The revelations that students and teachers of Pakistani universities have been involved in incidents of terrorism occurring in Pakistan over the past few years have startled the nation.
Whether it is the attack on MQM leader Khwaja Izharul Hasan, the terrorist incident in Safoora Goth, or the horrific murder of Mardan University student Mashal Khan, the involvement of university professors and students in these incidents is deeply disconcerting.
In any society, a university is like an island where students and teachers traverse milestones of knowledge through logic, argument, debate and scientific theories, irrespective of their linguistic identity, sectarian association or religious bias. Being an educationist associated with a public university, I acknowledge the fact that extremism is rising in our universities.
There are restraints on thought and intellect. The quality of research is declining, and the university teachers are acquire higher education simply for the sake of getting promoted into the next grade. The Higher Education Commission is only concerned with increasing the quantity of PhDs and not their quality. These days, our universities look more like production factories rather than institutes for training and grooming the youth.
We are all responsible for this situation. Education has never been a priority for the government. For the past few decades, public educational institutions are no longer the source of education for the children of the local elite. They are educated in Pakistan in private institutions and then sent abroad for higher education. Therefore, the degradation of the public education sector in Pakistan is not their problem.
The lack of extra-curricular activities for the young students is pushing them towards extremism and intolerance. Our universities nowadays neither have literary activities nor dramatic clubs, neither music nor arts. Sports and other recreational activities are not encouraged either. Students are thought of merely as ATMs delivering sizeable fees.
Until 1980, student politics was rooted in different ideologies. Students had a positive outlook on the nation, country and society.
However, certain student organisations were promoted on the basis of religion and language during the dictatorial regime of General Ziaul Haq. These student organisations were also used to promote the cause of Afghan jihad. Moreover, people associated with religious organisations were hired as faculty to promote conservatism and extremism among teachers in the universities. Osama Bin Laden’s religious guru, Abdullah Azzam, was a teacher at the International Islamic University (IIU), Islamabad.
Ever since the days of General Ziaul Haq, the political leaders of a certain religious organisation have had representation in the board of the IIU. It was only recently that the IIU administration stopped the organisation of a seminar on campus highlighting incidents of extremism and violence.
If some of the university teachers are going to be sympathetic towards terrorist organisations like Daesh, promoting its ideology and expressing negative thoughts about the state, the country and the nation, then the security of such a state faces more internal than external dangers.
This alarming tendency is becoming manifest not secretly but out in the open. By way of example, one can read an article titled “Khilafataur Jamhooriyat: asr-e-hazir ke tanaazar mein” (Caliphate and Democracy: in the modern context) published in the June 2015 issue of the academic and research journal, Al-Baseera, published by the Islamic Studies department of National University of Modern Languages (NUML). The author Dr Hafiz Muhammad Khalid Shafi is associated with the Institute of Business Administration (IBA). He asserts that establishing caliphate is a bounden duty of all Muslims in the world from which there is no opting out nor any scope for dilly-dallying; that avoiding this duty is one of those great sins that really displease God. He even quotes Allama Iqbal in support of his argument.
About democracy, he says that the West takes it to mean that every citizen is free to make fun of religious traditions, and have sexual relations with [his] mother, sister or daughter. If a PhD professor has such irrational and hateful ideas about the West and democracy, then what would become of his students?
The strange thing is that the editorial board of the journal thought it worth publishing. The time has come to review the books and curriculum in our universities. Our curriculum is not promoting nation-building, good citizenship, tolerance, patience, democracy, and the rule of the law and the Constitution.
The foundations of Pakistan were laid at the Aligarh University. Today, the threats to its internal security, too, can be averted by promoting progressive ideas at its universities.