While I was minded to share my thoughts about Yahoo banning the use of Allah in email names, the BNP’s new campaign material, or cleric Maulana Yousef Qureshi and his followers putting a $1m bounty on Danish cartoonists, this more important issue came to my attention. The issues regarding faith schools in the UK have been simmering for some time. Faith schools were criticised last year for failing to give pupils an adequate understanding of other religions. Islamic schools were specifically focused upon and links were made to terrorism in that a more diverse system of religious education would combat extremism and promote respect for others. This was in fact an exaggeration and I have not yet heard of the same principles being applied to some types of faith schools that are renowned for being closed and alienating to outsiders (I will not pinpoint any particular type of faith school so as not to detract from the subject). In the usual display of subliminal messaging, it is pictures of Muslim girls in headscarves that accompany the many of the articles on this topic.
It is high time the government decides it’s stance on faith schools as it recently deemed them too selective, while also being of the opinion that the establishment of state-funded Muslim schools was a positive step. I do agree with part of the current proposals in that faith schools should be instructed to teach their pupils about the core beliefs of other religions besides their own. Knowledge is power, and in a multi-cultural society it is important to understand ones fellow citizens. However, lets not fool ourselves into thinking that for most people having knowledge of their neighbours religion will make them any more interactive with them. By way of the very same ‘knowledge is power’ rationale, I would argue that to give monotheists a greater knowledge of the ways of polytheists and vice-versa is in part a recipe for failure if the overriding objective is to develop respect and sensitivity to others.
Another danger will be the potential for schools and their respective faiths to be ranked in terms of their compliance with these new policies. Where some Faith Schools will stop at an acceptable level of raising awareness of the core beliefs of the major religions, others will undoubtedly be more interactive with external religious productions and field trips to other religious establishments. Therefore, re-enforcing stereotypes and propagating negative connotations formed from the premise that particular religions are less inclusive than others.
My opinion is that schools should be allowed to decide whether to teach about other religions or not. It should be noted (as it has) that a more diverse religious education can be benefiting to the child. However, as with those that consider placing their children in the more exclusive public schools that many of us cannot afford, the religions of others are relatively unimportant. This does not mean we should not respect others or their religions, but it does mean that we can do this without formally allocating time and resources that may be better spent learning about our own faiths and the other subjects on the curriculum such as Mathematics, English and Science.
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