TEL AVIV – A Kuwaiti university lecturer recently called for Arab state schools to abolish religious studies, claiming the majority of the Arab world’s problems stem from official school curriculum.
Dr. Ibtihal Al-Khatib, a liberal and secular activist, penned her views in a column for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida translated by MEMRI. Al-Khatib argued that state schools have no right to impose religion – particularly that of a certain stream or sect – on students from diverse backgrounds.
Al-Khatib’s bold views, which include advocating coeducation, have drawn anger from both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, with the lecturer even receiving death threats.
“I believe that nearly all our problems derive from the study methods and the quality of teaching to which our young children are exposed,” writes Al-Khatib.
“Our children grow up without much focus on critical thinking, because our curricula are based on rote learning rather than persuasion. They grow up relying almost exclusively on quoting and copying… because creativity and diligence are not part of the material or study method,” she adds.
According to Al-Khatib, Arab students are unable to ask probing questions or study science because the school curriculum restricts them with “thousands of red lines, hobbles them with thousands of prohibitions and chains them with thousands of taboos.”
Her calls for reform are aimed at minimizing racism, extremism and social schisms prevalent in Arab societies “for as long as the official curriculum presents religious material [from the perspective] of a particular school or sect, the schism will remain, and the rift and disagreement will be carved in stone, with the government’s official blessing.”
Al-Khatib argues that her detractors view any critique as a “plot against Muslims” and a “plan to destroy the religion.” She posits that the nature of Arab Islamism and its inherent restrictions “feeds a perpetual sense of discrimination” embodied by the Arab victim mentality.
“This is how we always are, deliberately miserable,” Al-Khatib said.
“However, the world, and we ourselves, have grown sick of this endless role [of victim], which no longer elicits any sympathy or tears. So either we [start] seeing ourselves as we really are, or perish while continuing to play the role of victim to a theater without an audience,” Al-Khatib contends.
In lieu of religious studies, Al-Khatib proposes classes on the history of religion that will enable students to learn about different faiths. Those who still wish for their children to study Islam can do so in elective after-school programs.