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THE SCHOOL'S ROLE IN MULTI-RELIGIOUS SOCIETIES

Halim Noujaim

Introduction

In our society, education is considered as the biggest challenge and the most important treasure, which contributes in evolving humanity toward world peace, freedom and social justice. The human society must protect this treasure and invest in it, until it becomes the treasure of treasures, the prince of hearts and the foremost occupation of society. The person who doesn’t achieve any education is a real poor, and without education all the world’s treasures are useless.
Education concerns the human being deeply in order to show its best values that lead to the complete maturity of the human personality. Psychology and experience teach us that the human being is born like a “tabula rasa”, and the work of education is to design on it the image of the human being created at the image and likeness of God. During the formation of the human person and in characterizing his personality, man is in need of the education that he receives at home, at school and in society.
To talk about education means to talk about one of the finest arts that man has known. The final aim of education is the human person, and its teachers are selected in various groups: home, school, religious and social institutions, the government, mass media etc… Obviously, it is impossible to talk about all these areas. We shall highlight some of them especially religious and moral education and the role of family and school in multi-religious societies.

Education, freedom and duty:
We can identify our era as an “era of freedom”; but unfortunately we have misused this word and distorted its meaning. Perhaps we understand it as if it was permitted to do whatever we want, or to free ourselves from any obligation. Freedom means rights and obligations. To be free doesn’t mean to think and do what we want; it doesn’t mean to ignore the rights of the others, or to deny them what we permit for ourselves. The first step to freedom is to get rid of evil tendencies. It is the biggest challenge for human beings in our world. Only when man will be free from the slavery of evil, he will achieve the true freedom of the sons of God.
The result of today’s misunderstanding of freedom has been destructive : the spread of drugs, children exploitation, juvenile delinquency, various aspects of verbal, corporal and sexual abuse…, etc. These are negative aspects caused by exceeding the limits of freedom and turning it into a miserable slavery.
We all realize that our society is a consumer society, and that materialism is its goal. Because we are immersed in these problems, we fall into a swamp of problems that degenerate the dignity of the human person, and hinder his development and civilization. These issues are the biggest challenge for home and school education and can give answers and solutions in order to free the person and permit him to become the son of God.
We have mentioned that freedom means duties and rights; we tend to concentrate more on rights and ignore our duties. This is where the role of home and school comes in, to stress the importance of duty as well as rights. Ghandi once said: “How I hoped from the United Nations to release a second decision besides the human-rights one, to clarify its duties”. According to Ghandi we don’t find in the human rights document the sufficient solution for the different sufferance, endurance, persecution, exploitation of children, poverty, slavery and degradation. The basic condition for human rights is made of duties, because rights are the fruit of duties. Starting from this, it is our obligation as responsible educators whether at home or at school, to educate those children entrusted to us by God and society, so they can accomplish their duties before claiming their rights.

Various religious educations:

Education must be comprehensive, and should include different fields. One of them is the religious field. It should occupy the first, and most important level in education; the same way as the spiritual excels the material element in the human being.
The importance of religious education springs from:
1- Humanity is one family, since God is their creator.
2- The Lord is the main goal for all people; and all religions invite their followers to reach God, and in Him, man can find his salvation.
3- God takes care of all peoples, shows them the signs of his kindness and love, showing the proofs of his desire for their salvation, revealing to them his commandments by the prophets.

Therefore we must respect all religions since they have some elements of the divine truth. We must hold a dialogue and collaborate with the followers of other religions, so as to give testimony of our faith to others, specially in doctrine and moral values. The religious education develops and reinforces, its main goal which is to refine the spirit and instruct all people. It will be the faith which will enlighten the students about the knowledge of God and the world, about life and man.
Our generation is characterized by religious indifference and secularization; man has lost his spiritual and moral values, and considered himself as if he was the unique and only master of the world.
The duty of the educators is to realize their responsibility to be examples of their faith. They should be and be ready to listen, to understand and to have a constructive dialogue with others, so as to increase the faith of their students. Providing knowledge by itself does not help students increase their faith. The teachers have to consider that their responsibility lies not only in education and culture, but in spiritual and religious education as well and it should occupy a primary position in education, because culture without faith in God is a destructive knowledge, because science and faith are interchangeable.
In studying various religions we affirm the unity of respecting the multiplicity. We must live our unity in society by accepting the variety, and we shouldn’t accept substituting a multiparty regime with a monoparty one. The goal of education is multiplicity and not unicity. At a school where the majority of the students are from one religion, and the minority from another religion, we must not concentrate on the majority and ignore the minority whatever the percentage may be; because equality between human beings depends on the dignity of man, not on the number of adherents of one party or another. For example: just like we don’t accept that a school with a majority of Christian’s students care only for Christians and ignore the rest, we cannot accept the opposite, i.e. to ignore the minority of Christian students in a school where the majority of students is Muslim. If we wish to educate our students for a multireligious society, we should teach them that unity of the society doesn’t oppose variety and multiplicity of religions, but rather is an enrichment of society.
In our region the phenomenon of multireligious societies is common, and cannot be ignored. It makes up an essential part of our national cultural, religious and moral heritage.
Multiplicity of religions in a society requires diversity of opinions about some religious doctrines, and agreement about others. In education we should stress the respect of the beliefs of others, since our coexistence in the Middle East is not a recent one, but has been built up several centuries ago. We enriched each other in the past, and we should continue do so now and also in the future. It is impossible for an oriental society to exist without multiplicity in religions.
Giving each one his own religious education doesn’t mean decreasing, directly or indirectly, the respect to other religions; therefore I think religious freedom is based on giving a comprehensive education to everybody in our local society. Hence, we must sustain and encourage giving to each one his own religious education. If a Christian school accepts to give the Moslem student his own religious education, it demonstrates that the school is respecting the religious rights of others. We must do this, leaving to God, who sees and understands everything, to call everybody to faith when He is at.
What is said about the Christian school should be applied to the Moslem schools concerning students of other religions. Neglecting religious education means encouraging atheism, which is more dangerous than practicing other religious beliefs.
In the religious education we can concentrate our teaching on many subjects, like:
1 – Religious doctrine
2 – Cooperation with others about morality, general behaviour…
3 – Peaceful coexistence with believers of other religions.
4 – Teaching the common religious principles with others.
5 – The general and universal principles of peace and justice…
6 – Coexistence with other religions.
7 – Tolerance, fraternity and love.

With respect to the right of the parents to choose the kind of religious education they prefer for their children, we can’t forget that we live in a multireligious society, so we must give our children a general religious education of all the religions of the world and specially of the area where the children live.
The best time to give religious education is during the school year. If a student has not yet any contact with persons of other religions, sooner or later he will have this contact. For our Middle East region is the cradle of the three biggest religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For that a pupil cannot finish his high school education without having a general knowledge of these three monotheistic religions. It is important to have qualified teachers to explain the basic doctrine of their religion.

Education in the family:
Education is, first of all, a gift. The parents offer to their child love and human dignity. The presence of the child in the family makes the love between the parents reach the child.
But the parents cannot give a complete and comprehensive education to their children, and hence refer to individuals and educational institutions in giving the kind of education that they offer to their children. And if the parents participate with God to give life to the children, they also should participate with Him in giving a true and complete education to their children. When the parents agree to have a child, they also agree to assume the responsibility to cooperate in its education. The commandment: “honor thy mother and thy father”, doesn’t just concern the children, but also the parents. The duty and respect of the parents to their children is to give good, comprehensive and complete education.
As parents give life to their children they also assume a heavy duty to educate them. They are the first and principal educators of their children. This mission of the parents is of great importance. If they lose it, it can never completely be replaced. Family is the main institution for social and moral virtues. In the family, children learn how to find and worship God, how to love other and how to respect other religions.
Parents accomplish their educational duty towards their children by giving good example, because the child at home, watches, observes and imitates his parents’ behavior. Good example and people behavior are the best lessons that parents can offer their children. It is up to the parents to create a familial atmosphere, which will reinforce love and respect for God and humanity, so that parents can give a complete, personal and social education to their children. Parents, in procreating children participate in loving God, the Creator. They express this love when they accomplish their duty in procreation and educating their children. The parents’ rights will be violated when their children are forced to follow a religious education which doesn’t agree with their own religious beliefs, or when all students are obliged to follow a unique religious education, without considering care of their different religions.
Parents remain the first and principal responsibles of their children’s education even when they send them to school; and they should be efficient members of the scholastic educational staff of their children’s school. Parents today are more inclined to neglect their educational duties, and simply entrust the complete responsibility of the education of their children to the school and teachers. By doing this they are escaping their responsibility. It is important to know, while we know that the family’s role in education cannot be easily replaced.

Education for coexistence and dialogue:
“Coexistence means to live with others peacefully and respectfully, to understand and trust one another. Peaceful coexistence cannot exist without friendship and love. Man cannot live with others without mutual understanding and real desire for mutual coexistence, bonded with familiarity, fortified with love and confidence, and mutual strong-willed to live together… Coexistence between religions can be only with mutual understanding about the general aims and goals” (Dr. Saaddin, Mohamma Munir: “Coexistence between Muslims and Christians….”, Leb. 2001, pag. 142 ).
Education for dialogue and co-existence begins from the family, because the family is the first school. It is here that the child opens his eyes to the world and begins to communicate in all its educational dimensions. The child at home, even before he starts to learn reading and writing, observes and sees with his own eyes all what happen around him. The good example that parents and elder brothers give to the child at home, is the best educational lesson that can be given to the child. The children accept completely, without any reservation, everything that the elders do in their presence. Therefore, if the home becomes a place for religious fanatism by word and deed, by attitude and behavior, then the child adopts these same ideas and prejudice. In this case children will not grow-up to be open-minded and understanding of others.
Here we can quote from Dr. Mohammad Moneer Saad Eldeen, renowned Moslem and Lebanese thinker and writer who believes greatly in coexistence between Muslims and Christians “ for if coexistence is abolished, I can’t live in peace with myself”, and he continues: “ I learnt that from my family, my father was an honorable sheikh, who insisted that we don’t differentiate between races and religions, between Moslem and Moslem, between Moslems and Christians, and I remember seeing his Christian students coming to his house to study and learn from him, and asking his help in solving their problems and questions, with the various civil responsibles, and my mother used to say that a quarter without Christians is a loss”.
Dr. Saad El Deen encourages Christian and Islamic religious institutions of education in Lebanon to continue periodical meetings, in which they discuss common themes between the Islamic and Christian religions. Dr. Saad El Deen finds in those meetings good and clear signs of accepting each other, and is a mutual enrichment, hoping to spread those idea throughout society for the common benefit.
In Florence, where many immigrants reside, a school principal asked some Muslim students to come and talk about their holy month of Ramadan. After the meeting the Muslim students attended breakfast at school. It was an occasion for these fellow Christian students to understand better their special holyday and how Ramadan could lead to help and love the less fortunate. This teaches us to welcome and accept others into our school, and give them the occasion to talk about their beliefs, while listening to them and understanding them more clearly.
The voice of consciousness is what ties us to each other. It’s the religious form of universal mankind. We have many religions, but what is important is to follow the voice of our conscience. In his meeting with several religious leaders in Assisi, Pope John Paul Two, said in his speech:
“ We all have one road, and that is to respect the voice of conscience” because that voice is the voice of God in us which holds us together, and it expresses our faith”.
In reality we find discrepancy between Christian and Muslim religions, but we also have several issues in common in the field of faith and morality, like:
1 – Believing in one God, the Creator, who spoke to prophets from Abraham to Jesus.
2 – Christians and Muslim also honor the virgin Mary.
3 – Both Christians and Muslims believe in the resurrection of death.
4 – Both belief in the importance of the prayer, the fasting and alms… and finally both have mostly the same moral principles.
We cannot forget what had been said that, in the beginning of the Islamic religion, when the followers of Mohammad escaped to Ethiopia, the Christian Ethiopian emperor said in a discussion with them that, “the only thing between you and us is a border line”, and he drew a line on the ground.
Even though it seems impossible to agree between Christians and Muslims on some religious issues, it is possible to agree on legal, social, and human right issues. A Christian or Muslim person has to find help to achieve all his rights. The UN declaration of human rights, should be part of the scholastic curriculum, to give all students a general and comprehensive idea about the differences between the various religions, hoping to reach common issues between them and be eager to achieve respect, understanding, and cooperation to do good deeds in the hope of reaching peace, justice and love between people.
We cannot ignore the differences between Muslims and Christians. A Christian cannot expect a Muslim not to be Muslim, in the same time the Muslim cannot expect a Christian not to be Christian, but the Christian should respect the Muslim in his faith, and the Muslim should respect the Christian in his faith. The duty of the school is to help both: Muslim and Christian, to develop themselves to be real Muslims or real Christians, the same should be done with followers of other religions. The school should encourage religiosity, but not fanatism, since the latter is the enemy of coexistence and dialogue between religions,

School’s role in Muslim - Christian dialogue:
School is, first of all, a group of persons interested in education: administrative staff, teachers, students, parents etc., each of these are covering an important role in the school educational system. One of the principal aims of education is to create a new person capable of becoming a messenger and witness for his faith, and living the best moral values such as: love, justice, tolerance, peace and global solidarity and brotherhood, and he should learn how to practice all those moral values in the society and with his companions.
Students spend a long time in school. The school becomes the natural place where students learn the fundamental principles of social life; in it they start practicing coexistence with others.
In school, students learn how to give interest to the needy person, and practice and develop the principles of tolerance, peace, and justice. They learn how to accept others even if they believe in another religion, or if they are of different social class.
Since school is a microcosm of local society, it should accept students from all the different religions of society. We cannot accept only the rich students and not the poor ones, so we cannot reduce our students to those of one religion while refusing the others.
In our schools, the Christian student sits next to the Moslem student. Both discuss matters together and assist one another in acquiring knowledge. In a way, both share in forming solid formation for building a new society where all members are equal in rights and duties irrespective of their different religious convictions.
It is only through this type of relationship that we are able to overcome the hostile atmosphere of the past, when each one considered the other as an enemy just because he believed in another religion, or just because we ignored each other.
School is the place where people can approach each other, because school suppresses differences in social classes and discrimination based on different religious convictions, and finally it doesn’t distinguish between the different students in the educational system.
School has a special status, which ties family to society. In it students can profit from the moral treasures of both: family and local society. School helps and replaces parents in educating their children to develop their mental, intellectual and ethical capacity. The school is the most effective organ for religious dialogue.
Historically speaking, the relations between Christians and Islam were not, historically speaking, always peaceful, but on the contrary several times were aggressive and hostile.
This time of hostility between Christians and Muslims continued till the second half of the twentieth century, when the Catholic Church had its Vatican II Council, and had its declaration about the relations between the Catholic Church and the non-Christian religions, where we read that “the Church has also a high regard for Muslims. They worship God who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humankind. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God’s plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they worship Jesus as a prophet; his virgin mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further more, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For the reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship, especcially by way of prayer, almsgiving and fasting’.This common faith in one God, creator and judge of all humankind, and the invitation to Muslims and Christians to forget their many quarrels and hostilities of the past, ‘and to strive sincerely for mutual understanding. On behalf of all humankind, let them make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom”(Vatican Council Two, “Declaration on “Non-Christian Religions”, N. 3).

School is the center for Muslim / Christian dialogue:
At school where the students are of multi religious convictions, education cannot concentrate only on one religion, but should be offered to all religions. Openness means respect of other religions, and evaluation of all what is true and morally positive in their religions. The real dialogue between believers of different religions means reciprocal respect, reinforcement and protection of the common values of justice, peace and freedom.
School is where students can have many occasions to get to know one another and exchange ideas, not only on study and school issues, but also on religious ones. The interaction in all sorts of occasions, respecting each other’s religious beliefs, concentrating on issues which bring them closer to each other, understanding the differences between them are all important.
Religious dialogue means destruction of all barriers of hatred, repugnance and hostility, built during the past centuries between multi-religion believers, separating all humankind one from the other and leading to bloody religious wars. Now the role of school is to eradicate all those barriers and to implant love, fraternity, peace and good, justice and equality among the members of the same society of multi-religions, because the mission of the school is to encourage members of one society to plant harmony, coexistence and cooperation among themselves.

Finally, in dialogue we should concentrate on three points:

A – The wrong idea of Christian religion in the Koran.
The Koran gives us a wrong idea of Christian religion. What is written in the Koran about Christian religion doesn’t reflect the original doctrine of the Christian Religion; it is the religion of some Christian Sects, for example: according to some verses of the Koran, the Holy Trinity is God the father, Son (Jesus) and Mary (the Mother of Christ).

B – Tolerance:
In Islamic history we start talking about tolerance from the famous meeting between Mohammad, the Prophet of Islam, and a Christian group of Najran. The conclusion of this meeting was the acceptance of Mohammad to tolerate and assure religious freedom to Christians provided that they pay a special tax. This tolerance took legal form with the guarantee given by Calif Omar to the Christians of Jerusalem.
It may be that this kind of tolerance was good at the beginning of Islam in the seventh century, but now, after the declaration of the Universal Human Rights, this tolerance is not enough. The Declaration of the United Nations affirms the equal rights and duties for all people, whereas Islamic tolerance doesn’t assure this equality, but rather accentuates the different classes in society, and legalizes the difference between powerful and weak individuals. Schools on the other hand should educate students to equality between all the members of multi-religion societies.

C – The presence of some good in all religions
Dialogue requires admission of some values in every religion. It is difficult for many persons to admit this reality, but for dialogue it is of supreme importance, and without it there cannot be a dialogue, but rather a monologue, and the imposition of one’s faith on other persons, which goes against the International Rights of Man, against religious freedom, etc.

Conclusion
Saeed Zaglool says: “ We are not in need of much science, but of a lot of morals (ethics), there is nothing better that could be added to science than education, or kindness, because science without kindness is a destructive science”.
School has to realize its serious and pioneer role in the educational field, to create a new open-minded young generation who accept others whatever their religious convictions, regardless of race, color, or social and political status, because all of us have the same dignity of the human being, and all of us are created at God’s image; and if God doesn’t help the person to convert nobody can do anything. For that our mission is to do what is required from our religious convictions, and to teach the students to do the same, and let God, who knows everything, call to conversion whom he wants and when he wants.
We must teach our students, Christians and Muslims alike, that the ways of salvation are multiple, and they are not restricted to the followers of one religion only, but they are extended to all persons of good will and high morality whatever their religion.
Christian and Islamic religions are two ways leading to one God. It’s time for Christians and Muslims to realize their common responsibility towards each other. They shouldn’t be satisfied only like friends, walking side by side, but should be partners working together, in order to reach the good of the human being, helping him to get his rights and improving his human dignity. Because nobody can claim that he possesses all the truth. In reality, we don’t possess the truth, but it possesses us.


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