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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Spring 2007
Vol. 34 No. 2

Islamic and Liberal Visions of Citizenship Education: Religion and State in the National Curriculum of Pakistan


Iftikhar Ahmad


Pakistan was carved out of India in 1947. The main purpose of its creation as an autonomous state was to protect the political rights of the Muslim population in South Asia. Since the founders of Pakistan were Western educated elite, they envisaged the new state to uphold the values of individual liberty, civic equality, and religious diversity. They did not aspire to Islamic theocracy.1 However, for five decades, a confluence of domestic and global forces and events impinged upon the social, political, and cultural ethos of Pakistan, catapulting the religious parties to political power in the country.

Religious parties and their conservative allies in the nationís military have been playing a decisive role in promoting their Islamic ideology in Pakistanís national citizenship education curriculum policy.2 Their purpose in presenting Islam as an ideology of the state has been to: (a) sanctify their political role in society, (b) weaken their opponents, (c) galvanize social forces in Pakistan against India and the West, and (d) to protect their political gains. In this effort, conservative forces, such as military regimes, the feudal class, government bureaucrats, and religious extremists coalesced and worked symbiotically toward a common goal of Islamising the social order.3 To accomplish their goals, they revised history, constructed official knowledge, and manufactured a synthetic story about the heritage of the state of Pakistan. Thus, citizenship education became the first focus of their enterprise: An Islamic paradigm of citizenship education curriculum was promoted in the nationís schools. However, due to the American pressure on Pakistan in recent years, the citizenship education pendulum has also begun to oscillate toward the liberal-democratic direction. Hence, the government initiated a review of the existing paradigm of the national curriculum. But the governmentís decision ruffled the feathers of entrenched conservative groups triggering a new ideological debate on citizenship education.4

Simply put, the current national policy debate on citizenship education curriculum in Pakistan epitomizes the tempestuous character of that nationís polity itself. Therefore, a dispassionate examination of the status of citizenship education warrants understanding the ideological perspectives of the competing interest groups that have been in the vortex of this struggle. Essentially, these groups seek to foster their visions of what a good citizen needs to know, what knowledge is of most worth, what kind of society is desirable, and what curriculum policies are to be implemented in the nationís schools. Thus, this paper focuses on three themes. First, it examines the contemporary ideological debate on citizenship education in Pakistan. Second, it analyses the goals of Pakistanís national policy on citizenship education curriculum. Third, it reviews the Pakistani school textbooks on civics and history to evaluate how the national curriculum guidelines are being followed.

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