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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Making Arabic compulsory in Pakistan’s schools? Why?

By Farahnaz Zahidi

arabic
This will be a rewarding move if the ministry also considers what is being taught to students in the name of Islam and more importantly how it is being taught. PHOTO: REUTERS

Arabic came into my life out of a desire to know and understand what was written in the Holy Quran. My curious, questioning mind needed answers and I now know that a one-on-one relationship with the Quran has the potential to alter my life forever.

Having lived that, I thank God repeatedly for being blessed with the understanding of Arabic. It is wonderful when you no longer have to rely on translations to understand your faith. Translations are a great starting point, but the Quran’s feel tends to get lost in translations.

You understand what it is saying when you read, say, translations by Marmaduke Pickthall, Abdullah Yusuf Ali or Fateh Muhammad Jallandhari, but you lose out on the nuances and the delicate meanings.

You do not get to know that the word ‘Bushra’ means happiness that starts reflecting on one’s skin and that all Arabic words from the root letters ‘Jeem Noon Noon’ allude towards things that are not visible – things like Jannat (heaven), Jinn (creatures of the unseen world) and Junoon (trance or mania).

Understanding Arabic gave the five prayers more soul and the Ramazan taraweeh became a joy for me.

Another step forward was reading other Islamic literature sources in depth, like Sahih Bukhari and books about the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). One relishes the sweetness of why the Prophet (pbuh) nick-named Hazrat Ali (ra) ‘Abu Turaab’ and the poems that Hassan ibn Thaabit (ra) wrote in defence of the Prophet (pbuh).

Even apart from Islamic literature, the richness of the Arabic language is undisputed. Knowing the language opens the door to the poetry of Ibn al Farid and the spiritual treatise of Ibn Qayyim al Jawzi.

I love visiting mosques and museums where Arabic inscriptions make sense to me now. The prefix ‘al’ no longer irks me.

I love the language.

I am unapologetic that as a Muslim, Arabic is not just another language for me. And yes, as a mother, I would love my daughter to also experience the same joy. The preface above is meant to clarify to the readers that I am neither anti-Arabic nor a person who does not value the possible advantages of learning the language.

The problem with compulsory Arabic

Having said that, I have misgivings about the recent statement by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Sardar Muhammad Yousuf, about making Arabic compulsory in primary schools.

More than what is being suggested in this proposal, it is the way that this is being done and the reasons being given, which have left many of us ambiguous about whether this will be a good move or not.

The minister’s statement that this will be a counter-terrorism and anti-sectarianism strategy seems more like an alibi.

Are we, arguably, saying that learning Arabic will fight certain tendencies?

Are all Arabic-speaking nations free of these challenges?

Sadly, many a times such turmoil and strife is evident in Arab-speaking nations.

Also, I have to wonder if knowing Arabic is actually the route to being better Muslims and better humans.

While there is no doubt that knowing the language of the Quran and hadith would bring us closer to a better understanding of Islam, it can be so only for those who choose to understand Islam via Arabic, and then try and act on the ethics that Islam has given us.

Teaching a language by force cannot be seen as a formula for producing a generation of better Muslims.

And fortunately, Pakistan does not have a dearth of Arabic teachers.

What will actually make this a rewarding move is if the ministry also considers what is being taught to students in the name of Islam and more importantly how it is being taught. If they do use it correctly, it will indeed be a good move to introduce better ethics through religion.

There have been dissenting voices on the issue.

Some have jumped the gun and reacted a bit too strongly to the idea of making Arabic compulsory because for them Arabic is somehow the language of Saudi Arabia – of hardliners and extremists. They may have overlooked the fact that for a lot of people in this country, the move would be a welcome one – especially for parents who have a hard enough time meeting the demands of their children’s increasingly competitive study regimes and barely manage to make children learn the recitation of the Holy Quran, let alone its meaning.

In this light, for these parents who wish their children to learn Arabic, the ministry’s suggestion is a blessing. However, here is the inevitable ‘but’.

Undoubtedly, languages make us grow and soar. They have the power to unify and to liberate. But one cannot discount the fact that languages have been used, throughout human history, to strengthen imperialistic ambitions and designs. Each colonial power left its territorial mark in the form of stipulations about languages, and the languages were then used as tools of proselytising people into thinking in certain boxes.

One hopes this is not a means to making people think Islam is a monolithic entity and teaching Arabic will not end up conditioning students to look at Islam in a reductionist pattern of “I am right and everyone else is wrong”.

It would be important to know opinions of people whose children will be taught Arabic in schools and how they feel about this move. I would also need to know how and what exactly will be taught in Arabic; what will the curriculum look like and who are the teachers who are able enough to handle this important tool, because we, unfortunately, have not set for ourselves a good precedence when it comes to teachers for Islamiat.

So here is the thing.

This is one of those issues on which I have mixed feelings. My tilt is in favour of making more people, and more importantly more Muslims, learn the language of the Quran. But based on my experience as a Pakistani, I am forced to think about the possible hidden motives behind this proposal.

I do hope that there are no reasons for this but to make us grow into better humans and Muslims.

Let us wait and watch.

Wallahu A’alam

(And Allah Knows best).

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/20545/making-arabic-compulsory-in-pakistans-schools-why/

Success story: How a news story won a gang-rape victim justice

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: January 2, 2014

KARACHI:
“We are poor people. We never expected to get justice. We are all so happy that at least the culprits have been punished. Thank you, adi (sister). The story your newspaper published had a strong impact, as did the pressure from rights activists. We got justice,” says a grateful and emotional *T, husband of a gang-rape victim in Tharparkar some three months after the horrific incident.
From the time when *M was raped till the verdict came, T and his family went through hell. The motive behind the crime turned out to be some men of their own community in Tharparkar getting back at each other. It ended in *M getting gang raped in front of her husband and children some three months ago. “We are grateful, though even 14 years is not enough punishment for what they did. No punishment is enough,” says T, satisfied with the justice but not yet healed of the trauma.
“This is such a success story. It is cause to celebrate. The credit goes a 100 per cent to the joint efforts of the media, civil society and rights activists,” says a delighted Amar Sindhu who was very much involved in the activism behind the case. Sindhu represents the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and is a member of the Sindh Human Rights Commission. She added that the popular perception of locals is that if the media highlights an issue, justice follows. Sindhu and others like her played an important role by guiding the victim and her family to get justice through legal procedures.

“The prominent coverage given by The Express Tribune to the issue really helped, along with human rights activists who brought spotlight to the issue. Authorities had no option but to take this case seriously after the pressure was applied. Media, in general, played a good role in this case,” says Ali Akbar, Executive Director, Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in Tharparkar. According to Akbar, he heard from the local authorities and regional language media confirmed that the Chief Justice took notice of the case, and that helped expedite the police’s prompt action in arresting the perpetrators.
In an encouraging turn of events and an unusual case of culprits actually getting punished, the eight men who committed the heinous crime have each been awarded 14 years prison term by the anti-terrorism court in Mirpurkhas. “Because the perpetrators used weapons, we were advised by a lawyer that the case should go to the anti-terrorism court from the district and sessions judge,” said Akbar. The fact that the case was taken up in the anti-terrorism court helped expedite the verdict.
This encouraging verdict came a few days ahead of the Chief Justice taking suo motu notice of the recent Karachi rape case of a 12 year old girl, and took notice of the non-arrest of those who raped the five-year-old girl in Lahore on September 13.
“This was the first prominent incident of gang rape in Tharparkar. It was the first time punishment had to be meted out in this area under Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 376 (2). We, the police, are glad that our investigation and hard work have paid off,” says Ghulam Mustafa Kachelo, Station House Officer (SHO), Taluka Chachro. He was on duty on the case.
Akbar feels that this has set a good precedent that the wronged have gotten justice, and this will in the future be a deterrent for others who think of committing such a crime.
“Undoubtedly, very few rape cases have had convictions. This is a welcome move that courts are beginning to take such cases seriously and are recognising the crime and the prevailing conditions. This should be highlighted that now courts have begun convictions in such cases,” says Justice Majida Rizvi, Chairperson Sindh Human Rights Commission.
“We are thankful to all those who echoed the voice of the Thari people and supported the process of getting justice. With this success, we have realised that the media can play a pivotal role in helping vulnerable people,” says Akbar.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2014.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/653741/success-story-how-a-news-story-won-a-gang-rape-victim-justice/