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Islamization Fears at Quaid-e-Azam University

by AFP
33 comments
Students praying at a mosque in Quaid-i-Azam University. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Students praying at a mosque in Quaid-i-Azam University. Aamir Qureshi—AFP

Teachers and students claim growing Islamization at higher education institutions is hampering quality of learning.

The Pakistan Studies lecturer is in mid-flow when his students stand and rush for the door—his class interrupted yet again by the call to prayer.

“They won’t come back for at least 30 minutes and some of them even decide not to return to class,” Sajjad Akhtar said, gathering his notes and sitting down to wait for his students to return.

At Quaid-i-Azam University, rated the best public university in Pakistan and the best Pakistani university in Asia, this is an everyday reality across all academic departments. The university grants a 15-minute break for prayers but any student is allowed to get up as soon he hears the call to prayer in what critics call a chaotic interruption of academic life. They say increased Islamization in Pakistan’s top teaching institutes and among the growing middle classes is helping to dumb down academic standards and restrict students’ social life.

“At Quaid-i-Azam University there are four mosques, but still no bookshop,” says Pervez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physicist and one of Pakistan’s most prominent academics who used to teach there.

Established in 1965 in the then-new federal capital Islamabad, it was considered a liberal campus until 1977 when controversial military ruler Zia-ul-Haq seized power. During his 10-year rule, until his death in a plane crash in 1988, Zia embedded a conservative form of Islam into politics and affairs of state, and ushered in shariah law to run alongside the penal code.

Trade unions and student bodies were banned in educational institutions, and Arabic and Islamic Studies were made mandatory for all students until university level. Additional marks were given in exams to students who learned the Quran by heart. Over the subsequent generations, the trend has got deeper and more embedded.

“There are far fewer students today who can sing and dance, recite poetry, or who read novels than 20 years ago,” said Hoodbhoy. “The university is very much like a school for older children, where rote-learning is considered education. There’s no intellectual excitement, no feeling of discovery, and girls are mostly silent note-takers, you have to prod them to ask questions.”

Strolling through the various departments, most female students wear the hijab—the headscarf that hides all their hair and an import from the Middle East—and none wear jeans. None dare sit next to a man, a common sight at more liberal privately run universities, which have become the preserve of the elite as schools like Quaid-e-Azam cater to the lower and middle classes. Though no specific place is allocated for men and women in the central cafeteria, both genders sit as far apart as possible.

Hifza Aftab, a hijab-wearing MBA student, says there is no such thing as a “liberal” girl at the university. Any young woman who arrives on campus without wearing a hijab or the looser dupatta traditional to Pakistan quickly changes the look in two or three months, she says. “A liberal girl would get notorious throughout the whole university,” she said.

It was not always thus. Jamil Ahmed, who graduated in 1991, said that in his days the hijab was rarely seen and male and female students would mingle.

Hasan Askari, a former professor at Punjab University, said students are becoming increasingly attached to religion and drifting away from rational thinking. “The increasing Islamization has affected quality of education as today, teachers stress more on conspiracy theories than logic,” he said. Last year a private school in Lahore dropped human reproduction from the biology syllabus after an outcry in the conservative Urdu-language press claiming it was “obscene.”

Quaid-i-Azam University Vice Chancellor Masoom Yasinzai admitted academic standards had slipped over the years but insisted it was a country-wide problem and not to do with the growing focus on religion. “Here at Quaid-i-Azam University, academic standards are not falling at an alarming rate,” he said, adding that the expression “Islamization” was being used out of context. “We have given students the freedom to practice their religion and I think practicing religion is one’s individual choice.”

With sectarianism and violence against minorities on the rise in Pakistan, some fear encouraging a religious mindset in universities is storing up problems for the future. “If you have a very dominant view and very authoritarian worldview which this curriculum is teaching you, that ‘You are Muslims, Islam is a good religion and other religions are not good,’ that value system will create a social crisis in the society,” said education analyst Farzana Bari.

At one of the mosques on campus, a number of religious books are on display on the bookshelves and free for students to take away. One of them, entitled Put an End to Obscenity has pictures of a computer, CD player and a drum set on its cover with a red cross on top of each. The book explains how playing music during marriage ceremonies affects “the next life” and how angels pour melted copper into the ear of anyone who listens to music or the female voice.

At the mosque, cleric Habib-u-Rehman Saleem says floods and earthquakes are God’s punishment for gay sex. “Males started to sleep with males and females started to sleep with females,” he tells a group of male students. “Some people are trying to create an environment like that of the West here, but God willing the students are religious and they will never let any such conspiracy succeed.”

Touseef Ahmed Khan, chairman of the Federal Urdu University in Karachi, said he could see no change coming soon. “A whole generation was Islamized and those who started their academic career during the Zia regime are now retiring from their jobs,” he said. “This phenomenon of Islamization has been there for three decades, you cannot reverse it in one year—it will take decades to do so.”

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33 comments

mohib khan January 14, 2014 - 2:24 pm

There is no problem with islamization. What the institutions require is to give breaks so that the curriculum is not disturbed. Moreover the problem starts when Islam is used for political reasons and extremism is sown in the hearts and minds of the young generation .What we require is an environment which takes into account both the requirements this could even mean that the teachers should lead the prayers

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Mansoor Khan January 14, 2014 - 2:53 pm

Actually there is no problem in Islamization. The so called liberals in Pakistan want to have Pakistani Universities with no mosques but want to have pubs and mini bars in Universities, wants to have all girls wearing skirts/mini skirts, dinner and dance parties in universities on weekends. Is this the eduction you want to see all over Pakistan? Do you want a university with such facilities like west where students in auditoriums and universities seen kissing/hugging each other? Better is just start thinking to relocate yourself instead of changing the whole environment here. Thanks buddy…..

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Naseer Abbas January 14, 2014 - 3:05 pm

What’s wrong if Students wears scarf or offer prayers? Isn’t it their right. What you need to change is the attitude of Professors, they suppress students and do not encourage Questions. In Social sciences in particular, when a Student argue and reject their opinion, the professors consider it their humiliation and their attitude get biased when it comes to marking. You need to teach professors how to be neutral and encourage students to ask questions which could be in contrast with teacher’s own opinion.

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Sarmad Khan January 14, 2014 - 3:10 pm

Whoever has written this article has either never been to the university or is a complete ignorant and a bigot who does not understand what Islamization as a word and concept entails.

Please, go around in the university and look if girls are guys actually sit down together or not. You are absolutely ill informed! And going for prayer disturbs the class? Oh please! As a Muslim it is more important to pray than to do anything else. Given that students should return to the class as soon as they have prayed, I highly doubt the student congregate outside the mosque to plot against the government or the agencies.

As far as Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy is concerned, did he put in any efforts to make any bookshop while he was teaching in the university? However, I do agree that there should be book shops but not on the expense of a mosque! The university is well connected to the expensive JSTOR, an online library that provides free articles and books to students.

I urge you to not to write articles which are not well researched and are only written so you get acknowledged as a writer. The country already has an immensely tarnished reputation and people like you don’t help it!

As a Muslim, as a Human, it is my right to practise whatever religion and belief I choose, so students offering prayers at regular intervals cannot be classified as a wave of Islamization. It is this improper use of terms that creates confusion and people look at Pakistanis as if they were aliens!

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amms January 23, 2015 - 8:33 am

good one

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Abdul Rehman Arif April 17, 2015 - 8:39 pm

Excellent comment (y)

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fugstar January 14, 2014 - 3:58 pm

I would have thought that this is a simple timetabling issue that a national university would have figured out by now, especially as you guys are quite mid latitude.

Dr Hoodhboy is an upset man who is alienated from a major part of pakistans intellectual tradition.

Lord except all of our prayers and show us the world for what it really is

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tasneem January 14, 2014 - 4:45 pm

This article is ridiculous…Islam promotes education and knowledge..the concept of universities started with Islam…the teachers can easily schedule their classes around prayer times…it is not rocket science….hijab is an Islamic dress code and a Muslim woman has the right to wear it…it has nothing to do with education…

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R S Chakravarti March 19, 2014 - 7:04 pm

There was a university at Taxila long before the advent of Islam.

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Atta ur Rehman January 14, 2014 - 6:37 pm

I don’t really know why do some people misinterpret Islam by associating ISLAM with something like terrorism, ignorance and ill-mannered attitudes..Islam always forbids such activities and encourages learning and good manners…if students are leaving the class and making disturbance while going for prayers, this is not a problem associated with students, rather it’s an ill-administration…solution is very simple…make a prayer break and solve the problem….

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Vam Pire January 14, 2014 - 4:43 pm

what the Bull shed he is talking about…. am student of this university and am Muslim unfortunately i often missed my prayer in the campus but no one forced me or said i must have to say prayer. This is conspiracy which is trying to build against this great university. I think writer should correct his/her source of information and then should write….

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Hafsa Andleeb January 14, 2014 - 5:25 pm

To understand the environment of Quaid-i-Azam University you need to visit and examine it properly and i would like to invite you to department of Social Sciences and take views from the students their you’ll get the answers ,I wonder the guy only met with those students who were so conservative and biased with their thoughts, and i think freedom of following the religion should be given to everyone whatsoever religion one’s following !

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Muhammad Ramzan January 14, 2014 - 5:30 pm

It is an administrative problem. The timings of class should be adjusted accordingly. Not a big deal. I know for sure if I write an article with logic and evidence, that would not get space in your esteemed magazine, but a non-issue and a biased article would because it might give you more viewership.

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BS Detector January 14, 2014 - 5:45 pm

When professors like Hoodbhoy and Akhtar cite Islamisation as a problem and then use examples of increased numbers of students praying as an example of the said problem, they only contradict their so called claims of rational tolerant thinking and look like hypocrites. Is praying really the biggest hindrance to Pakistan’s highest education, when there is rampant corruption and nepotism prevalent in higehr education institutions and the state dedicates barely 2 percent of the budget to higher education (most of which rarely trickles down to schools. There are 1000s of ghost schools and absentee teachers on stat payroll through the country and yet you think praying is holding back our educational progress? What a joke! No wonder the so called liberals are not taken seriously in this country. They are bigoted intolerants, who need an excuse to blame religion for every ill and problem, while using whimisical excuses to rationalise and justify corrupt politicians, because according to them they are essential components of democracy.
You should also have mentioned that AKhtar is the son-in law of Hoodbhoy. I am suppose to believe that this connection is purely innocent and has nothing to do with connections and nepotism!

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SAK January 16, 2014 - 10:54 pm

Loved your reply!
Pakistani liberals are definitely the most intolerant group in Pakistan. I’ve studied at the university level in Pakistan and seriously, these people are giving liberalism a bad name! I didn’t expect wearing the niqaab in uni to be a big deal because I had always worn the hijab at school in the USA. Little did I know, one of my teachers who had graduated from QAU, this guy considered himself ‘liberal’ in every aspect but he was outraged every time he saw me! you could literally see the anger on his face!

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Asma Tanoli January 14, 2014 - 6:52 pm

Its no wonder that our brightest students want to go to US, UK or any other country where no such things exist. Even these islamic students would never leave a class in any western university as they know that they cannot cheat their way through examinations.

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Zakia January 15, 2014 - 6:13 pm

Sorry but in western universities there are Islamic lectures and debates
Student can go pray if they like
Just like they are free to bring their coffee in the theatre
It’s the fake liberals like hoodbhoy who have the islamophobia

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Sabeel Khan January 14, 2014 - 7:56 pm

What a ridiculous article! The writer is trying to emphasize the fallacy that breaks for prayers hijabs or scarf hamper students’ studies. So if girls start wearing western dresses, they will make great discoveries and progress in science? Or if male students start skipping their prayers, will they be more able to produce scientific knowledge? Certainly, there should be book shops on campus, but what’s the point in related their non existence with the existence of four mosques?

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Raja January 14, 2014 - 8:09 pm

the writer of this article is short sighted and have biased against Islam. What writer wish to prove with his article. Can Dance, liquor drinking and casual sex relations are the key for intellectual progress.

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ishal shah January 14, 2014 - 10:43 pm

islamization is also much important for all muslims ,every school ,colleges and universities should have a mosque and have a break for the students to saying prayers on time and its good that this uni also has a mosque

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khan January 14, 2014 - 11:48 pm

shame on you Professor Hoodboy!!!

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Zain January 15, 2014 - 6:19 pm

Shame on this article shame!

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Ali January 15, 2014 - 8:38 pm

Shame on you Professor Hoodboy!!!!!!! no need of u in this country…..

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Hafeez Ur Rehman January 16, 2014 - 12:57 am

we even don,t except such ridiculous article from you Mr Hoodbhai. you are misinterpreting the Holy Islam with such short sighted arguments, first go and check what Islam says about libels, liberty which gives us by Islam is as much vast as we are not able to take complete benefits from this liberty. so next time think and go through the ground realitis before writing any article…….

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Kh January 16, 2014 - 5:46 pm

With namaz, it’s just a scheduling problem. I recall having prayer timings during classes when I was an undergraduate student. Our simple solution was to go to the mosque right after class and, if possible, have a small jamaat separately. What’s interesting is students leaving mid-class when Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar is teaching. As long as there are people like him at the QA University there is hope. He opened my eyes to a lot of things and I hope he does the same to students at QAU.

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hussain January 17, 2014 - 2:55 am

there has come into existence a group or like minded people in our country who uses religion when and how it helps in progress of their agenda (they ARE NOT agents of CIA or Mossad, please open that mind of yours). this article looks like a work of such an individual.

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khalid amir khan January 19, 2014 - 8:51 am

Failure on the part of university: they should regulate the mosques at thecampus and adjust the timings with the timings of compulsory breaks. Secondly, if you gp to centaurus, you will find only 2% female covering their heads, so the girls who do not get chance in university campusduring day-time can exercise their feelings of ‘liberalism’ in the eveing. Consevatism and liberalism of both the places add variety to the capital city. So be optimstic.

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Saima Riaz January 19, 2014 - 4:13 pm

Ridiculous article….:) 🙂 🙂

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Shehryar Iqbal January 20, 2014 - 12:03 am

The beginning of The End ………….. Just wait and see how religion will destroy Pakistan and its obsessed people !

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SUBUKTAGEEN AHMED February 8, 2014 - 9:25 pm

reallyy even if that will happen it will not be ISLAM’s fault it will be the fault of the people. secondly islam gives the concept of co education, but with certain limitations, hazrat aisha after holy prophet’s death used to teach both men and women in the same house but with a cloth wall between both sides, but after class men used to seek help from their female classmates but again in a secure situation with their gaze lowered and with respect in their hearts and women used to have hijab. islam is a very open religion, and if it can create a state as strong, prosperous and PURE as MADINA, then it can in pakistan. but we have to understand it as the sahaba used to not like YOU guys who dont study it DONT have the FAINTEST idea what it is and comment on it. if it is going to destroy pakistan then explain this the LIBERAL AMERICANS are accepting islam in america at an ALARMING RATE the muslim community in america is 230% more than what it was in 2000. AND you sit in your house withno knowledge and comment. i study in a islamic school we sing, we study HUMAN REPRODUCTION but we dont use pics of prostitutes like that school mentioned above did. I would suggest you study islam and i bet you will accept it as the true faith at least The Head of ICRC Pakistan, A DEVOUT CHRISTIAN,DID.

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Abdullah Rafaqat April 16, 2015 - 5:21 pm

there are many other universities which potare different culture(liberal) which is apart from this culture(islamic) but no one point out these. their is some personal grudge of the person mention in above blog with islamization nothing else….

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Jehanzaib Waqas Gadgore April 18, 2015 - 1:02 pm

When students visit Masajid … It must be appreciated…..

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Abdur Rehman August 17, 2015 - 9:33 pm

Excellent job Mr Sarmad Khan… We appreciate your view and thought …

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