This article discusses the current debate on the educational model proposed by the new Law of Education (LOE) with respect to religion in school and more specifically on Islamic religious education.
This article discusses the current debate on the educational model proposed by the new Law of Education (LOE) with respect to religion in school and more specifically on Islamic religious education (ERI). In this debate there are two main positions: the first position favors secularism and respect for different religions and ideologies and, the second one that is seeking to exclude religion from the school. Although it is a legal right since 1992, according to the cooperation agreements officially established between the state and the Islamic Commission of Spain, we had to wait until 2005 to see ERI classes officially implemented in some regions of the territory (MEC). After analyzing the current situation of this subject in schools and other issues that are related to teachers, it is necessary to make an effort in order to incorporate the teaching of Islam not only in the Post-Compulsory Education and High Schools the Bachelor, but also in the curriculum of universities to fill the gap in the training of teachers in this field.
The relationship between religion and the school is a sensitive, difficult and controversial issue. Discussions continue about the educational model proposed by the Law of Education (LOE) and moreover about what should be the role of religion in school. Spain is a non-denominational country but it is also plural, it is a country in which the various denominations, as well as the views of atheists, agnostics, must learn to live together. The discovery of the “other” has to go through the recognition of a different scale of values but never contradict the freedom of conscience and religious freedom. Secularism should not be treated as the denial of religion, nor is a spiritual option, but it is a social model that allows the coexistence of different options through the acceptance of pluralism and neutrality of the state.
Both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Spanish Constitution (Article 27.3) states that the rights of religious minorities must be protected and, among others issues, mentions the specific rights of parents regarding their children’s religious training.
With respect to the citizens of Muslim faith, this right was enshrined in the Law on Religious Freedom (LOLR) 1980, which meant the recognition of religious pluralism in the State of Spain (1) and the Law of the Cooperation Agreements of 1992, signed between the Spanish State and the Islamic Commission of Spain (hereinafter CIE) (2).
In order to develop this law, in 1996 it was signed the “Convention on the designation and financial system of the people in charge of Islamic religious instruction in public schools at the elementary and secondary education level” (3).
However, the right to religious education should not be considered only as a pure right of equality before the law, but it should be seen as well as a right that makes people’s freedom more real.
Advantages of Islamic religious instruction in school
In recent years, the issue of teaching religion in schools has monopolized the media. In the case of Islam, the debate is conditioned by the prejudices of important sectors of the population against this religion, fueled by the speeches of right-wing movements, from certain sectors of the media and European policies towards immigrants as the European Council recognized in various studies (4).
On the other hand, the concerns of the Spanish society should place on the spread of fundamentalist readings in the context of international politics. This causes hesitation about accepting the teaching of Islamic religion in the schools. Basically, detractors use two kinds of arguments:
• Islamic religious education may favor the isolation of Muslim pupils (ghettoization).
• Public school can become an instrument to spread values against democracy, human rights or gender equality.
Any consideration related to religion in schools should consider to strength integration aspects such as universal values shared by different religions.
The ERI can contribute effectively in the physical, intellectual, emotional, social and moral development of students, reinforcing their personal values, family and social thus implementing values such as fraternity, solidarity, justice and freedom as rules of behavior.
It can also be a useful tool in combating religious illiteracy. We must learn to know themselves to get to know others, and showing the Mediterranean origins of Islam, the many relationships that appear in the Qur’an with biblical and evangelical tradition, and Semitic languages and cultures as well as Islam’s close relationship with the ancient Greek thought and culture of the ancient Near East.
In addition, students can also learn about the diversity within Islam. Islam is not monolithic, every people, every country has a different way of life.
On the other hand, religion should not been kept away from the rational transmission process since there is the risk it could lead in some cases to fundamentalist readings. The sources of Islam (Qur’an and Sunna) emphasize the importance of knowledge: “Education is a sacred duty for every Muslim, mean and women.”
Thus, the teaching of Islam in public schools has several advantages:
• The school is an open place and the ideal environment for exchange and meeting. The student body as well as the education provided is diverse.
• The curriculum of the subject respects the ideas that faith and reason are complementary, between the affective aspect and knowledge (5). Thanks to the knowledge, students can become free adults, critical and responsible.
• The teaching of religion in the school completes and deepens in the education provided by family, which in many cases is inadequate, since parents might not enjoy a stable or favorable condition.
• The school does not teach religious doctrine as in the mosques. The teaching methods are adapted to the demands of quality, modernity and adaptation to the context in which we live, valuing communication and deductive and inductive methods, rather than passive learning.
In this context, teaching Islamic religion in the school is viable and fair. Adopting a confessional approach in education does not mean it has to be proselytizing or under coercion (“no compulsion in Islam,” says the Qur’an). This is not a mere ritualist teaching or indoctrination (for that there are other spaces). The important thing for a student and future citizen is not the recitation of memorized verses from the Qur’an, but feel the spirit and meaning of it, and understand why and in what context was revealed. It should provide a genuine model of Islam and faithful to the sources, the Qur’an and the Prophet’s example, but in line with the reality in which we live. Reinterpret or change does not mean Islam, but to deepen in its knowledge.
There is nothing in the sources that contradict the principles that sustain the democratic systems in accordance with the principles of human rights and gender equality. In Islam there is consultation (shura) and rejection of tyranny, thus depicting democracy and Islam as incompatible terms shows a great deal of ignorance about this religion.
The fact that Islam is taught and learned in school can help in the fight against stereotypes, against the demonization of each other, and contribute to its normalization and recognition of Islam as a European religion and also the normalization and recognition of Muslims as European citizens with full rights.
The CIE is the body responsible for appointing teachers proposed by religious communities and they must hold a diploma or university degree validated by the Spanish government and should have also the Certificate of Pedagogical Aptitude (CAP) (6).
But besides this general training, specific training of teachers is important because the success or failure of the course will fall largely on the quality of education provided. Currently, there is no specific training for teaching Islam so we thought it would be necessary to consider the following proposals:
• Graduates in teaching should have the option to study Islamic religion or religious culture.
• The promotion of courses on Islam in various Spanish universities (7).
• The CAP should introduce a module dedicated to the ERI.
• It is important to promote the organization of seminars and courses about how to teach Islam. The Department of “Ensenyament” of the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Ministry of Education and Science for the rest of Spain should organize these seminars (the Faculty of Education should offer continuous training through out the year).
• The creation of an Institute of Religious Sciences aiming to train how to teach religion would be a breakthrough. It would not only train teachers in general, but it would develop educational materials as well and even more important would review how different religions are treated in the existing manuals. In addition it could train all staff involved in education and management of schools and colleges.
But we cannot ignore paramount issues underpaying these proposals. These proposals raise questions about funding and the methods to train trainers: who would do this? Should we create an institution to do so? Should the state pay for these trainers? These are issues lacking of a proper answer but we should began to take them seriously if we want to provide a plural and equitable education. In Spain there is a large gap on Islamic studies, within both religious and non-denominational groups, which should be filled as soon as possible.
On the other hand, one problem that arises when appointing qualified teachers is motivation; teaching is an undervalued profession with very low wages. It is therefore essential to facilitate job security. The current regulation regarding the recruitment of staff has meant a significant improvement in their status as teachers. They will be hired indefinitely, and the withdrawal of the declaration of suitability, which was granted by those responsible in each denomination, shall be duly justified and conform to the law. Unlike what was being done so far, the dismissal cannot be justified on grounds that infringe basic fundamental rights of individuals. The procurement should be in accordance with the Statute of Workers and the destination of teachers should be decided in accordance with the criteria of the Administration.
The introduction of Islam studies at the school, whether religious or not, it is important not only for Muslims but also for all students who wish to deepen in the knowledge of themselves and the “other”. The task is not easy. Schools are very demanding: it must integrate, compensate, educate, and solve all the ills we find in society … so if we desire a positive religious education, the entire education system and the Spanish Muslim community should get involved. The state should not remain indifferent or hostile towards religion, but neither has to maintain an attitude that identifies the state with a particular religion because that would be then some kind of confessionalism. The State must protect pluralism.
The regions in which the subject has been introduced are very few (Andalusia, Aragon, Ceuta and Melilla have been teaching Islamic studies for some years), meanwhile in communities where there is a higher concentration of Muslims still this right is not respected even though there is a strong demand (8). According to Riay Tatary, secretary general of the CIE, only 10% of the 74,000 students who have applied for courses have received Islamic religious instruction in schools and in public schools (9). However, until we know whether the government would approve the introduction of a new subject called Education for Citizenship, will be difficult to unblock the situation, and despite the fact that there is not religious education in the French secular model we should consider this an exception in Europe. In most European countries the subject is taught either as mandatory or elective.
Ignorance leads to fear and rejection. If we fight the ignorance of the “other” and its values, we could progress in terms of knowledge and greater mutual respect. As Eduard Said mentioned about Huntington’s clash of civilizations, it is actually the “clash of ignorance”. The mission of the school is that we don not become ignorant.
Islamic Religious Education
Protestant Religious Education
DEL CORRO, A. (2006) Obras de los reformadores españoles. Carta a Felipe II. Madrid: Editorial MAD col. Eduforma.