Islamic Education

ITEP Week #3: Contemporary Understanding on Faith Based Schools

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Respond in a short and concise position statement/thought to either Burtonwood or Hand on your position either supporting or challenging the need for faith-based schools.

In other words, should we or should we not support faith-based schools? Feel free to use your own personal convictions, experience here.

Assalamualaikum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh.

Dear teachers, brothers and sisters.

Taking into account the background of both authors; Neil Burtonwood and Michael Hand, I believe that each of them represents a different approach to tackle the issue of faith based schools. I assume that Neil Burtonwood came from the sociological approach in studying Religion with emphasis on the education while Michael Hand came from the theological and philosophical approach in analysis. Each of them took different perception towards religion. Sociology of religion does not set out to assess the validity of religious beliefs. This could be the reason why I personally feel that Burtonwood analysis is more neutral and less  problematic compared to what Hand offered in his argument.

Having suspicion over faith based schools if they are socially divisive and problematically embedded within the secular society is aligned with the framework forwarded by Samuel Huntington in his book titled, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996). The Clash of Civilizations is a theory that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict in the post-Cold War world. Burtonwood’s analysis was a response to a specific context related to events cropped up around Tragedy of 9/11 which explained why faith based schools were highly concerned.

Both articles subliminally led us to think that the division of society is exclusively caused by religion. Was it only religion that has the potential to clash with social cohesion and individual autonomy? Especially when Hand tried to justify that religious indoctrination is justified with his suggested  modification to the original syllogistic form of the objection against faith based schools, it could sounds like an apologetic excuse to admit that religion is indoctrinary. In Malaysia, education faces  hot debates regarding the racial based vernacular schools which are not faith based but similarly accused of being divisive and conflicting the national identity.

Furthermore, what about the ‘ordinary’ school and the secular ethics embraced by the liberal society? Aren’t there similar concerns?

Are the members of society, and students in ‘ordinary’ schools free to discuss about the controversial ethical taboos such as same sex marriage and choose to disagree? Aren’t those subjects do not accept objections? Aren’t there silent indoctrinations, not in the name of Religion?

Religion promotes knowledge.

Indoctrination is not religion. Its human. Similarly, exclusion and conflicts in dealing with differences.

I came across Dr. M. C. Felderhof’s article, “Religious Education, Indoctrination and Freedom” (2002)

He said:

The reason for this paper is to allay a persistent fear that appears to afflict many teachers of RE. namely. the fear of indoctrinating, and secondly, to identify other, but related, concerns that may be more constructively addressed. A close examination of what any successful attempt at indoctrinating would require will reveal that it is either incoherent or something beyond our capacity to do. The conditions for the practice of indoctrinating in its more meaningful sense are such that even if teachers wanted to do it deliberately, given the nature of our society, they could not do so. The possibility of inadvertent indoctrination (something that is also raised on occasion) is therefore even more remote.

Despite the difficulty of engaging in indoctrination, it is well nigh impossible to read any article or book on religious education today that does not, at some point, mention indoctrination’ as if it were a serious risk. Speculation about the reason why it is so frequently invoked suggests that the users of the term harbour the standpoint that human beings are no more than psycho-physical mechanisms. They want to warn us against certain manipulative practices in education which, because of their view, they suspect everyone is prone to indulge. It would be better to confront any inhuman practices directly and to challenge one of the associated assumptions that appears to have motivated the interest among RE theorists in indoctrination in the first place, namely, the mistaken assumption that religions are primarily interested in gaining assent to beliefs. Often it is also implied that this assent is to be gained at any cost, even at the expense of human freedom1.

Contrary to what is thought by those who fear the danger of indoctrination in RE, there is little real risk. Religions themselves have always presupposed human freedom and are genuinely interested in maximising it to the full. Any RE that attempts to transmit such religious traditions are bound to respect human freedom and to give pupils their full dignity.

I believe that schools in most part of the known history were faith based, be them in Muslim World of the ‘West’. Faith based school were the places where many of the great ideas and inventions achieved, without denying some period of crisis when clashes occurred.

Faith and education are not static. They interact with the surroundings. Principles embedded in accurate, positive and motivational world view with the proper law of learning, will utilize religion as the strongest foundation of the knowledge.

But we have to admit, not all faith based schools, especially when we are talking about Islamic Schools are positive. In order to maintain Islamic Schools promoting progressive education, the teachers have to possess good understanding of their own religion.

I recalled a case occurred in my school when I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Many among our teachers were volunteers and not properly trained to teach. In one of the classes, the teacher said to her students that Islam is the only true religion, Islam is good, and Islam is the only religion accepted by Allah which will lead to Jannah. Other than Islam are rejected and evil. She forgot that some of her students have Muslim fathers and Christian mothers. Irony enough, the mothers are the good ones and the fathers are neglecting the families. How can good ladies go to Hell simply because they are not Muslims, and evil men go to Jannah simply because they are Muslims? When this issue occurred, teachers faced difficulties and upon the meeting, I realized that we do have Problems in Islamic School.