On February 1, 2021, the Senate of Pakistan passed Compulsory Teaching of the Arabic Language Bill, which makes it compulsory to teach Arabic language in primary and secondary schools of Islamabad. The bill will become a law as soon as it is passed in the National Assembly.
Although Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is in government, the bill was presented by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Senator Javed Abbasi. The bill did not face much opposition and sailed through the house. As per the government, the bill would be implemented in the “next six months”.
The bill states that Arabic will be taught from Grade 1 to Grade 5, while the students will be taught Arabic grammar from Grade 6 to Grade 12.
“Arabic is world’s 5th most spoken language and is official language of 25 countries. Arabic could open up more job opportunities for Pakistanis in the Middle East and lead to lower unemployment and increased remittances,” says Abbasi.
The Senator further states that learning Arabic language will make it easier for us to read Quran and offer our prayers because they are in Arabic.
Supporting the bill, Federal Minister Muhammad Ali Khan says learning Arabic is essential to become a ‘good Muslim’, while adding that ‘according to Article 31 of the Constitution, Measures should be taken to spend our lives according to the Holy Quran and Sunnah’.
Meanwhile, Jamat-e-Islami head Siraj ul-Haq also praised the bill, stating that the day will be remembered when Pakistan took a step for “real change”.
However, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Raza Rabbani opposed the bill stating that his “civilization is not Arabic, rather it is Indus”.
“Arabic must not be set as the ultimate standard to judge ‘religious credentials’ of Pakistani Muslims. Faith should not be made the hostage to mastery over a specific language,” the senator says.
Despite being widely backed, the bill would face serious issues in implementation. Some academics have also rejected the benefits pointed in the bill. They believe that implementing the bill in six months would not be possible.
Dr Kamal Haider, former dean of the faculty of education at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology (Fuuast) said that the government-run schools don’t have the teacher-capacity to teach the language. “Making Arabic compulsory will further complicate the studies for students and they would have less time for Math and Science,” he maintains.
Meanwhile, the vice chancellor (VC) of the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University Lyari, Prof Dr Akhtar Baloch rejects the claim that people with capability of speaking Arabic will send more remittances to Pakistan.
“The Arab countries need skilled and professional labourers. For example, Indian labourers, especially in the UAE, make more money than Pakistanis because they are skilled,” he says.
Educationist and teacher Professor Pervez Hoodbhoy says this is not the first time Arabic has been made compulsory. He maintains there are thousands of pupils from Madrassahs who are skilled in Arabic language but their jobs opportunities in Gulf countries are negligible. He points out that Arabic in Quran is an ancient form of Arabic while most Arabs now speak a modern form of the language. “Present enrolment in Arabic language courses and university degree programs is therefore very low. In fact, after starting such programs over 20 to 30 years ago, some universities later closed them down.”
It is also pertinent to mention that in 2018, Supreme Court had rejected Federal Shariat Court’s decision to make Arabic compulsory in national educational curriculum. Furthermore, a very low number of students has opted for Arabic language in higher studies, citing low-income opportunities.
Analysts urge the government to introduce Arabic, especially its grammar, as an elective subject, so that any student who wants to learn this language properly can choose it. Religious scholars believe that learning of Arabic grammar can resolve a number of religious differences in Pakistan, but critics maintain that it should not be imposed on the students.