Forced to Prayer

| October 17, 2008 | 0 Comments

The morning bell rings and devout Muslim boys and girls enter their next class, eager to learn and be good little students. This morning’s subject is ‘Religious Education’, and the teacher begins the day by demonstrating the way Christians and Catholics pray to God.

“Salaam everyone. Today we’re going to learn about Christianity. Now, everyone kneel down in front of the cross and clasp your hands in prayer. O Lord which art in heaven….”

This week, UK newspapers – The Sun, The Telegraph, and the Mirror, all reported the shocking news of a teacher forcing students to pray to Allah.  Of course, there was good reason to force religion – it was part of religious education, or as the administration phrased it, a “diversity exercise”.

Last time I checked, diversity meant recognition of, tolerance and respect for the way another person chooses to live their life.  The minute a religious education teacher forces one thing over another, s/he immediately eradicates the value placed upon diversity. Where was the respect for the faith the student’s believed they were?

In effect, that ‘educator’ works against the purpose and importance of their role. Educating students on Islamic prayers and practices was said to be carried out in the form of a demonstration. Yet, since when did a demonstration require, no – actually FORCE – participation?

Parents of the children in the religious education class, “…accused the school of breaching their human rights by forcing them to take part in the exercise,” (Telegraph, June 7: Nick Britten).

I would agree completely. What if the shoe were on the other foot – what if this transgression was imposed on a Muslim child?

“Gasp”…I know, I can imagine the world’s outrage.

First, most Muslims would be vehemently against the idea of any religious education outside the boundaries of an Islamic one. Should it have even gotten that far, that their child was shown another way of thinking, then even the mere notion of asking a Muslim child to (even mock) practice a faith that other than Islam would surely result in a decree for someone’s head;  apologies would flutter feverishly like a stack of papers tossed in the air.

Simply, diversity education cannot involve compulsion. Compulsion is a violation of an individual’s right to free will, even if they are only 12 years old.  However, referring back to the parents, there is one remark on which I disagree with them.  Some parents had made comments with the assumption that there is a difference between “God” and “Allah”. There is not. They are both the same entity, but just given different names, and VERY different personalities. However, even if the two were identical in every respect, no oneshould be forced into a religious act.

Being exposed to a multi-ethnic and religious environment, I am pretty confident that a proper religious education never involved forcing students to pray to any god, and then punishing them when they exercised their right to refuse.

Demonstrations can be informative. Explaining the demonstrations is an even better idea. But suggesting someone partake is questionable. Forcing them to do it is wrong. Punishing them for not partaking is tyrannical.

Learning the teacher was Muslim, I find it highly surprising that she would invoke force. In Islam, it is made clear that religion is not to be a compulsion. Therefore, any acts linked with faith are to be freely taken.

So where do we stand now?

We can start by realizing this is not an isolated incident, since it has already happened in a few other countries, including the United States. Secondly, we cannot be naïve enough to think this is one issue in one town – but rather realize that this is PART of a chain of events shaping the future of what many social scientist argue, will be an “Islamic Europe”.

Is it not important that an educator be educated on the importance of their role, the responsibility and the relevance of leaving bias and religion at the door when in a classroom setting? It’s so important for teachers to step down from their pedestal and begin realizing they shouldn’t abuse the privilege of teaching by forcing children in any capacity. This act shows (not just by her but any like her), that they do not understand the principle element of what education is.

No matter how many degrees you have, common sense has to play a huge role in our education system. Common sense and a fundamental respect for our students as human beings – not mindless pods.

But the moral of this story is that faith shouldn’t be enforced. It fails to act as faith if it is.  Nor should any other type of belief system or singular thought be impressed upon our children –especially if you bear the role of an educator.

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