism?Recommend

  • wb

    That’s a good study on the data available on Jihadists.

    But, incomplete and extremely irrelevant.

    Now, do you have any such data available on the recruiters and the leaders of terrorist organizations?

    Can you tell me with equal certainty that a majority of the terrorist recruiters or leaders of Jihad organizations (such as Osama, Mullah Omar, Abdul Aziz, Haqqani, Mullah Mansoor, Syed Salahuddin, Hafiz Saeed, Masood Azhar and their main lieutenants and commanders) were also illiterate in classical Arabic or never went to a Madrassah?

    If you cannot, then think about what you’re writing here. A teaching of Arabic will only multiply these terrorist organizations by manifold. And they’ll recruit an even higher number of innocent people.

    You didn’t think about that, did you? Because, you wanted to prove in a hurry that understanding Quran in Arabic makes one not a Jihadi. But you forgot that it could make him an even more dangerous person a Jihadi organizer.

    But if you have data to prove otherwise, I request you to reply to my comment and prove me wrong.Recommend

  • Rahul

    OK, you want to teach these kids who have little education a whole other language that is not their mother tongue or the national language or the language the government of Pakistan so that they do not become terrorists. A language they will never use because Gulf states do not have the money or motivation to employ more Pakistanis. What if they become radicalized by Saudi zealots in Arabic instead of Pakistani zealots in Urdu?Recommend

  • Ahmar

    Learning Arabic will somehow protect our children from being recruited by terrorists? What a ton of *@&(%!

    Thousands of people from Arab-speaking countries have been recruited by terrorists. From Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco to Saudia, Yemen and Libya. ISIS isn’t in Sind you know. Didn’t those people understand Arabic perfectly? Understanding Arabic didn’t stop them from joining ISIS, Muslim Brotherhood, Alqaeda, Boko Haram etc.Recommend

  • siesmann

    If people can’t understand Quran in plain Urdu,how would one expect for them to understand it in Arabic?That said,it is always good to learn languages.Recommend

  • Yogi Berra

    Pakistanis cannot wish away their history and heritage which is rooted in South Asian civilization and not in Arabic civilization. Accepting south asian roots is the only way Pakistanis can keep their country sane and peaceful. Else Pakistan will turn into another Middle Eastern country….torn by violence.Recommend

  • ioer

    I don’t think that learning Arabic will reduce the number of terrorists. I’m sure Al Qaeda, and ISIS members speak arabic too, but that didn’t stop them from spreading terror. What we need is to teach critical thinking to our children.Recommend

  • Milind A

    That’s a pipedream!!! What’s the guarantee that those who learn Arabic will not read and interpret Koran to suit their interests??

    What’s the guarantee that they would read with unbiased mind? How many unbiased translations are available?

    Earlier we heard, that illiteracy was the issue with Muslims. However literate Muslims including those with MS degrees didn’t change their outlook towards faith. This will serve no purpose. The only remedy would be to introduce logic that would challenge all concepts including those in Koran, as Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy has suggested.Recommend

  • Amanullah Khan

    I support replacement of Urdu with Arabic as national language in a phased manner. It will help the people in understanding the teachings of Islam and save the innocent people from the exploitation in the hands of ignorant Mullah.Recommend

  • vinsin

    Was Abu Baker also terrorist?Recommend

  • vinsin

    Wasnt Pakistan created for that purpose?Recommend

  • ARS

    Even though I do not agree with the shades analogy, I agree with writer’s conclusion. Currently, all these local PK terrorists are lured in to suicide bombing etc by out of context sighting of Islam. And the more one knows Quran, the more one will tend to become tolerant. Yet, the current wave of restless ness in Pakistan is by the Al Qaeda and Taliban Franchise offices,they are focused on non muslims. And non muslims have the muscle/means and money to protect themselves. The terror that we are facing is franchised . And we can thwart them by more islam not less islam. More education of islam not less education of islam. How can a muslim who knows that Muslim blood is sacred go and start killing other muslims, shias sunnis barelvi, deobandi etc. They would only do when the glasses of extremism and selective passages are read to them.

    Secondly you want to learn Quranic Arabic to directly learn what our creator wants us to know, rather than have a Mullah translate it for us with a biased myopic lense.

    We as a Muslim believe that Islam is religion of piece, we believe in Quran and thus we should at least know what is it that we believe in, What Quran says to us. Without knowing what we believe in, we believe in what we are told we need to believe in. And that is the curse we can avoid by making Arabic compulsory learning.Recommend

  • Shar

    Dear wb,
    Thank you for the deconstruction and the comments.

    I do wish to add something here which I may have missed in the blog. The idea of supporting Classical Arabic is to promote independent thinking in the Quran. The problem is that certain interpretations such as the Wahhabi / Salafi one, leads people to such extreme actions. Extreme ideologies beget extreme interpretations.

    If you study extremist literature, you will notice that there are only two primary motivations that stand out. First is political and the second is monetary. I don’t wish to create controversy here but these terrorist outfits including the names you mentioned above, were all supported by certain Gulf States and the secret services of some Western countries. That has spilled over into their thinking.

    Jihadi literature is rife with their political purposes and their suffering at the hands of ‘western infidels’. Amazingly these ‘western infidels’ are also their benefactors as soon as the theater of war changes such as from Afghanistan to the Middle East (Libya, Syria).

    Teaching Arabic is just a prerequisite to promoting logical and independent thinking. No side is blameless nor are they perfect. However as a Muslim it is pertinent to have the tools to make the right choice. As a father, I am having my children tutored in classical Arabic which has raised similar questions within my own family. As long as I know that I teach my children open-mindedness and logic along with a strong religious base, I can feel confident that they shall not fall into these traps.

    Hope that answers your question.

  • Shar

    Dear Ahmar,

    These groups you mention are Arabic speaking and terrorists but they have no logical or spiritual backing of the Quran for their actions. Just because someone calls themselves a Muslim it does not make him one unless their actions and words compliment each other.

    Islamic history has similar examples such as the Kharijites that rose during the reign of Caliph Ali (RA). He said that people fear them due to their prayers, their fasting and the mark of sujood on their foreheads but they were in the wrong. Time has elapsed but the situation is the same. Just because they have long beards and long hair doesn’t make them a Muslim. I normally use a term pseudo-religious mercenaries.

    The teaching of Arabic is only a prerequisite. It needs to be supplemented with open-mindedness and logical thinking.

    Hope that clears your contention.

  • Milind A

    “As long as I know that I teach my children open-mindedness and logic
    along with a strong religious base, I can feel confident that they shall
    not fall into these traps.”

    You nailed it now… That’s the ticket.. Language doesn’t matter. One can learn Quran in English, Swahili or Mandarin or classical Arabic.. As long as you do not promote open-mindedness and logic everything else is futile.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    The article is written emotionally, the only exception being that the author has no objection to the arabic language being taught in Pakistan elementary schooling.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    The only remedy would be to introduce logic that would challenge all
    concepts including those in Koran, as Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy has suggested.

    Since when is the logic in Truth? The fact is that Dr Hoodbhoy has not been able to become the doctor father for any of his Pakistani students. The guy is a living example of incompetence and anti-faith.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Abeer

    Very niceRecommend

  • Yogi Berra

    That decision is being proven wrong almost every day.Recommend

  • Purna Tripathy

    so, you learn Arabic and try to understand what is written in Quran. There is a possibility that You may differ about the meaning of it from the nearest mullah (author is of the opinion that if you learn the language you can interpret yourself, which perhaps will be different from extremist narrative). He charges you of blasphemy and you die. There ends the story. Killer of the governor has become hero with lakhs supporting his action. If you really want a change stop blasphemy law.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    You have already been taught history for a number of decades, the rest of the world calls it hallucination

    Arabic would act as icing on the cake.

    On a serious note, the ones who rammed the planes into WTC and those who are killing Yazidis and Shias, were they also learning Arabic?Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    You are my friend from across the border.

    I would go a step further, you need to gradually do away with Salwar Kurta and start wearing Abaya’sRecommend

  • Grace

    Sadly I have to agree with you. Look at most states where Arabic is the mother language and they can read and speak fluently. They are the worst examples of instability and crimes in the world if you were judge by looking at Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya etc. Why are millions of Arabs desperate to hide on boats and ask for asylum in non Arabic speaking European countries where there is no Islam? The irony is that some non Arabic speaking Muslim countries are doing much better – whether Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia or Pakistan. Maybe not learning Arabic and just sticking to an accurate translation of the holy Quran is enough to learn the message since the native speaking Arabs haven’t learned anything despite their knowledge of Arabic.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    where are my comments??Recommend

  • Xyz

    What does a “strong religious base” mean? Will you teach your children to also be open minded and apply logic towards religion. Would you teach them to question and critically analyze religion and religious practices? Would you teach them that there is good abd bad in every religion including their own? Unless you are willing to encourage that kind of open mindedness, you will not be able to foster strong critical thought process.Recommend

  • http://solomon2.blogspot.com/ Solomon2

    “If we can teach our children English to further their careers and economic standing, I am sure we could teach them Arabic to at least make them capable enough to withstand convoluted ideologies”

    The colonial Brits tried it: it was they who, building on their success in suppressing suttee, imported Arab clerics into British India in an attempt to improve the character of India’s Muslims. This was necessary because British India’s colonial courts were failing because, it seemed, a crook could always rely on a “tenth cousin” to fib to provide him an alibi in court and thus compel dismissal of the case. Whereas Arab Muslims, the British knew from experience, could and did swear oaths and keep them, even in violation of family- and self-interest.

    Obviously the British effort failed. That’s not necessarily due to any fault in Islam; rather, the Brits traced it to the Indian Muslim (that is, Pakistani) character: the Arab actually has fear of Allah, whereas the Indian Muslim does not. Thus religious instruction is absorbed not as a means to better worship Allah but merely as a tool to manipulate others to serve one’s self-interest: the pursuit of wealth, glory, or power.Recommend

  • siesmann

    A foreign language can’t make you open-minded and logical.Recommend