Moves toward reining in fanaticism in Egypt and Iraq
Efforts to combat the ideology that leads to violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East got a boost in Egypt and Iraq this week.
The Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf, which is in charge of endowments to mosques and religious communities, announced that it has completed a draft revision of the general programs of religious education, Fides news agency reported Wednesday. The reforms will progressively be applied to all levels of school education in Egypt.
In Iraq, Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako of the Chaldean Church spoke before Parliament in support of a law to prosecute religious preachers who incite violence.
The Egyptian initiative is a response to the appeal made by the nation’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who in his important speech in early January before religious scholars of Al Azhar, the greatest theological center of Sunni Islam, invited Islamic leaders to favor a "religious revolution" in order to eradicate bigotry and replace it with a "more enlightened vision of the world," according to the Fides report.
"Over the past few decades the curriculum has been swayed exclusively towards a Muslim preference," said Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom. "So if names of characters were used in stories they would be specifically Muslim names and would exclude the use of generic Egyptian names or Christian names. So that could be one avenue that might be changed."
Bishop Angaelos, who served as private secretary to Pope Shenouda III in the early 1990s, added that in Egypt, Arabic language education and other education are based on the use of Quranic verses, which people would have to learn.
"It’s also interesting to see that when the president visited Al Azhar earlier this year, he had mentioned to them that they need to look at their own syllabus at the university, and assess the verses that are used so they could not be misused and justify certain acts that are being carried out in Iraq and Libya, by people like ISIS and other people who want to justify what they are doing by Quranic references," said Bishop Angaelos, who was in Washington this week to meet with members of Congress and people working in the field of international religious freedom.
"I would hope that these go further than anything has in the past," he said in a telephone interview.
El-Sissi is "trying to take the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf in the right direction to tame the extremism of Islam," said Ashraf Ramelah, founder of Voice of the Copts. "The Ministry of Awqaf has always endowed mosques and Islamic religious communities in Egypt as well as Al Azhar Institute with state funds from taxation and inheritances. Today, Al Azhar is divided in its response to El-Sissi’s request in December…asking for Al Azhar’s cooperation to ‘eradicate bigotry’ and move toward a ‘more enlightened vision of the world.’ Despite the lack of consensus from Al Azhar Institute, El-Sissi moves ahead in his resolve to alter doctrinal direction with concrete steps now taken by his government.
"For instance," he said, "at this moment, collaboration between Egypt’s Awqaf Ministry and Education Ministry has brought forth a plan of action to remove incendiary statements from school textbooks and to revise and reissue them some time in the beginning of the upcoming academic year in 2015. The revision will primarily target religious class textbooks used to teach both Muslims and non-Muslims in the public education system throughout Egypt."
Ramelah said the majority of textbooks in fields of study such as math, science, and Arabic are "loaded with overt extremist propaganda used for decades to shape the minds of young children, adolescents and university students."
"For centuries, Islamic religious scholars have regarded all three of the ancient books as central to Islam’s complete doctrine justifying that piety is inseparable from Jihad and violence," he said.
But William Weessa, founder and editor in chief of MCNDirect.com, said that there are no serious efforts "to change these curricula, which spread hate against all non-Muslims and even non- Sunni."
"When they do implement changes, only then we feel this is serious because we heard this many times before.