06/23/2010, 00.00
VATICAN – LEBANON
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Oasis: Islamic states and Western secularism stifling education

by Bernardo Cervellera
In the Middle East, Lebanon’s pluralism is an exception. In Egypt, Christians are seen as “god-less”. In Pakistan, they cannot talk about Islam for fear of being accused of blasphemy. In France, secularism is stifling every religious dimension of society.
Fatka (AsiaNews) – The second day of the Oasis meeting in Lebanon, titled “Education between faith and culture: Christian and Muslim experiences in dialogue”, saw a number of proposals discussed. One would be a manual outlining the values the three monotheistic (Christian, Muslim and Jewish) faiths share to demonstrate how a common background could help people live together. Another would look at the History of the Crusades, jointly authored by a Muslim and a Christian historian, to overcome clichés and ideological biases.

Such proposals are meant to help the Islamic-Christian world lay the foundations for a search for the truth to help people live together. After the first day of proceedings, this goal appeared the more urgent as participants listened to a number of speakers who described experiences of coexistence in Lebanon. In this country, it is possible for Christians to attend Muslim schools (1 per cent) and Muslims to go to Christian schools and universities (up to 20-30 per cent). In both Christian and Muslim institutions, students can attend religious courses taught by teachers who live and practice the religion they teach.

Lebanon, however, is an exception, as various participants from the Middle East, and more broadly, the Muslim world pointed. In Egypt, for example, only religious manuals with a Muslim perspective are available. They also tend to teach students that being Muslim is the only way of being religious; everybody else is impious and godless (including Christians).

In Pakistan, religious teaching is exclusively Islamic. However, Christian schools are not allowed to teach Islam, especially since anyone who dared do so could be accused of blasphemy, a crime under a (often abused) law that bans insulting the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur‘an.

According to Fr Samir Khalil, who is also attending the conference, a manual on values like respect, openness towards others, charity, etc—that is values that are in the Qur‘an and the Ha‘dith as well as in Old and New Testament—could show people how much they have in common. This kind of document could help youth in the Middle East change their attitudes towards the members of other religions; it could equally be the basis from which to rethink how different religions can live side by side in Europe.

Lebanon, where religion plays an important role in education, is also an exception with respect to the West, especially Europe. Quite a few speakers, including Prof Duchesne of France, noted how the separation of state and religion in Europe has tended to marginalise religion, pushing it into the private sphere, and how the notion of the “neutrality” of public schools is a myth that has failed education.

Catholic schools in Asia have also been criticised because in order to be accepted by the local society they tend to dilute their Christian identity in favour of the more technical aspect of education, thus forgetting their original raison d’être. In places like Indonesia, such institutions are often forced along this path by constraints on Christian education whose teachings are too often seen as an attempt to proselytise.

The Oasis scientific board has decided that its two issues in 2011 will be dedicated to the topics of education and secularism.

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