Religious education and “teaching atheism”

Today the Observer reveals that kids in schools are to be taught atheism, which, they say, should be welcomed, “for the move accepts a simple fact of modern life: that ours has become a secular society in which church-going is now a pastime for only a small minority”. What they mean by “teaching atheism” is unclear. The beliefs generally associated with atheism - including Darwin’s theory - have been taught in British schools, often as fact, for decades. Some of the established religions, like some branches of Hinduism and Buddhism, do not believe in God or else believe that the nature or existence of God is secondary to other matters, and children are already taught about other religions in many schools, even religious schools. Apparently we believers have more in common with atheists and agnostics than we like to believe, notably the rejection of idolatry. As Muslims we detest idolatry, but we hardly believe that agnostics and atheists have much more in common with us than Hindus and other idolators. We believe that Allah Most High is behind everything that happens; they believe in a multitude of forces, which is a type of polytheism in itself. In the letters pages, we get a couple of basically anti-Muslim letters by Denis MacEoin of the Natural Medicines Society, and Marilyn Mason of the British Humanist Association. Mason complains that religious schooling risks “fragmentation of the school system along religious and racial lines and some children having very limited contact with the rest of society”, and that the government’s support for such schools does not square with their desire to “improve social cohesion”. In fact, only a handful of such schools have been brought into the state system since Blair came to power. Muslims want Muslim schools specifically to give their children a decent moral education, with good Islamic role models. Children brought up in such schools would be more of an asset to British society than those forced through “sink schools”.

MacEoin claims that the Muslim world has seen little “advance” in the field of human rights in the 150 years it has been in contact with Europe. The fact is that it has gone down in human rights terms, because in most of these countries people have neither their rights in the Shari’ah nor those people in the west take for granted. The lack of “freedom of religion” people talk about in the Muslim world affects Muslims as well as others, and there is probably no country where the government does not interfere in some way with Islamic education or where scholars and other intellectuals are not afraid of the government. At least two countries (Turkey and Tunisia) have seen open repression of Islam, with people liable to state harrassment for merely growing their beards, and any popularly-elected government wishing to remove some of the curbs on religious Muslims has to contend with the treacherous army.

MacEoin regularly gets his witterings aired in the Guardian’s letters page (the Guardian and Observer are published by the same company, and feature many of the same writers). In the Guardian, 24th Dec 2003, he wrote: “The headscarf move is a sensible school uniform measure designed to stop the French school system from becoming the Northern Irish nightmare I was taught in. Multiculturalism gets you Northern Ireland: integration gives you tolerance and the rule of law for everyone”. He knows full well that the situation in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with multiculturalism, but with centuries of British interference in Ireland, including the planting of the large Scottish Protestant population. How much of this dishonesty is behind the letters in the Guardian and other major newspapers I have no idea. Certainly they never mention his links to the Baha’is, for instance.

In any case, I do not see why Denis MacEoin thinks Muslims should rush to pick up the ideas put forward by their white colonial slavemasters and their “brown sahib” lackeys. We had our Englightenment 1,400 years ago. The movement referred to by this name in Europe is merely their attempt to throw off some of the superstitions and falsehoods their nations had clung to for centuries after we abandoned them.

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