Pakistan Set to Make Arabic Mandatory

Andrew Warner reports on a new policy making Arabic classes compulsory at all schools in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad

After a near unanimous vote, the Senate of Pakistan has adopted a new education policy requiring students in the capital city of Islamabad to learn Arabic from grades one through twelve. While the policy currently only affects students attending school in Islamabad, it is expected that the policy will soon be extended nationwide.

All but one senator voted yes on the bill, which will go into effect over the next six months. Proponents of the bill argue that learning Arabic will help create employment opportunities for Pakistani students throughout the Middle East. Senator Javed Abbasi, who presented the bill, also argued that learning Arabic would ensure that students are able to read and understand the Quran and daily prayers recited in the language—“We would not go through the problems we are currently facing if we understood the Holy Quran,” he told Dawn News.

Senator Raza Rabbani, the only senator to vote against the bill, argued in his dissent that the policy was an attempt to use “Islam for achieving a political agenda,” according to Dawn News. Pakistan is home to a diverse range of regional languages, which Rabbani argued would be negatively affected by prioritizing Arabic education.

Arabic holds significant status as the religious language of Islam, however most Pakistani citizens do not speak it natively. While it does not have official status in the country, the constitution of Pakistan states that the government shall “endeavor, as respects the Muslims of Pakistan, … to encourage and facilitate the learning of the Arabic language.”

Still, some Pakistani residents are skeptical of the policy’s likelihood of instilling Islamic values in its students. In an op-ed for Dawn News, Islamabad-based writer Pervez Hoodbhoy wrote, “That knowing Arabic … can make one a better person or create unity is a bizarre thought.” Hoodbhoy also doubts that Arabic education will improve job prospects for Pakistani students, arguing that the state should focus on improving its education system as a whole, so that students have more tangible skills to offer when they enter the workforce.

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