IN the British era, schools of the Indian subcontinent did not have the formal subject of Islamiat for their Muslim students. The senior members of a family were supposed to teach juniors through their personal conduct.
Though at some places the madressah system was helping new generations to read the Holy Quran (nazrah), character-building was considered to be the sole responsibility of the family.
With the creation of Pakistan in 1947 and the subsequent adoption of the Objectives Resolution in 1949, the subject of Islamiat was formally introduced. The first education minister of Pakistan (Fazlur Rahman), who happened to be a religious scholar, considered Islamiat as an essential subject within the whole scheme of holistic education.
Islamiat should aim at promoting intellectual growth.
The state education policy for Islamiat revolves around the objectives of making students know and understand faith with firm beliefs in the basic concepts of Islam like Tauheed (monotheism), Prophethood and the hereafter etc.
During Ayub Khan’s regime (1958-69), this subject was made compulsory at the elementary level. Similarly, the 1973 Constitution also makes Islamiat a compulsory subject. It requires the state to take steps to enable the Muslims of Pakistan to order their lives in accordance with the fundamental principles and basic concepts of Islam.
Later in the Zia era (1977-88), the process of Islamisation was in full swing; therefore, the subject got extra significance. Its teaching was expanded even to students of professional universities. It was made a core subject in the training of doctors, nurses, engineers, the bureaucracy armed forces etc.
During the last 67 years, Islamiat has been part of the curriculum and is being taught in almost all schools across Pakistan. But its efficacy to inculcate Islamic values in students’ lives, turn them into ethically conscious citizens with empathy for others and to mould them into one unified nation is yet to be seen.
Nobody denies the importance of Islamiat; rather, it is key to social transformation. It can be a base for building strong ethical and civic foundations for individuals alongside a healthy, progressive society. It should aim at promoting emotional, social and intellectual development through Islamic perspectives. But unfortunately, the concepts taught in Islamiat courses are mostly learnt only to be regurgitated in examinations.
True and honest teaching of Islamiat can change an ordinary person into a better human being and subsequently create a peaceful society. However, this depends upon well-trained, well-versed and well-equipped subject teachers with a passionate sense of creating a God-fearing society. The subject’s contents and pedagogy need to be in line with our national requirements.
At present, the contents seem abstruse; hence students tend to avoid them. Therefore, they need a thorough review to make Islamiat responsive to our present problems. We should incorporate aspects pertaining to ethics and civility, inculcating love for fellow human beings, a caring attitude for all of God’s creations and consciousness of the divine presence in students’ hearts. Besides, students need to be engaged practically in various ethical dilemmas challenging them to solve these issues in the light of Islamic teachings.
Many schools slack off in teaching Islamiat and regard it as a mere formality. Many school managements do not value Islamiat as compared to other subjects. They remain impassive, showing neither interest in nor concern for the subject. Mostly unqualified people having no credentials of teaching Islamiat are hired. No in-service teachers’ training is arranged for Islamiat instructors.
Consequently, it has brought no improvement in our society. Though it has been taught for decades, the results are entirely contrary to what had been expected. No impact is witnessed in the state apparatus; rather many institutions have slid into disarray. We see that new sets of problems have emerged in the last decade. Pakistan is in the grip of horrendous problems like lawlessness, corruption, nepotism and killings etc and with each passing day our problems are multiplying. Materialistic tendencies are rampant and their overwhelming influence has made us more self-serving and least bothered about the rights of others.
Islamic education needs to be based on the Quranic ayat which states: “… So vie with one another in good work. Unto Allah ye will all return and He will inform you of that wherein you differ” (5:48). The subject can help students discover divinity in their hearts. It can make them aware of the divine presence behind the whole universe to which we belong.
The Islamic message is all-encompassing and always open for multiple interpretations; it is like a garden with a variety of trees, plants and herbs etc, adding to the beauty of the garden.
Further, Islamiat can encourage love and affinity between relatives, neighbours, the community, and humanity at large. Therefore, a thorough evaluation is the need of the hour.