all religious schools!
International interview with Azar
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
. His comments have raised opposition by the
Soroush: You may have heard
statements by David Bell and also the response by the Institute of
Islamic Organisations in the
. They have said he is picking on Islamic
schools. Do you think this is discrimination?
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.
Soroush: So you feel that
religious schools altogether across the board should be banned?
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.
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
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”