A little bit about education, culture and interfaith
BismiLlah Al Rahman Al Rahim
“I hate Jews” said the seven year old 2nd grade student to her American teacher who was explaining to her what “Passover” was, mentioning along the way that most Jews live in Israel. The rest nodded their heads in approval with the student. Shocked, the American went to the Religion teacher worried about the children’s notion of tolerance and empathy. He listened to the story and gave his opinion on the matter: in Islam, we are taught not to hate one another because of one’s religion, but what “we must” hate is Israel with its politics and injustice towards the Palestinian people. The American teacher’s face paled at the expression “must hate”. Should we in fact teach our children to learn to hate at such an early age? Should we make them aware of the injustices that they are committing against the Palestinian people? I think we should put aside politics for children and simply tell them: “this is a grown-up’s talk sweetie”. The American should have simply ignored the statement made by the student (but honestly, any foreigner should know that pronouncing the word “Israel” would bring trouble in any Muslim, Arabic country) and the Religion teacher should have mentioned only tolerance towards one another, and how one should hate for the sake of Allah any injustice BUT keep them out of politics. The Palestinian case is not about religion. It’s all politics.
I think -and God knows best- that we should nurture young children to be kind, empathetic, honest, and responsible at an early age. Why plant in them seeds of hate that they cannot explain when put to the spot? They’ll simply say “Oh, because my parents told me so.” We should concentrate on improving and correcting themselves first. The 2nd grader committed an injustice in generalizing all of the Jews in this statement.
Once the child reaches an age where he/she could debate and discuss topics in a reasonable matter, now is the time to show them the facts. When they are adolescents, they have a thirst for life and a million questions passing through their heads but also the right tools to think with all shiny and new ready to be used.
Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) has said: “Surely the heart of the youth is like the uncultivated ground – it will accept whatever you throw upon it [and that is what will grow from it].” (Tuhaful `Uqūl, Page 70)
So we can start talking about the whole Palestinian case. On a historical and political side, one should read books written by scholars on the matter but also discuss it with a history teacher and/or professor so the adolescent won’t fall into false conclusions. I will never forget an analogy that my sister’s History professor told her in college: Adolf Hitler read all the right books but he didn’t digest them well. No thank you, the world does not need another one of his kind.
The problem is, in the age we live in, books are not teenagers top priority. TV, comics, cinema, ads are. Because they are simply everywhere, surrounding us, being a part of our lives whether we like it or not. Nonetheless, I find it intriguing how culture also plays a major key role in shaping people’s minds. You can’t help but think of how the communist government used propaganda in posters, films, to pass the Marxists ideas. For example, Eisenstein was a Soviet film director who supported Lenin during the October Revolution. Artists such as Malevich and Rodchenko were pioneers of Art during Stalin’s rule. Concerning the Palestinian case, there are now comic book artists, film directors, cartoonists that express the problem in many different directions. From Palestine, we have:
Naji Al Ali the Palestinian Artist, with a capital A, because he was the ambassador of the people, he expressed the way they feel from betrayal, hopelessness to irony and cynicism through his famous character Handala.
A film like “Paradise Now” by Hany Abu-Assad is also beautiful and impressive in the way that it represents the lives of suicide bombers. Their act is made out of despair and depression.
From an outsider’s point of view, there are two major works that stand before our eyes:
Joe Sacco’s “Palestine” and “Footnotes in Gaza”: a sort of documentary graphic novels providing us with an inside look at the Gaza strip. It is haunting, memorable, well researched. Simply put it is a must-read for anyone interested.
But also “No way through” by Alexandra Monro: a short-movie available on YouTube. The trick is shocking and unforgettable.
To make youth aware of the world around them through knowledge is one thing. Dialogue is another major key role in this world. One must build bridges through different cultures: debates, conferences in order to bring on the table topics that are subject to misunderstanding. Interfaith workshops tend to change a lot one’s perspective of the other. Eboo Patel wrote an impressive autobiography called “Acts of Faith” explaining his journey in and out of Islam passing by Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism. He is now the founder of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). On its website, it reads:
“[IFYC] builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.” (www.ifyc.org).
Wouldn’t that be useful for our 2nd grader? or should we say graderS?
Imām Ja’far ibne Muhammad as-Sadiq (a.s.) has said: “Any time Waraqah ibn Nawfil would go to see Khadījah bint Khuwaylīd, he would advise her as such, ‘You should know that surely the young person who has good behaviour is the key to all goodness and is kept away from all evil, while the young person who has bad behaviour is kept away from all goodness and is the key to all evil.”(Amāli of al-Ṭūsī, Page 302 and 598)