THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
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Issue: Showdown in
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
“But if the state has
forgotten the children here, the mullahs have not. With public education in a
Excerpts: Excerpts are presented under the Eight Articles of the 1981 U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
5. 1 The parents or, as the case may be, the legal guardians of the child have the right to organize the life within the family in accordance with their religion or belief and bearing in mind the moral education in which they believe the child should be brought up.
5. 2 Every child shall enjoy the right to have access to education in the matter of religion or belief in accordance with the wishes of his parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, and shall not be compelled to receive teaching on religion or belief against the wishes of his parents or legal guardians; the best interests of the child being the guiding principle.
5. 3 The child shall be protected from any form of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. He shall be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace and universal brotherhood, respect for the freedom of religion or belief of others and in full consciousness that his energy and talents should be devoted to the service of his fellow men.
MOHRI PUR, Pakistan — The elementary school in this poor village is easy to mistake for a barn. It has a dirt floor and no lights, and crows swoop through its glassless windows. Class size recently hit 140, spilling students into the courtyard.
But if the state has
forgotten the children here, the mullahs have not. With public education in a
The concentration of
madrasas here in southern
In an analysis of the
profiles of suicide bombers who have struck in
“We are at the beginning
of a great storm that is about to sweep the country,” said Ibn Abduh Rehman,
who directs the Human Rights Commission of
President Obama said in a news conference last week that he was “gravely concerned” about the situation in Pakistan, not least because the government did not “seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services: schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of the people.”
He has asked Congress to
more than triple assistance to
But education has never been a priority here, and even Pakistan’s current plan to double education spending next year might collapse as have past efforts, which were thwarted by sluggish bureaucracies, unstable governments and a lack of commitment by Pakistan’s governing elite to the poor.
“This is a state that
never took education seriously,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a
Pakistani families have
long turned to madrasas, and the religious schools make up a relatively small
minority. But even for the majority who attend public school, learning has an
Islamic bent. The national curriculum was Islamized during the 1980s under Gen.
Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, a military ruler who promoted
Failures in Education
But even today, only about
half of Pakistanis can read and write, far below the proportion in countries
with similar per-capita income, like
“Education in Pakistan was left to the dogs,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physics professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad who is an outspoken critic of the government’s failure to stand up to spreading Islamic militancy.
This impoverished expanse
of rural southern
Of the more than 12,000
madrasas registered in
Though madrasas make up
only about 7 percent of primary schools in
The public elementary school for boys in this village is the very picture of the generations of neglect that have left many poor Pakistanis feeling abandoned by their government.
Shaukat Ali, 40, a tall man with an earnest manner who teaches fifth grade, said he had asked everyone for help with financing, including government officials and army officers. A television channel even did a report. “The result,” he said, “was zero.”
A government official responsible for monitoring schools in the area, Muhamed Aijaz Anjum, said he was familiar with the school’s plight. But he has no car or office, and his annual travel allowance is less than $200; he said he was helpless to do anything about it.
With few avenues for advancement in what remains a feudal society, many poor Pakistanis do not believe education will improve their lives. The dropout rate reflects that.
One of Mr. Ali’s best students, Muhamed Arshad Ali, was offered a state scholarship to continue after the fifth grade. His parents would not let him accept. He quit and took up work ironing pants for about 200 rupees a day, or $2.50.
“Many poor people think salaried jobs are only for rich people,” Mr. Ali said. “They don’t believe in the end result of education.”
Safety Net From Despair
“Madrasas have been mushrooming,” said Zobaida Jalal, a member of Parliament and former education minister.
The phenomenon began in
the 1980s, when General Zia gave madrasas money and land in an American-supported
policy to help Islamic fighters against the Soviet forces in
The Islamic schools are also seen as employment opportunities. “When someone doesn’t see a way ahead for himself, he builds a mosque and sits in it,” said Jan Sher, whose village in southwestern Punjab, Shadan Lund, has become a militant stronghold, with madrasas now outnumbering public schools. Poverty has also helped expand enrollment in madrasas, which serve as a safety net by housing and feeding poor children.
“How can someone who earns
200 rupees a day afford expenses for five children?” asked Hafeezur Rehman, a
caretaker in the Jamia Sadiqqia Taleemul Koran madrasa in
Former President Pervez Musharraf tried to regulate the madrasas, offering financial incentives if they would add general subjects. But after taking the money, many refused to allow monitoring. “The madrasa reform project failed,” said Javed Ashraf Qazi, a retired general who served as education minister at the time.
Shahbaz Sharif, the chief minister of Punjab, says he is acutely aware of the problem and is trying a different approach, recently setting aside $75 million to build free model schools in 80 locations close to large madrasas, a tactic General Qazi had also proposed.
In the district that includes Mohri Pur, a mud-walled village of about 6,000 where farmers drive on dirt roads in tractors and donkey carts piled high with sticks and grasses, there are an estimated 200 madrasas, one-third the number of public schools, said Mr. Anjum, the education official.
Nonreligious private schools have also sprouted since the 1990s. They have better student-teacher ratios, but only the most exclusive — out of reach of most middle-class Pakistanis — offer a rigorous, modern education. Mr. Ali, the fifth-grade teacher, says the madrasas have changed Mohri Pur. They are Deobandi, adherents of an ultra-Orthodox Sunni school of thought that opposes music and festivals, which are central aspects of Sufism, a tolerant form of Islam that is traditional here.
There were no madrasas in
Mohri Pur in the late 1980s, when Mr. Ali began teaching. Now there are at
least five. Most are affiliated with a branch in the neighboring town of
Fear and Respect
Several local residents said they believed the Kabirwala seminary was dangerous. Some of its members were involved in sectarian violence against Shiites in the 1990s, they said.
Even if the madrasas do
not make militants, they create a worldview that makes militancy possible. “The
mindset wants to stop music, girls’ schools and festivals,” said Salman Abid, a
social researcher in southern
On a recent Thursday, the Kabirwala seminary was buzzing with activity. Officials showed rooms of boys crouched over Korans, reading and rocking. A full kitchen had an industrial-size bread oven. Flowers adorned walkways. The foundation for a new dormitory had been broken.
There was also a girls’ section, with its own entrance, where hundreds of young women chanted in unison after directions from a male voice that came from behind a curtain. “We have a passion for this work,” said Seraj ul-Haq, a computer teacher who is part of the family that founded the seminary. Teachers preach restrictions. February’s newsletter set out a list of taboos: Valentine’s Day. Music. Urban women “wearing imported perfume.” Talking about women’s rights.
Suicide bombings were neither encouraged nor condemned.
The ideology may be rigid, but it offers the promise of respect, a powerful draw for lower-class young men.
Abed Omar, 24, had little religious education before he was inspired by a sermon at the seminary last year. Better educated than most, he began to work in his family’s sweets shop.
Restless and unfulfilled, he joined a conservative Islamic group, paying about $625 to travel with them around the country for four months on a preaching tour. The group, Tablighi Jamaat, taught him that Islam forbids music and speaking with women. (He would speak to this reporter only through a male colleague.) American officials suspect that the group is a steppingstone to the Taliban. Pakistani officials say it is peaceful.
Now, when Mr. Omar visits his friends, “they turn off their tape players and give me their seat,” he said, a smile lifting his face, which, in the practice of some conservative Islamists, has a bushy beard but no mustache.
He is frustrated by a lack
of opportunity and at how much of
He knows about 100 people in his town who have done a four-month tour like his. As for those who sign up for less, he said “they are countless.”
Waqar Gillani contributed reporting from Mohri Pur and
ISSUE STATEMENT: United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”
Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.
Traditional and non-traditional leaders of religions and other beliefs, at all levels, sanction the truth claims of their own traditions. They are the key to raising awareness, understanding and acceptance of the value of holding truth claims in tandem with universal human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief.
Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.
International Human Rights Standards on Freedom of Religion or Belief are international law and codes of conduct for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts. The standards are a platform for genuine dialogue on core principles and values within and among nations, all religions and other beliefs. Inclusive dialogue on core principles and values includes balanced discussion on cooperation, competition and conflict.
The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project, a non-profit NGO, has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
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