Fri. Jun 14th, 2024
Dr Amin Rehmani

Very recently a news item appeared on February 2, 2021, concerning making the Arabic language compulsory in all educational institutions of the Federal capital, Islamabad. The Senate has passed a bill titled ‘Compulsory Teaching of Arabic Language Bill 2020’, after a fiery debate. The bill was presented last year by a PML N legislator. The bill is to be presented in the National Assembly and after its passage will become an act of parliament.

According to the Bill, Arabic will be taught from grades I to V and grammar will be taught from grades VI to XII. The Bill was passed unanimously by both the Treasury and Opposition members with a view that it will enable young children to better understand the Quran.

This is not the first time that Arabic has been made a compulsory subject in Pakistani schools. Arabic was first introduced as a compulsory subject in the era of General Zia ul Haq. Earlier, even Persian was taught at the Middle School Level.

A similar bill was introduced for presentation to the National Assembly in 2015 by the members of the National Assembly. It stated that Arabic would be a compulsory subject from primary to higher secondary and in those institutions of higher learning where subjects of law, Islamic Jurisprudence, and Sharia are taught. The Bill was entitled as ‘Compulsory teaching of Arabic Act 2015’ and that ‘it shall extend to the whole of Pakistan and it shall come into force at once’.  Draft of a National Education Policy 2017 also paid significant emphasis on the teaching of Arabic in schools

Article 31 (2) (a) of the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan envisages encouragement of provision and facilitation of teaching of Arabic:

‘… (a) to make the teaching of the Holy Quran and Islamiat compulsory, to encourage and facilitate the learning of Arabic language…’.  (THE CONSTITUTION OF THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF PAKISTAN [As modified up to the 31st May 2018] NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF PAKISTAN p. 17)

The Constitution, while making the Islamiyat and teaching of the Holy Qur’an compulsory, does not make Arabic a compulsory subject to be taught but only states to facilitate its learning.

As back as 1951, it was Sir Sultan Muhammad Shah Aga Khan III, who had played a significant role in improving the education of Muslims of India, who had proposed that Pakistan should adopt Arabic as its national language and gave convincing reasons for it. He stated:

Every Muslim child of a certain economic standard learns the Qur’an in Arabic, He learns his Alif-Bey to read the Qur’an. Arabic is the language of Islam. The Qur’an is in Arabic. The Prophet’s hadith are in Arabic. The highest form of Islamic culture in Spain was in Arabic. Your children must learn Arabic to a certain extent always. …’

He argued that as a national language, Arabic would connect Pakistan immediately not only with the people of the Arab world but also with Muslims of Africa where Arabic is spoken and even the Far East, where, he stated, Arabic has prospered throughout the region inhabited by 80 million Muslims of Indonesia, Malaya, and the Philippines… (From Message to the World of Islam, 1977).

It seems that a similar Bill, as 2015, has been reintroduced and has now been approved by the Senate. However, it limits its enforcement to the federal capital only. In wake of introducing a single curriculum for the whole of Pakistan, one wonders as to why the introduction of Arabic as a compulsory subject has been restricted to Islamabad this time. One reason could be that the 18th amendment makes education a provincial matter.

Nasir Mahmud (2017) in his Doctor of Philosophy Dissertation (available online) “TEACHING OF ARABIC LANGUAGE IN PAKISTAN: AN ANALYTICAL STUDY OF SELECTED CURRICULA” gives a historical background to teaching Arabic in Pakistan. He says that there was no subject of Arabic language in primary classes from grade I to V. Arabic was taught in the Middle and Secondary and Higher Secondary schools as an optional subject besides Persian. It was not a compulsory subject in the formal education system until 1982. Then the Ministry of Education made it a compulsory subject from the middle to higher secondary level. The Ministry provided materials and books for the middle level only. With no books and teachers available for the secondary and higher secondary level, Arabic remained an untaught subject in these levels despite being a compulsory subject (Mazhar Moeen,  (Arabic language in Pakistan) published in Urdu by University of Punjab 2003 P:91-92 referenced by Nasir). Nasir argues that Arabic was later replaced with computers and other subjects from the Middle level by the principals themselves. (P. 59).

The decision would require certain considerations both logistical and pedagogical.

Logistical: Although several institutions provide the Arabic language as a subject the number of students at undergraduate and graduate levels is very low. Hundreds of teachers would be required to teach from primary to higher secondary levels. Do teacher training institutes have the capacity to train teachers to teach Arabic? Moreover, curriculum designers and textbook writers who are experts in designing and writing an Arabic language course for non-native speakers, at primary and secondary school levels, for whom this may be the third or even fourth language to learn; and teaching guides and other audiovisual materials would be required for effective enforcement. Most schools do not have language labs to teach foreign languages effectively. These logistical issues need to be considered.

Pedagogical: Language teaching requires a different skill set. A direct method is generally considered to be effective. Although the majority learns the Quran in Arabic, not many can speak and talk in the Arabic language. Courses offered by universities are mostly academic that focus on literature rather than on spoken Arabic. At the primary level, one may require some level of proficiency in spoken Arabic as children learn through this medium better than just reading and writing. Arabic is considered as one of the difficult languages, it would require careful consideration as to how grammar books are written in a simplified way. Being a co-author of an Arabic grammar book, I know it is not an easy task when you write for students of secondary schools who are non-native speakers. Graduates from madrasas may be of help but would they have the required pedagogical skills to teach the language is a question that needs to be considered.

Students in Pakistan learn at least three languages: Urdu, English, and a provincial language which may be different from their mother tongues. Schools give importance to English and most private schools have two to three periods of Urdu per week, how much weightage Arabic will get needs to be seen besides Islamiyat and Nazira in their timetables.

Arabic is at the heart of Pakistanis and highly revered a language being the language of Islam and the Quran. As Muslims, children must know some basics of this language to understand their faith. However, making it compulsory at the primary level, needs to be considered as educationists have argued that at this level children should be taught in their native language. Notwithstanding the importance of the Arabic language, some of the issues highlighted here and other related issues need to be addressed.

By Dr. Amin Rehmani

The author is a writer, Educationist, PhD. from the University of London. His areas of interest include, curriculum development, teacher education, teaching and learning and assessment. His writings are available at AKU e- Commons and academia.edu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *