Remove God from Schools!

By Azam Kamguian

The dire riots in Oldham and Bradford last Summer in England, and shocking scenes in Ardoyone with Catholic girls spat at by Protestant parents in the Northern Ireland, and the Islamic Madrasahs in Pakistan, has shown the ugly faces of religious schools. After September 11 the hot breath of religious passion made that special ethos look more sinister. From many corners comes the sound of brakes on a policy that threatens to divide by faith and race.

The former head of the commission for racial equality reporting on Bradford after the riots damned segregated schools as a prime cause of racial and religious hatred. There are indications that communities are divided along racial and faith lines. Segregation in schools is one indicator of this trend; attitudes are getting hard and intolerance is growing. 

In Sweden, in the 1990s, Islamic schools were flourished. Experience has shown that these schools are the fertile grounds for the growth of fanaticism, the rule of sexual apartheid, divisiveness, and spread of hatred. In these schools children were beaten and their health and happiness were threatened. Examples are the Islamic schools in the cities of Malmoe, Opsala and Vestras. The first two schools caused scandals and the one in Malmoe was finally shut down.

Amongst other examples, the under-achievement of Bangladeshi and Pakistani children in England has been blamed on the amount of the time they spend in mosques studying the Koran. In a report by Dr Mohammad Ali, chief executive of a Bradford Charity: "Quantity not quality is provided in most British mosques and madrasahs and that is probably one of the reasons for the poor educational performance of British Pakistani pupils." 

Beating children is another characteristic of faith schools either Islamic or Christian. Beating children was outlawed in state schools years ago and in independent fee-charging schools in 1999 in Britain. Most non - religious schools are pleased with this, but the Christian Fellowship school in Liverpool is spearheading a high - court battle by 40 Christian schools to bring it back. They claim their right to beat children is enshrined in the Bible. 

In Islamic schools, particularly, children are deprived of learning to play music, to swim, to mix freely with each other and to enjoy their social activities. Girls are segregated, subject to mandatory veiling. In faith schools children are alienated and humiliated. They lose their self-esteem. They feel that they have been singled out and are different. 

Preventing children from enjoying their social and civil rights such as education and participation in social activities is a systematic child abuse and an offence. It particularly isolates girls and makes their lives miserable. Girls are deprived of swimming, mixing with their classmates, and of being playful and happy. 

Education for all must mean opening doors of opportunity to wider horizons than any child's narrow home culture. Single sex, single religious schools deprive boys or girls to make real choices as they grow up. 

Do faith schools teach tolerance and respect? Or do they insist the sort of sectarian bigotry that has some Muslims talking of jihad, and some Christians of Crusade; and that has some Protestants stoning Catholic children as they walk to their own faith schools? Neither Christian nor other faith schools are there to teach respect for other faiths, but to instill their own doctrines. When a school promotes a particular religion as the one true faith, what sort of culture does that engender? The situation merely brings to a crisis the inherent contradictions in marrying education and religion. If the youth dangerously get ghettoized according to religion, there is no better way than to allow Islamic and religious fanaticism to flourish in schools. In an age and in countries of pervasive secularism, it is indeed shameful to force upon children ideologies that the majority of adults have left behind.

Now, we should deal with another more important issue. Do children have religion? How and in which process they have chosen to be the followers of this or that faith? The truth is that religions are hereditary beliefs and opinions. Children are labeled automatically as followers of this or that faith as soon as they are born and as a result of a blind lottery. The outcome of this blind lottery is labeling the child as Muslim, Hindu, Protestant or Catholic, etc. It is not acceptable to do this to children. But, sadly and unfortunately, the society accepts this as a universal norm and standard. Children have no faith. They have not joined any religious sect. Labeling children as followers of religious sects is indeed child abuse. Society should protect children and safeguard their rights. Society is duty bound to protect children from the spiritual manipulation by religions and religious institutions. The fate of children shouldn't be tied to the faith of their parents. Children should be given the chance to learn, to question and to investigate. But, quite understandably, the governments deliberately do the opposite. They set up and hugely subsidize religious schools. They prepare the fertile ground for the growth of superstition, fanaticism and religious hatred. 

The time for children to learn about religion is in later life. They go to school to gain knowledge, not to become vehicle for dogma and superstition. Religion should be completely separated from education. Teaching of religious subjects and dogmas or religious interpretation of subjects in schools should be prohibited in educational system. 

Faith schools cause deep psychological and physical harm to children. Religious education is indeed child abuse. Society is duty bound to put an end to religious education. 

God must be removed from schools!