VIEW: It all comes down to education —Dr Irfan Zafar - Saturday, February 05, 2011

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In my village, the students are taught about religion by a maulvi (prayer leader), who has been educated only up to eighth grade. The imamat (leadership) of the mosque came to him as an inheritance from his father who was responsible for his grooming as a ‘religious scholar’. His father never went to school

The current world population, according to the United States Census Bureau, is estimated to be around 6,893,300,000. Among the followers of 21 major religions, there are 2.1 billion Christians (33 percent of the world population), 1.5 billion Muslims (21 percent), 900 million Hindus (14 percent), 376 million Buddhists (six percent), 14 million Jews (0.22 percent), 1.1 billion nonreligious/atheists (16 percent) and the rest of the religions combined together come to 9.78 percent.

Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, is the 265th and the current Pope by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the Sovereign of the Vatican City State and the head of the Catholic Church representing Christianity. He has a long career as an academic, serving as a professor of theology at various German universities. In 1959, Joseph Ratzinger became a professor at the University of Bonn. In 1963 he moved to the University of Munster. Ratzinger served as a peritus (theological consultant) to Cardinal Frings of Cologne. In 1966, Joseph Ratzinger was appointed to a chair in dogmatic theology at the University of Tubingen. In 1968 he wrote his book Introduction to Christianity. During his years at Tübingen University, Ratzinger published articles in the reformist theological journal Concilium. In 1969, he returned to Bavaria, to the University of Regensburg. He founded the theological journal Communio. Communio is now published in 17 languages, including German, English and Spanish and has become a prominent journal of contemporary Catholic theological thought. At the time of his election as pope, he was the dean of the College of Cardinals.

The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is current spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhist community. Tibetans traditionally believe him to be the reincarnation of his predecessors and a manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion. His monastic education commenced at the age of six years. In 1959, at the age of 23, he took his final examination at Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple, which he passed with honours and was awarded the Lharampa degree, the highest-level Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monks, roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy.

Shah Karim al-Hussayni, The Aga Khan IV, is the 49th and current Imam of the Shia Imami Nizari Ismailis. The Aga Khan is responsible for the interpretation of the faith for his followers and, as part of the office of the imamate, for endeavours to improve the quality of their lives and the communities they live in. Aga Khan spent his childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, where his early education was done through private tutoring. His grandfather, Aga Khan III engaged Mustafa Kamil, a scholar from Aligarh Muslim University, for teaching Prince Karim Aga Khan. He later attended the Institut Le Rossey in Switzerland for nine years. He graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a BA honours degree in Islamic history.

Rabbi Harold Samuel Kushner is one of the very prominent rabbis aligned with the progressive wing of Conservative Judaism. He served as the long time congregational rabbi of Temple Israel of Natick, Massachusetts, for 24 years and belongs to the Rabbinical Assembly. Kushner was educated at Columbia University and later obtained his rabbinical ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1960. The same institution awarded him a doctoral degree in the Bible in 1972. Kushner has also studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, taught at Clark University and the Rabbinical School of the Jewish Theological Seminary and received six honorary doctorates. He is the author of a best-selling book When Bad things Happen to Good People. Kushner has written a number of other popular theological books, such as How Good Do We Have to Be?, To Life!, Living a Life That Matters, The Lord Is My Shepherd, among others. Kushner co-edited Etz Hayim: A Torah Commentary, the new official Torah commentary of the Conservative Movement, which was published in 2001 by the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Publication Society.

Atheism, in a broader sense, is the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. Its growth in the US has touched around 20 percent, thus becoming the fastest growing non-religious segment of the US. Christopher Eric Hitchens, an atheist, is an English-American author and journalist, whose writing and journalistic career spans more than four decades. He was educated at the independent Leys School in Cambridge and then later at Balliol College, Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics, and economics. He has been published as a columnist and literary critic in The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, Slate, World Affairs, The Nation and Free Inquiry and became a media fellow at the Hoover Institution think tank. In 1995, he was voted as the world’s fifth top public intellectual in a Prospect/Foreign Policy poll.

In my village, the students are taught about religion by a maulvi, who has been educated only up to eighth grade. The imamat (leadership) of the mosque came to him as an inheritance from his father who was responsible for his grooming as a ‘religious scholar’. His father never went to school. With the exception of a few religious institutions, the situation in thousands of mosques scattered across the country is no different. The religious education imparted to the majority of Pakistanis owes its origin to the interpretation of Islam by individuals who are not qualified to comment on the injunctions of the Holy Quran, or has become outdated and does not address many questions of modern times.

The major reason for religious tensions among various sects and violation of minority rights boils down to just one core factor, i.e. lack of education. Religious scholars practising and propagating their respective religions throughout the world have a very sound knowledge base whereas we are caught between religious fanatics on the one side and pseudo-intellectuals on the other. Such a messy scenario is bound to spell doom and will ultimately lead us to anarchy and the death of reason and nationhood in the name of God.

The writer is a social activist. He can be reached at

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