New Egyptian curriculum uses holy texts to promote tolerance and equality

Egyptian schools will soon offer a civics course. Above, school students attend class at a school in a Giza neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cairo. [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

Egyptian schools will soon offer a civics course. Above, school students attend class at a school in a Giza neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cairo. [Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters]

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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.

Spreading a culture of dialogue

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.

Welcome and caution

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.

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    مح

    2012-11-14

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  • مح

    2012-11-14

    You have your religion and I have mine! No objection to making the bible a subject for study by the Ministry of Education, but I should not be forced to learn it. Every Christian and Muslim have been brothers for years, they have been living on the land of Egypt and drank from the Nile. They are the support of Egypt, whether Muslim or Christian. I am worried about Egypt because if they make the Bible studied by our children, they will say ‘your religion says so and our religion says so.’ This is wrong as there will be conflicts at schools.

  • يوسف عبدالله

    2012-11-14

    Egypt used to be one of the strongest countries in the Arab region and the Middle East, and in Africa as well, in terms of the sciences and knowledge and reading and culture, and its people were educated and they loved knowledge and reading, and they attached tremendous importance to learning and books, until the time came when things started to degenerate and illiteracy became widespread. But now, after the great January 25th revolution, and after the restoration of stability and now that we have a new Islamic leader who is different from those that came before, Egypt will return to the world of sciences and progress and technology once again, and all the citizens will hold books in their hands out of love for knowledge and in the belief that this is what uplifts nations and makes civilizations progress, and Egypt will remain as it has always been, the shining light of science and learning, regardless of the conditions, Even in the period when things were in bad shape Egypt remained strong scientifically and culturally, but now it will return back to the international arena and the inventors and geniuses will start to pay attention to Egypt and take care of it instead of running to other countries in search of appreciation or opportunities, because Egypt will provide them with this on a gold platter because of its conviction about the importance of science and learning, and that this is what will uplift the nation and its people.

  • محمد يوسف

    2012-11-13

    Egypt is the cradle of civilizations and it used to be the source of knowledge and science for the different nations. Having this in mind, both the Arab World and the West should capitalize on Egypt’s leadership role and we should highlight the importance of scientific advancement to Egypt. We should make use of the sheer number of Egyptian scientists and intellectuals. What’s more, we should make the most of the scientific and technological advancement that is now prevalent in the whole world. As such, appropriate forms of culture should be spread among the Egyptian society and the Egyptian government should expend even further efforts in order to render Egypt a pioneer and at the forefront in all walks of life among nations. Education is one of the sources of advancement and civilization in nations and thus education and educators should receive their due attention. Similarly, we should take notice of all means that will facilitate utilizing other nations’ cultures and the Egyptian government should pay attention to modern teaching mechanisms and should keep pace with development and advancement in today’s world. This is in order for Egypt to remain the fountainhead of knowledge for many countries. Egypt is home to a manifold of civilizations, which were a source of knowledge for many people. Egypt even possesses a bright Islamic culture free of religious extremism. Egypt has also many other means of power under its belt, including favorable geographic location and being the link that bridges between the Muslim and Arab worlds on the one hand and the West on the other hand. Egypt now can tap into additional capabilities, cultures and better management in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, which has put the Egyptians on the path of freedom. This revolution has been an exemplary in its peacefulness as well as in the legitimacy of its demands.

  • احمد القحطان

    2012-11-13

    The new Egyptian government should alter the education system in order to secure a brighter future for Egyptians. Knowledge and education are capable of developing the country and will enable the nation to undertake development initiatives in all sectors and facilities across Egypt. Egyptians are known for their plethora of outstanding scientists worldwide, and they can render Egypt a place where everyone dreams living in. However, before all of this, we need to develop our education system in order to produce a new generation that is armed with awareness and is educationally and professionally outstanding. I wish that its citizens will be living in the most developed country and that they compete with all countries in the world. I also wish that Egypt will be the centerpiece of the Arab World in terms of education and knowledge.

  • سلطان

    2012-11-13

    Egypt has always been at the forefront and among the scientifically advanced countries in the Arab World. Egypt has presented the world with a manifold of outstanding and excellent scientists including Ahmed Zewail, Magdy Yacoub and others who excelled in science and other disciplines. However, Egypt needs a great deal of development in the education sector, knowing that Egypt needs to develop most of its academic curricula. Some of these curricula are extremely outdated while others are simply not suitable in this day and age. In addition to these issues, Egypt does not show concern or attention to the importance of industrial training that the learning institutions should provide to their students. This kind of training will provide the students with the hands-on experience that could enable them do extremely well in the future. Hence, Egypt should work with the neighboring Arab Countries on developing their respective curricula and making them on par with international curricula. As we know, there are numerous Arab countries that depend on Egypt and borrow its own academic curricula. As a result, all countries that are financially capable should fund the process of curricula development in Egypt, so that Egypt may develop its education sector in the future. Egypt will then be the leading nation in science in the Arab World and will continue playing that role.

  • حسن ابراهيم

    2012-11-1

    If we want to develop the education in Egypt, we have to concentrate on something very important which is the curricula that do not change for decades especially in the primary and the preparatory stages. The teachers always depend on making the students recite everything even the scientific materials. This method is wrong as the student should understand and evaluate everything through his mind before he recites in order to be able to innovate. We find that the teacher does not try to do something new with the student and he himself has become used to this system. Many of them do not care for the development of the student and they took education as a job and not a message, as well as the spread of private lessons that have a significant effect on the students wherein all of them know that the school does not have any role as long as he takes what he needs from the teacher in the private lessons in which the way of the teachers' teaching does not differ from his way in the school except that he gives them examples for the questions and answers. The education system should be changed from its basis, that is the teacher and the curricula, and the teachers should be trained on how to deal with the modern curricula with the developed methods that will cope with the modern science.

  • samir

    2012-10-31

    Guys, are we going to judge the Christian brothers according to some verses in the Bible? Then, where is the history of Copts in Egypt?

  • Jamal

    2012-10-30

    You should teach love and respect to all. No Killing, No suicide bombing No blasphamy

  • د/عثمان اسماعيل الجزار

    2012-10-28

    These additions, whether in the Holy Qur’an, Bible or any other Heavenly Book, have no function in the curriculum of the national education because there is a difference between national education and religious education. I think this is elusiveness, weakening of the curriculum and violation of the content of the national education. The question is: how can we reflect the national dimension or citizenship in the curriculum of the national education? This can be put (shown) through historic situations and modern events which would reflect this meaning such as the House of the Family (a inter-religious organization in Egypt) or the positions of Muslims regarding the burning and destruction of some churches and the positions of Christians towards the offense of the west against our Kind Messenger. We can show images and opinions and there are thousands of situations that reflect citizenship instead of displaying what suits the function and nature of national education.

  • فايزه محمود

    2012-10-28

    I hope we teach our children the art of discussion and the language of disagreement that does not cause negative feelings. The most important thing is having and strengthening the national belonging and the love for Egypt. This is what should be taught in national education. As for religion, it should be taught in the classes of the religious education.

  • شريف جليل

    2012-10-27

    A distinguished step for coming together and removing any opposition between the generation of the youth and youngsters.