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Pakistan is ending its mandatory study of Islam for non-Muslim children in first through 12th grade and implementing a new curriculum, one that will allow children to study the religion to which their families belong.

The new religious education curriculum, which was approved on Jan. 22, creates education plans for seven minority religions in Pakistan, including Christianity. The classes will be offered to non-Muslim students as alternatives to “Islamiat” classes, which are courses on Islam that had previously been required for all students.

The lesson plans for each of the religions were developed by religious education experts from those religions, according to a notification published by Pakistan’s Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training. The new curriculum will go into effect in the 2025 academic year.

Naeem Yousaf Gill, the executive director of the National (Catholic) Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP), told CNA that the commission was involved in crafting the Christianity syllabus, though he noted that implementation is still a challenge moving forward. The NCJP is a human rights advocacy group established by the Pakistan Catholic Bishops’ Conference in 1985.

“We appreciate the government for involving the Catholic Commission in developing the syllabus of Christianity,” Gill said. “However, its [monitoring] and implementation is another challenge. Policies for minorities often flop in our country. Also, the long-term process will require training of teachers and a salary structure.”

The Christian lesson plan includes a study of the Bible, the life of Jesus Christ, Church history, and the values of Christianity, among other things. Some elements of the lesson plan include a study of the Trinity, the miracles of Christ, Christian moral teaching, the biblical concept of the Messiah, and the Council of Nicea.

Some aspects of the lesson plan also touch on Christianity in Pakistan specifically. It includes a study of the life of St. Thomas the Apostle and his ministry to South Asia. It also teaches about martyrdom, specifically the assassination of Servant of God Shahbaz Bhatti — a Catholic who served as Pakistan minorities minister. Members of the Pakistani Taliban killed Bhatt, who was an outspoken critic of the country’s anti-blasphemy laws and a supporter of the rights of Christians. 

Anjum James Paul, a Pakistani Catholic and the chairman of the Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association (PMTA), also expressed gratitude for the ministry’s announcement. He also serves as the chairman of the political science department of the Government Post Graduate College Samundri in the Punjabi region of Pakistan.

“PMTA is highly thankful to the government of Pakistan, National Curriculum Council Secretariat, and all those organizations and the individuals who have supported PMTA for equal rights and equal opportunities to all students without discrimination,” Paul said in a statement.

Joop Koopman, a spokesman for Aid to the Church in Need USA (ACN), welcomed the news as well. ACN is a Catholic charity that focuses on the persecution of Christians around the world. 

“It has been a 20-year battle to end compulsory teaching of Islam for all students,” Koopman told CNA. “It is a rare instance of really good news for Christians and other non-Muslim minorities, the recognition of minorities’ right to adhere to their own faith in the 1–12 educational system.”

Koopman noted that there is still work to be done in the Pakistani education system. 

“The next hurdle is removing prejudices and language denigrating minority faiths from all textbooks and to instead present the various faiths against a backdrop of interreligious harmony,” Koopman said. 

The seven religions that received government-approved lesson plans are Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, the Baháʼí Faith, and the Kalash tribal religion. 

More than 95% of Pakistan is Muslim, but more than 2% of the population is Hindu and more than 1% of the population is Christian. This amounts to more than 4 million Hindus and more than 2 million Christians.

Christians and other religious minorities still face persecution in Pakistan. Last August, several mobs attacked Christian communities in Jaranwala after two Christians were accused of defiling the Qur’an. In 2021, two gunmen killed an Anglican pastor, the Rev. William Siraj, when he was on his way home from church. 

The 2023 Religious Freedom in the World report published by Aid to the Church in Need listed Pakistan in the “red” category, which indicates high levels of religious persecution.

By Tyler Arnold

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