RELIGIOUS EXCLUSIVITY TAUGHT IN SCHOOLS
The dehumanising treatment of minorities in Pakistan is not hidden from anyone. What’s worse is that this discrimination doesn’t just hold true for the uneducated living in far-flung villages, but also the genteel in cities, where many a posh begum will never pollute her polished pucker with a Christian maid’s utensils, quarantined off from the rest of the household cutlery. What to talk of Christians, even mainstream ‘Muslim’ sects practice such derogatory customs against each other. The view most people subscribe to is one of utter rigidity – ‘because you don’t agree with me, that automatically makes you wrong.’
Where does this extreme religious arrogance come from? From schools, through an exclusivist religious education, a.k.a Islamiyat. By focussing wholly on Islam, (the ‘acceptable’ Sunni version) at the cost of all other world religions, we essentially lead our children on a journey of self-righteousness that makes them highly partial to their religion and discriminated against every other, while breeding within them the vanity to assume that solely what they know is correct while the rest of the world is erroneous at best and evil at worst. Of course, children should believe in their own faith with complete conviction, but does it have to be done in a manner that makes them spurn those who hold to a different belief?
As a society where every religion is not just openly preached but unreservedly practiced, Britain is second to none. There are an estimated 2.8 million Muslims (4.6% of the population) living in the UK, who are full, equal members of society in every way. There are roughly the same numbers of Christians living in Pakistan, that is, 2.8 Million (1.6% of the population). But how are these minorities treated? Christians are shunned, Hindus detested, Sikhs ridiculed, Ahmadis loathed, and Shias mocked.
To counter this extreme intolerance spreading like poison through the veins of our society, what we need is an inclusionary approach to religious education in our schools; one that takes into account a variety of belief systems, and studies the likeness different religions share with each other rather than the difference alone. To talk about similarities is in essence to talk about positivity, peace, love and brotherhood, whereas to focus on disparity is to generate hatred and enmity.
Religious Education in the UK comprises a study of all major religions and belief-systems in the world, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, while debate is ongoing to include minority religions like Zoroastrianism, as well as secular belief systems like Humanism. A Christian child grows up with an awareness of Islam and knowledge of its tenets. Similarly, a Muslim child is aware of Christianity and its origins and values. This familiarity breeds community cohesion and acceptance.
And that acceptance is just what we need in our society. Religion is a huge part of the world and its people, and in today’s globalised systems and economies, it’s all the more important to promote an approach that allows one to eliminate differences rather than multiply them. Is our faith so weak that just by learning about another religion, it will diminish or evaporate? No. On the contrary, it will only get stronger, and instil in us the capacity to respect humanity at large without delving into everyone’s religious beliefs. It will allow us an insight into a world of opinion and debate, where every individual has the right to adhere to his/her own faith without inciting enmity.
Today, its ‘I’m right, so of course you’re wrong’. Tomorrow, with a more balanced religious education, it can be, ‘I’m here, you’re there, let’s just agree to disagree and move on with a handshake.’
Published in Dateline Islamabad on 23rd March 2012