Plan to teach Quran with translation may hit snags

ISLAMABAD: The federal government plans to start teaching the Holy Quran at educational institutions, after the summer holidays, from the primary to higher-secondary level. But even before it gets off the ground, the idea is likely to face resistance from religious circles.

“We will start teaching the Holy Quran at 18,000 of our non-formal schools all across the country,” Balighur Rehman, Minister of State for Federal Education and Professional Training, told Dawn.

A draft law, tentatively titled ‘Education of Holy Quran according to Recitation by Sight and with Translation, Learning by Heart and with Correct Pronunciation Bill 2015’, has been finalised by his ministry, and is currently being vetted by the law ministry.

But even before a law is promulgated, the minister says that he has been encouraged by several segments of society to start teaching the Holy Quran in schools.

“Some of the NGOs working in the education sector have expressed support for the idea,” the minister said, adding, “We need a law to discuss the idea with private schools and the provinces so that they too can follow the same pattern.”

Mr Rehman said that teaching of the Holy Quran would be mandatory only for Muslim students, while non-Muslim students would be exempted from these classes.

The federal education ministry appears to be following the idea put forward by the Karachi-based NGO — Ilm Foundation — which has been working on the subject and already has a set of 12 textbooks to teach the Holy Quran, which are already being followed by several schools.

Under the curriculum devised by Ilm Foundation, students from grade one to grade five learn to recite the Holy Quran by reading the Arabic text.

Between grades six and twelve, students will be taught the holy book along with a simple Urdu translation.

“The translation is so simple that even Urdu teachers can easily teach it,” the minister told Dawn. “Between grades six and ten, students will read and learn Urdu translations of the surah (chapter) which pertain to historical events; while in grades 11 and 12, they will study chapters that contain Allah’s commandments and directives,” Mr Rehman explained.

The Ilm Foundation’s curriculum has already been approved by various religious scholars from all four mainstream sects in the country, including Barelvi, Shia, Deobandi and Ahle Hadith.

The NGO has also provided soft copies of their books to the ministry, and given them permission to print their own copies without any additional charges.

An NGO worker from an organisation working in the education sector supported the idea of teaching the Holy Quran at informal education centres, saying it would help reduce the burden on parents who would ordinarily have to hire a qari, or send their children to a madressah for this purpose.

“This will reduce the amount of political influence clerics who teach the Holy Quran will be able to exert, as well as reducing fears that they are teaching something else along with the holy book, if the idea is adopted,” the NGO representative said, on condition of anonymity.

He said that although there were several Hafiz-i-Quran (those who learn the Holy Quran by heart) in society, many of them had never even read the translation of the holy book in their life. “However, we still respect them as if they are learned people,” he deplored.

The draft bill, along with the sets of books that will be used as part of the curriculum, have been submitted by Mr Rehman before the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for review.

The CII has distributed the books to its members and various office-bearers of its research cell. However, it seems that some clerics are apprehensive about the move, fearing that it may threaten their monopoly over teaching of the Holy Quran.

There are even reports that some members have already begun raising concerns within days of receiving the set of books for the proposed curriculum.

“We are looking at the Urdu translation that has been written in the 12 books thoroughly and carefully,” said a CII official. However, he added that certain members had expressed dissatisfaction over the idea on the grounds that it will not be beneficial for students.

“This is just like reading a medical college textbook over the Internet — one cannot become a doctor this way,” the official said, adding that the accent and disciplinary strictness of a teacher cannot be replicated by just any Urdu teacher at the primary or secondary level. “This idea will fail,” he concluded.

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