Arabic as a compulsory subject ’By Nusrat Javed

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With passion-driven consensus the Senate of Pakistan has passed a highly significant law Monday evening. After approval by the national assembly, it would make it obligatory for “all educational institutions” of the country to start teaching Arabic as a “compulsory” subject, “within six months” of the enforcement of the said law.

Supporting this law, senator after senator from both sides of the house, kept stressing with wounded hearts that Pakistan seemed stuck in a multitude of crises, primarily because the mass of our people were not being able to correctly read Holy Quran and fathom its message. Compulsory teaching of Arabic was thus required for course correction. Speeches delivered with confessional regret, eventually ensured smooth passage of the proposed law.

Its passage inspired the Jamaat-e-Islami leader, Siraj-ul-Haq, to proudly declare that Monday, Feb 1, 2021 would now be remembered as a day when Pakistan took the first concrete step towards “real change.”

But the Imran government will not get credit for introducing the profusely praised law. With obsessive diligence, Senator Javed Abbassi of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) had single-handedly pushed it. His initiative also compelled the government and an overwhelming majority of senators from disparate opposition parties to get united for protecting and promoting what they called the “foundational ideology of Pakistan.”

Eagerly supporting Abbassi’s initiative, Ali Mohammad Khan, the state minister for parliamentary affairs, felt too elated. He proudly owned the proposed law and vehemently defended it.

Raza Rabbani of Pakistan Peoples’ Party remained the one and only, who dared to put some cautious resistance. Carefully selecting words, he humbly tried to plead that command over Arabic must not be set as the ultimate standard to judge “religious credentials” of Pakistani Muslims. Faith should not be made the hostage to mastery over a specific language.

He also attempted to remind his colleagues that “Islamic teachings” were already taught as a compulsory subject in all educational institutions of Pakistan. School going kids also find it extremely difficult to learn Urdu and English, instead of getting access to knowledge through their “mother tongues.” We must not add into the burden.

Raza Rabbani felt compelled to recall that “in the name of Islam,” a definite group of self-righteous types had consistently been trying to “enforce Arab culture” on Pakistan, while arrogantly disregarding the roots and distinctive features of our centuries old civilization. Such attempts, in the end, sowed too many suspicions. Most Sindhis, Baloch and Pashtuns strongly felt that “religiosity” was being employed to suppress their historic identities. Such attempts also led to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Not one senator was willing to seriously consider his cautiously expressed reservations. Many felt provoked to remind him rather that the Constitution of Pakistan clearly firmly commits itself to enforce Islam in this country, established on the basis of two-nation theory. And the fundamentals of our faith were being defined and explained only in Holy Quran. You can’t fathom them, appropriately, without developing command over Arabic.

So far, majority of Pakistanis have been accessing the divine message through translations of the Holy Quran in different languages. Then come ‘interpretations’ by a horde of scholars and they mostly confuse people. We must enable our people to directly access the message of Holy Quran by learning Arabic.

Mushtaq Ahmad of the Jamaat-e-Islami and Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haidri of Jamiat-e-Ulma-e-Islam continued to insist that learning Arabic remained one of the key ingredients of the “ideology of Pakistan.”

Doing this, they conveniently forgot that a huge group of highly respected “religious scholars” had vehemently opposed the idea of dividing India to create a separate homeland for Muslims of this region. A Cairo-born Maulana Azad, whose command over Arabic was considered awesome and flawless, was the most prominent among them. They also kept rudely wondering about how “the clean-shaven Jinnah” could be trusted as a devout or “correct Muslim.”

Passionately promoting Arabic, some senators also went to the extent of claiming that after getting empirical access to Islamic teachings due to learning this language, Pakistani would think twice before committing any sin or crime. Our country would rather, of course gradually, turn crime-free thanks to the spread of it. Their claims seriously made me think of many Arab countries of these days, where crimes remain frighteningly rampant.

Ali Mohammad Khan, the minister, also astonished many by zealously claiming that widespread learning of the Arabic language would discourage our youth from taking the route to “terrorism.” He at least made me think of people like Osama Bin Laden and Aiman-al-Zawahiri, the devastating civil war of Syria and the rise and rise of DAESH in post-Saddam Iraq. Yet the minister and the rest of senators remained hooked to the idea of pleasing and swaying the galleries with mind boggling stretching.

Hawking a populist-looking theme, hardly a senator cared to consider the aggregate number of “all educational institutions” in Pakistan. And the question: Do we have sufficient number of qualified persons to teach Arabic in these institutions, “within six months” of the enforcement of the law, our upper house of parliament was so passionately recommending?

Scoring points by passionate spinning remains the dominant mode in the Senate, however. The opposition also forced the foreign minister to come to the house and elaborate salient targets he and his office had been pursuing since the advent of Imran government in August 2018.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi has never been accused of brevity. He rather loves his voice and always loads his presentations with so many diversionary topics while pretending being comprehensive. But most opposition senators habitually facilitate him by losing focus in their speeches. They seldom succeed to furnish a list of clearly put questions, essentially dealing with here and now issues, requiring urgent attention of our foreign policy elite.

Close to the end of Monday sitting, Shah Mahmood Qureshi kept listening to random sounding speeches from the opposition benches, with self-pleasing grins of a Cheshire cat. During his presumably “winding up speech,” he also preferred to mostly focus on mocking and taunting Ms Sherry Rehman of the PPP. To provoke her further, he even called Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the youthful Chairman of Pakistan Peoples’ Party, “a kid,” still trying to learn the delicate nuances of foreign affairs.

From the condescending tone, however, he took no time to claim with professorial anger that the PPP Chairman had been behaving “extremely irresponsible” by issuing statements blaming the Imran government for “selling out Kashmir.”

After keenly listening to his overstretched speech, one is simply not able to fathom and report any policy points, Pakistan might be pursuing on key issues like Kashmir and Afghanistan. He obsessively remained focused to convey the message that Pakistan’s foreign policy was in competent hands and we must trust them without any questions.