The involvement of university graduates in the recent terrorist attack in Safoora Goth Karachi, killing more than forty Ismailis, appears to have surprised many. For us, the university students, it was a very obvious development. In fact, we are surprised by the fact that the simmering radicalisation in some of the universities of Pakistan, took so long to transform into terrorist networks carrying out gruesome acts of terror.

When the handler of an Al Qaeda cell of suicide bombers was arrested from a hostel in one of the major universities of Punjab, in Sept 2013, we all thought that this would serve as a wake up call for the government and the law enforcement agencies, and expected a comprehensive and determined effort to deal with those who provided support to such terrorists in the university campuses. That was not to be. The government adopted an ostrich like attitude and confined itself, as usual, to those nine arrests, instead of digging deeper into the phenomenon of radicalisation in the university campuses, and framing an effective response.

Earlier, the response to detection of terrorist networks in a university of Sindh (Dr Arshad Waheed and Dr Akmal Waheed of Al Qaeda in 2004, Ata ur Rehman forming Jundullah in 2004), had also indicated our fixation with confining our counter terrorism response to the capture/kill approach rather than addressing the challenge of neutralising the radicalisation networks of different organisations in the campuses. We refuse to accept that ideology can be countered only with ideology not with arrests or killings. To this day, we continue to respond in the same way.

As university students, it was felt by us, that while the supporters of violent extremism made an organised, sustained and insidious effort to propagate their ideology, there was no effort worth the name by the government or the university administration to counter them or prepare the students to deal with this challenge through a counter narrative based on the values of tolerance, dialogue and peace.

A case in point is the content of the courses of Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies taught in the BA/BSc [Hons] classes, in the universities of the Punjab. One would expect that these two subjects would contain material emphasising the values equipping the young students to defend themselves against the ideological onslaught of the militants and their support network. With this objective in view, the course contents of Islamiyat and Pakistan Studies in some universities of Punjab was examined to find out what was being taught to our graduates in these two areas.

An analysis of the Islamiyat text book for the students of BA/BSc in 2014-2015, revealed that the text contained sixty five ayaats taken from eleven surahs of Quran. The ayaats selected for inclusion in the course are about components of faith, manners, social conduct when meeting the prophet, religious obligations, importance of holy prophet, his finality etc. These are indeed very important ayaats and ought to be part of the syllabus. It is believed, however, that in view of the threat from the ideology of violent extremism in the name of Islam, there is a need to include in the syallabus those surahs of the Quran which emphasise universalism of Islam, tolerance of other religions, message of peace for the entire humanity, forbid suicide, condemn fasaad etc. This would provide our graduates with knowledge of those values of Islam, which focus on peace and tolerance. An example can be ayat 257, of Surah Baqrah which says, “There should be no compulsion in religion”. Or which says, “And if your Lord had enforced His will, surely, all who are on earth would have believed together. Will you, then, force them to become believers?”

Similarly, the Islamiyat course consists of twenty important ahadees. The selection of ahadees has to have the objective of not only familiarizing students with some basic guidelines of faith but also to provide knowledge to them about the Holy Prophet’s emphasis on tolerance, pluralism, diversity, women rights, minority rights, justice etc. Some of the ahadees on the subject, which can possibly be included in the Islamyat course are as follows ‘Beware, whoever is cruel to a non muslim minority, curtailing their rights, overburdening them or stealing from them, I will complain to God.’ [Abu Dawudi]. There are many more such ahadees emphasising tolerance, minority rights, women rights etc which needs to be included in our Islamiyat courses to underline the oft repeated fact that Islam is a religion of peace .

Similarly, the syllabus of Pakistan studies being taught at the graduate levels does not focus on inclusivism i.e. making the minorities a part of the mainstream Pakistani identity. In fact, the book being taught in one of the major universities of the Punjab, in its first chapter on Two Nation Theory, states that the two nations theory has a global dimension also, according to which the “world is divided into two groups, Muslims and non-Muslims. All non-Muslims are pagans and infidels”. By teaching this worldview to our university graduates are we not promoting intolerance, hatred and bigotry? Do not such teachings make them prone to falling into the trap of those who preach militancy to deal with those perceived as enemies of Islam, which in this case means, the rest of the world.

Interestingly, the syllabus on Pakistan studies does not include the speech of Quaid-e-Azam of August 11, 1947, in which he said, “Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of every individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.” The acid test of sincerity of any government in promoting tolerance, therefore, would be inclusion of this speech of Quaid-e-Azam in the Pakistan Studies syllabus of the universities.

Thus one possible effective antidote to radicalisation in the universities is to change the Islamiyat syllabus to include those Quranic ayaats and ahadees which promote tolerance, pluralism and diversity. Similarly, those speeches of the Quaid-e-Azam be included in the Pakistan Studies syllabus which emphasise political equality of all Pakistanis. This would be a small but essential step to protect our youth in the universities from the attempts of radicalising networks to win them over.