Egyptian secondary school students are, for the first time ever, studying a civics curriculum this year that includes holy verses from both the Qur'an and the Bible advocating freedom, justice and equality among all citizens.
The Ministry of Education announced last month that the new secondary school curriculum now includes a lesson on human rights in the Abrahamic faiths. A chapter in this curriculum speaks about the principles of human rights, citing verses from the Qur'an and the Bible.
The curriculum for the third year of secondary school incudes Bible verses that touch on the principles of human rights in Christianity, such as equality between the rich and the poor: "Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in court."
It also includes Bible verses on freedom of choice and self-determination.
Meanwhile, the curriculum for the second year of secondary school addresses the rights of non-Muslim citizens as endorsed by Islam, such as protection from external aggression, protection of honour, ensuring the welfare of the elderly, the disabled and the poor, religious freedom and the right to work.
The image on the cover of the new textbooks portrays demonstrators raising the Egyptian flag alongside a cross and the Qur'an during the January 25th revolution.
Egypt's Salafi Jamaat-ud-Daawa movement issued a fatwa on October 2nd saying it approves introducing Bible verses into the curriculum.
The fatwa, issued by the movement's vice president, Sheikh Yasser Burhami, states that "it is permissible to teach the Bible and all books that [Christians and other members of Abrahamic faiths] use. It is also permissible to quote [the Bible], if such does not conflict with the Qur'an and the Sunnah."
Dr. Kamal Mogheeth, an expert with the National Centre for Educational Research, told Al-Shorfa he thinks the new introduction can play a positive role in promoting dialogue among different faiths.
"The new curriculum with Bible verses may play a role in spreading a culture of dialogue among future generations," he said. "This is a step towards eliminating the tension and intolerance between Muslims and Copts that from time to time appears in isolated incidents in Egypt."
These verses must be treated "very carefully" and relate only to the principles of justice, equality and respect for others of all religions. They should not delve into religious issues that may prove controversial, he added.
"The principle of citizenship is not inconsistent with introducing these verses into the curriculum to keep with the principle of equality," Mogheeth said. "For as Copts get acquainted with Qur'anic verses, there is no objection to Muslims getting acquainted with Bible verses, which will help [people of both faiths] become more tolerant and informed about each other."
Dr. Ilham Abdel Hamid, professor of curriculum and teaching methodology at Cairo University, said the move is a positive step towards rebuilding national unity among Muslims and Christians in Egypt, and "may defuse the sectarian tension that recently began to increase in Egypt, and instil the cohesion of national unity into students' hearts".
"At the same time, this will expand students' horizons and assure them there is nothing in the other religions that injures their religion, and will thus serve as a shield against intolerance in the future," she added.
Parents and teachers greeted the news of the new curriculum with a mixture of welcome and caution.
Zeinab Ibrahim, 54, headmistress of a government school in a district in east Cairo, said she believes students must exchange knowledge about what the Abrahamic faiths teach in relation to respecting others, public morals and freedoms.
"Students acquire most of their information about the Christian and Muslim faiths from their schoolmates who subscribe to those religions, which in turn leads to the spread of various misconceptions about those religions," she told Al-Shorfa.
Mahmoud Nasser, 49, the parent of a student in high school, did not share Ibrahim's sentiment.
"It was not necessary for civics textbook to contain any religious texts to begin with," he said. "It would have been sufficient to include texts on international and Egyptian laws that safeguard the rights of all citizens."
"I think that the new generations must be educated on the principle of equality when the new constitution and all the laws do so [and through these documents], not just through textbooks," he said.
Meanwhile, Inas Abdel Hamid, 42, said she wants her two sons to study what the Abrahamic faiths -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism -- teach in regard to human rights as well as the differences between the religions.
"The new generation should know that religions are not to blame for what is happening and that individuals bring harm to their religions with their actions, because religions came down to promote tolerance among people," she told Al-Shorfa.
"When we were young, we saw our educated fathers memorise Bible verses, and that did not detract in the least from their devout natures as Muslims," she said.