Where is teaching of religious affairs heading?

I am writing this after seeing two tweets referring to two parents’ reactions to homework on Islam. Both parents reacted strongly. The one tweet originated in the USA and attracted global attention. The second that I will focus on was from Britain.

Both tweets and the responses generated show that our community leaders, spiritual and temporal, have an uphill battle when introducing students to multi-cultural religious study. It is an issue that needs addressing and soon but I see no serious inclination. One issue is a lack of confidence among community leaders to discuss issues that they themselves have a poor understanding off. Even our spiritual leaders struggle – not least because many have themselves been brought up in an era and in environments where different religions were pigeonholed.

I fear when I see and read Christian community leaders openly sowing seeds of doubt and frankly painting negative images of Islam. It’s not helped when peers and supervisors refuse to challenge them. Our popular print media are mostly hostile. Those of us who are old enough not to have had the benefit of a genuine multi-cultural introduction to religion and who harbour negative vibes will only see those vibes reinforced.

This is encapsulated in the Twitter thread I want to highlight. Briefly a child is set homework based on Islamic study. The father seemingly exploded.

Homework brexit

The text reads:

“Muslims believe that Allah created the world and all in it. Each human is a khalifah (steward) and has a duty to look after Allah’s creation. Humans may use but they need to treat them fairly. Muslims also believe that animals are inferior to humans, and animals can be used for scientific testing as long as they are treated correctly. Farming is important however the animals must have space to move and rest. Hunting is not acceptable as it involved cruelty towards animals for example bull fighting.”

“Tasks:
5. Give one example of a statement from the Qur’an that encourages animals to respect animals
6. Explain what is meant by khalifah and how a Muslim can ensure they look after animals.
7. Do you think that animal testing is ever acceptable and can you treat an animal correctly if you test on it?
8. “All Muslims should be vegetarians.” What do you think? Explain your opinion.”

Dad tweeted:

“My sons homework on Islam Made me rather angry, why force feed this monstrous ideology on children. #fuckthem”

I have selected tweet from the ensuing conversation.

– “It’s a legal requirement for the school to provide it. However, you can opt your child out. They don’t tell you”

  • cheers Phil, he will be opting out. Cant wait for the school to call me”

–  “teach kids the real Islam, the medieval butchery ideology that slaughters all none believers”

–  “after you tweet I had a deep talk with my son 9y and he understood. But I separated islam from muslims. Reform is possible”

  • “reform is possible in many subjects but not Islam. Would you really want a clan in your neighbourhood?”

–  “I agree schools show little respect to non Muslim views, this govt has sold us out to win Muslim votes.”

  • “it is puzzling why so much is forgotten about when it comes to this cult”

– “WTF If muslims respects animal why the hell 2.5 million animals are killed on Eid ul ajha .Bloody rascals.”

– “y r they teaching it in muslim minority country , r they mental ?”

  • “I don’t know but my son will not be doing it. He doesn’t need to know medieval barbarism”

– “@NickyMorgan01 why is your department teaching lies and evil ideology to kids?”

– “I home school mine. You don’t have to teach them the bullshit that they do!”

– “how do u ppl accept this kind of crap”

  • “I’m not accepting it nor will my son”

“we don’t want this crap for our kids our country!!”

Secularists and Humanists may not like it but this is an example of why religion and explicitly comparative religion must be taught in schools. It has to be taught in order to give children a reasonable chance of making sense of the adult world. But as we see the adult world outside school is hostile.

The origin of religion in general and individual religions in particular need to be taught at least in the historical contexts of their ancient beginnings. I have been trying to study their ancient history and am finding that so much can be connected together. I had a religious upbringing but am now in no way religious. My reading and research is helping me make sense of religion and as a result I cannot find it in me to attack and criticise the concept of religion nor its evolution into apparently distinct religions. That said religions today seem to have lost touch with their roots. That has to be a huge problem because much ritual practised by many religions no longer makes sense but connect it to its roots and a whole new light is shone on the world.

If we look at the Islamic beliefs in the Twitter picture and remove the reference to God/Allah and we are left with beliefs that even Humanists will mostly be comfortable with.

Unless we believe is parallel universes existing in the same time and space there was one Creation, the Big Bang. Man has a superior intellect and even Greens and Humanists believe that do not argue against our having duties of stewardship of the earth and its resources. Most humans eat meat and most thinking humans want to respect the animals that we eat. We want high welfare rearing and a kind end. These attributes underpin Jewish and Islamic slaughter – which is not to say that all Jewish/Islamic slaughter is of a high standard but then neither can that be said of secular slaughter practice, which is highly secretive. Muslims do not have sole ownership of the morality of animal testing or hunting.

Which father can object to these moral statements?

What, therefore, lie underneath his outrage?

Why did so many others rush to support his outrage?

A similar discussion ensued the American tweet. That discussion went viral and even got a mention in the UK news media – at least in their online content.

As I see it society may be reaping the harvest from the seeds that it has sown.

I was only ever taught Christianity at school fifty years ago. Any contact with Islam came under the auspices of history. It was a long time ago but I remember the Moors spreading across Africa and “invading” the southern half of Spain. What I learned of the Crusades painted a picture of Muslims being enemies and Islam being an alien culture. I have since discovered that Muslims “do” the “Madonna and Child” (their account of Mary’s unusual conception could have been taken from the Christian Bible).

Unpick other Christian rituals and you find direct connections to other religions through variants of the same rituals.

Returning to the tweet, the issue that has to be addressed is not just how religion is taught in schools but how children’s role models – namely parents and the grown up institutions they mingle with outside school – are themselves supported.

What needs to happen in the grown up world to help the dad who is struggling with the idea that Islam, the religion, is not evil. (Yes, there are bad Muslims but there are many Christians and secularists who are also not good role models .)

As I see it the most senior Christian community leaders in our country have to engage fully with their counterparts in other religions and accept that no one religion is superior to another and indeed may not even be superior to no religion at all. In their discussions they need develop a better understanding of the features they share and Christians my need to park the concept of the Holy Trinity.

We have to teach what religion is and how it came to be and the nature of the conflicts that now exist. We cannot not teach religion in schools but how it is taught needs a radical root and branch rethink. It must be truly multifaith and multicultural.

I will close with this thought. The seeds of anti-Semitism may or may not have been sown in Christ’s time but they festered for a long time millennia and culminated in the Holocaust. And arguably that’s what it took for Judaism and Christianity to reconcile themselves. I look around me and see a world in which, if faiths do not genuinely come together, a similar conflagration between Christianity and Islam could erupt on a very different scale.

 


**** I would like to express my acknowledgements to Claire Cavendish based in Exeter, Devon, for the Understanding Faith sessions she ran from The White Hart. I am not sure what I took away from her sessions is what she expected but I have a belief that when you study religion from an academic or detached perspective you will find common threads running through them. Thanks to Claire’s extensive reading and summarising I found confirmation of my thinking. This hardly surprising. The first humans from which are acknowledged to have ascended came from Africa. Modern civilisation as we know it seemingly originated in the Fertile Crescent (modern day Iraq) and spread west, north and east (after a graphic seen in the British Museum). Arguably most religions have developed from spiritual concepts originating there. At their centre presumably lay the concepts of humanity and sanctity of life. But when and where did it all gone wrong? Thank you, Claire.

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