Religious Instruction helps in the battle against Islamophobia


Religion has made a comeback in modern society. However, universities, institutes and schools do not appear to be up to the challenge and thus communities suffer the dichotomy between the powerful presence of religion in the public sphere and the lack of religious instruction within the academic one.

According to the philosopher Mustafa Cherif, the very presence of almost 20 million Muslim citizens in Europe should provide a reason for an in-depth study and knowledge of Islam.

An article by Marco Cesario

What is the meaning nowadays of teaching about the Islamic religious phenomenon rather than the Islamic religion as such? The International Institute of Religious Thought in Paris (IIIT) attempted to answer this difficult question during a study day attended by intellections and experts on Islam. Speakers included Mohammed Mestiri (director of the IIIT), Mustafa Cherif, a philosopher and the director of the Masters in Islamic Studies at Barcelona University, Stéphane Lation Professor at Fribourg University and Charles Saint-Prot, Director of the Institute of Geopolitical Studies in Paris.

The debate showed that nowadays Islam should no longer be considered a spiritual subject or an organisation of worship of the divine, but rather a phenomenon. This new and ambitious paradigm also involves the Humanities; philosophy, sociology, history, epistemology and anthropology. Islam is above all a reality, a phenomenon that extends over time and space through a diversity of eras and societies. All too often the historical, anthropological and the generally scientific perspective has opposed the religious, theological or spiritual. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary they should cooperate in the multi-disciplinary character to allow Islam to move forwards in the 3rd millennium.

Only if one considers Islam as a religious phenomenon and not a collection of irrefutable dogmas, and only if its analysis is accompanied by the scientific discipline of the Humanities, will communities be allowed to improve and integrate with modernity without trauma. According to Mohammed Mestiri, it is necessary to revise the concept of instruction of the Islamic religious phenomenon, since on one hand one continues to teach a ‘contradictory’ and ‘patrimonial’ Islam and on the other the focus is exclusively on its sociological aspects. Mestiri wonders why all attempts to teach Islam at the university level have failed and asks if the ‘resistance groups’ in Switzerland, Belgium, Strasbourg and Barcelona will succeed in overturning the dominant trend.

In modern society, deprived of reference points, there is now a return of religion. The problem is that the passing down of the religious tradition is not coherent with the powerful return of religious demands. On the contrary, there appears to be a gap between the phenomenon as it is expressed within society and the answer provided by the academic world. All in all universities, institutes and schools do not seem to be up to the challenge and communities experience this dichotomy between a powerful presence of religion within the public sphere and the lack of religious instruction in the academic field. According to the philosopher Mustafa Cherif, the very presence of almost 20 million Muslim citizens in Europe should provide a reason for an in-depth study and knowledge of Islam. The root of the problem is, in fact, ignorance. Without a minimum of knowledge of the Islamic religion and civilisation, it is nowadays impossible to understand the euro-Mediterranean process, the phenomenon of immigration or the never ending exchanges between the two shores of the Mediterranean. The attacks of 9/11 have caused a caesura, but also the creation of a new public enemy, the Muslim citizen.

The reaction to Islamophobia is extremist fanaticism. According to Cherif, teaching Islam in its authentic, open and civilised version means providing an objective answer for those who use Islam to spread hatred and intolerance. 21st Century Orientalism aggressively accompanied the colonial phenomenon but also provided valuable elements. Paradoxically nowadays the teaching of the Islamic religious phenomenon and culture has been reduced significantly and the media simply emphasise its deformed aspects and political elements. Islam remains the second religion in Europe. This is the reason for which it should be understood and studied, but above all not ignored.

Translation by Francesca Simmons

www.marcocesario.it

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