PPP’s Raza Rabbani sole voice of dissent, arguing that it is an attempt to ‘import’ Arabic culture to the country
Pakistan’s Upper House of Parliament on Monday approved the Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill 2020, making it a mandatory subject for grades 1-12 in the federal capital.
Presented by Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) Senator Javed Abbasi, the bill was passed near-unanimously, with Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Raza Rabbani offering the sole dissenting note.
The bill requires the ministry concerned to implement it within six months, adding that Arabic would be taught to grades 1 to 5 in Islamabad, while Arabic grammar would be included in the curriculum of grades 6 to 12.
While presenting the bill, Abbasi said Arabic was the world’s fifth most-widely spoken language, and claimed it would increase job opportunities for Pakistanis in the Middle East, resulting in lower unemployment and increased remittances. He also linked its education to Islam, saying the country would face fewer problems if more people understood the holy Quran and daily prayer.
The PMLN senator stressed that he had no issue with multiple languages being taught to children, adding that Arabic should coexist with Urdu, English, and whatever other languages educational institutions were willing to impart. However, teaching the other languages is a choice for schools; this bill makes it compulsory for them to teach Arabic.
In a rare show of unity, the PMLN senator’s legislation was supported Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Ali Muhammad Khan, who said the government supported it. He claimed the bill was in line with Article 31 of the Constitution, which calls for measures to live in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah. He claimed learning Arabic was crucial to becoming a “good Muslim” and understanding “God’s message.” The bill was also supported by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam senator Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri.
The bill was earlier moved by Abbasi in a meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Federal Education in October 2020. The committee approved the bill and directed the federal education ministry to implement it within six months. The bill still requires approval of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Education, as well as additional approvals by both the National Assembly and the Senate before it becomes law.
The PPP’s Rabbani, in his dissenting note, argued that the bill was an attempt to erase Indus Valley culture in Pakistan and replace it with Arab culture. He said that it sought to use Islam to “achieve a political agenda.” Lamenting that the bill would prioritize Arabic over regional languages, he said the language’s sole link to Islam was that the Quran had been revealed in it. “We don’t need a certificate from anyone of being a Muslim,” he said, rebuffing claims that understanding Arabic was essential to being Muslim.