The Roman Catholic Church is drawing criticism for ordering its schools to teach Judaism alongside Christianity in GCSE religious studies at the exclusion of Islam or other faiths. Senior Muslim leaders say the move is “disappointing” and hit back by warning that Pope Francis’s inclusive message of greater tolerance between the faiths was being ignored.
The Church’s move follows last year’s reforms to the GCSE exam. Under the new rules, schools are required to teach two religions rather than one but remain free to make the choice themselves without external interference.
The change was designed to drive extremism out of the classroom following the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot, in which individuals were found to have been introducing fundamentalist Islamic teaching into Muslim schools in Birmingham by ousting head teachers and staff members through a dirty tricks campaign.
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, urged Catholic leader Cardinal Vincent Nichols to rethink the ban.
Sir Iqbal said: “This is not a good decision. It does not reflect well on the messages that are coming out from the Church for greater tolerance of other faiths.
“This is a difficult time for religions and the last thing you would expect is a major faith making such a statement.”
Paul Barber, the director at the Catholic Education Service, told the Daily Mail that teaching about the Jewish faith would ensure schools continued to comply with the stipulations of bishops that pupils are given a solid grounding in Christianity.
He said, however, that pupils at Catholic schools would learn about other faiths during normal religious education lessons.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the minister of Maidenhead Synagogue in Berkshire, said the matter is simply one of freedom of choice: “I urge all religious authorities to allow individual heads the freedom to decide what is best for pupils.”