Leaving Islam



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Ban all religious schools!



TV International interview with Azar Majedi


In January 2005 David Bell, a School Inspector, delivered a speech which was published in the Guardian about the rise in the number of religious schools in the UK . His comments have raised opposition by the Institute of Islamic Organisations in the UK .


Bahram Soroush: You may have heard statements by David Bell and also the response by the Institute of Islamic Organisations in the UK . They have said he is picking on Islamic schools. Do you think this is discrimination?


Azar Majedi: No I don’t. Actually my position is to ban all religious schools. I think education must be separate from religion and the church. It is a positive move to investigate faith schools, from a children’s rights point of view. It is of no surprise to me that they have found shortcomings in Islamic schools. I think it will probably be more or less the same with other religious schools. But perhaps other religious schools try to follow the national curriculum and standards more. Islamic schools are more into religious teachings than the regular curriculum.


Bahram Soroush: So you feel that religious schools altogether across the board should be banned?


Azar Majedi: Yes. They must be banned and education must be separated from religion and the church. Universal laws and standards are the basis of a civil society that respects human rights and the equality of all the citizens. Separation of religion from the state and education is the basis of a secular society, where free thinking is respected and encouraged. Religion, in my opinion, is permeated with superstition and contradicts the scientific achievements of humanity. For all these reasons religious schools must be banned.


Furthermore, all religions are patriarchal and sexist. As it regards Islam, it is well-known for its sexist codes and rules. This is so because Islam has not historically been challenged or reformed, as it is the case with Christianity. The development of capitalism in the west resulted in significant social upheavals, of which the French revolution is the most influential. These upheavals challenged Christianity in different aspects and reduced its grip on the society and polished its most crude prejudices. When it comes to gender issues and sexual equality, religion has a negative effect.  Religious schools, not only do not promote sexual equality, they reinforce sexism and encourage a sexual division of labour and differential gender roles. Islamic schools are segregated and promote totally different roles for girls in society and restrict girls from many activities. Finally, these schools are more a place for indoctrination than scientific teachings. By allowing religious schools to function, we are discriminating against a section of society, and we are setting double standards.


Bahram Soroush: In that case what do say to this argument that we should look after children’s and pupils’ religious needs and that is why we have faith schools?


Azar Majedi: I don’t believe children have any religious needs. When it is talked about children’s religious needs, it actually means their parents’ need to indoctrinate their children. “Children have no religion”; they happen to be born in a family with a particular religion. I believe there should be no official religious teachings to children. Once they become of age, then they can decide whether they like to pursue a particular faith or not. I strongly believe that religious teaching to children is indoctrination, like exposing them to any particular ideology. Therefore, it must be banned. It is fine to teach them the history of ideas, the history of religion but teaching religion as such should be prohibited.


Bahram Soroush: Somebody made a comment in the recent controversy that you have children who are in a religious family and when they go to school, they go to a religious school and they come back to a religious family. So 24 hours a day they are confronted by religion.


Azar Majedi: I think this is a very good and valid point. This refers to a sad reality of a life of indoctrination which is imposed on some children. I believe this must be stopped. This is wrong both from the child’s point of view and society’s point of view. To deprive a child of a normal happy life and normal education has become integrated in the society as a way of life. It is wrong to do that. They should be integrated with other children in the society as citizens, with children of all backgrounds. I understand that there are families with different religions and cultures. However, these religions and cultures must not be imposed on the children. In societies today, children are exposed to all kinds of religions and cultures. They should be given the right of choice. Once they reach adulthood, they can choose. And in any circumstance, education must be secular and based on the latest scientific achievements. Children should be free from religious brain washing and teachings and preaching.


The effect of non-secular, religious and segregated education is very destructive on the society as a whole, and on our children’s happy, normal life, and upbringing.

As we can see even a school inspector has come to recognise this fact. Of course this criticism is not radical enough (probably they have stronger criticisms themselves). It is carefully worded as not to “offend” any religious groups. But with a bit of insight one can recognise the severity of the problem. I am more concerned about the lot of these children. They are being deprived. Their basic rights are being violated. We cannot sit and watch. We should take action to defend the rights of these children to a happy, normal life, to safeguard their equal access to the world’s scientific achievements, to free-thinking, and safeguard their integration into the society, with all other children.


Bahram Soroush: In a sense these children are being sent to the religious schools by their parents and are being denied the same rights as the children who attend the mainstream schools. What is your view on that?


Azar Majedi: Yes that is true. Mansoor Hekmat has a very interesting and provoking statement regarding this issue and I have quoted it in many of my speeches and articles: “The child has no religion, tradition, and prejudices. She has not joined any religious sect. She is a new human being who, by accident and irrespective of her will has been born into a family with specific religion, tradition, and prejudices. It is indeed the task of society to neutralise the negative effects of this blind lottery. Society is duty-bound to provide fair and equal living conditions for children, their growth and development, and their active participation in social life. Anybody who should try to block the normal social life of a child, exactly like those, who would want to physically violate a child according to their own culture, religion, or personal or collective complexes, should be confronted with the firm barrier of the law and the serious reaction of society.”


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