Egyptian fatwa forbids corporal punishment at schools

Egyptian students walk in al-Hussein district in Cairo at the end of a school day. [Marwan Naamani/AFP]

Egyptian students walk in al-Hussein district in Cairo at the end of a school day. [Marwan Naamani/AFP]

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Dar al-Iftaa al-Masriya issued a fatwa last week prohibiting corporal punishment at schools, saying the phenomenon conflicts with the teachings of Islam and damages the educational process.

"According to sharia [law], abuse of all forms is banned," the text of the fatwa said. "The Prophet, peace be upon him, is our first teacher and he was never known to have hit a child."

The fatwa called on teachers to follow the lead of Prophet Mohammed in his stance towards education and guidance.

"The truth is, school beatings these days have been stripped of any educational value and have instead become a way for excessive corporal punishment and sometimes used for revenge and this, without doubt, is forbidden," according to the fatwa.

Since the beginning of the school year in Egypt, several news reports were released regarding schoolchildren being the victims of various types of physical violence that ranges from hitting to flogging and head shaving.

Ramez Yahya, professor of sharia law at Al-Azhar University, told Al-Shorfa he agrees with the fatwa.

"Neither reason nor Islam can sanction hitting schoolchildren," he said. "Children, according to Islamic teaching, are 'minors' and thus cannot be punished."

When children make mistakes, they should be corrected using educational discipline that involves counselling and instilling good habits, such as the love of knowledge and learning, he said.

Dr. Samira Lami, who teaches educational psychology at Ain Shams University, said hitting children is a crime punishable by law because it causes significant damage.

This phenomenon can "cripple a child's learning and creative abilities and transform [him or her] into a mere device that records and repeats information without understanding what is happening around [him or her]," she said. "Children who are hit at school, especially in a repeated manner, will become hostile towards school and teachers and will also suffer from a range of psychological illnesses such as aggressive behaviour, the stunting of their creative and learning abilities and a lack of self-esteem."

According to Lami, the best modern methods of disciplining children involve dialogue and incentives.

"For example, [teachers can offer] sweets to bright children who excel at a certain activity to motivate other lower-performing children to be creative, or [they can punish] children by depriving them of something or of a certain activity they like," she said.

Government and citizen initiatives

Article 96 of Egypt's Child Law, issued in 2008, stipulates that a person who uses violence or abuse against children at an educational institution should receive a prison sentence of at least six months.

Dealing with this phenomenon must also involve reforming teaching conditions, according to Dr. Bassema Hosni, a sociology professor at Cairo University.

"Teachers' tough economic circumstances could push them to hit their students" because of the psychological pressure and indifference these circumstances foster, she said, "which is why we must fix the teachers' basic circumstances so we can arrive at a healthy and ideal educational atmosphere".

Families are also addressing the phenomenon.

Adel Jaber, father to two schoolchildren, formed a special committee with a group of other parents to monitor the issue at the school his children attend.

"The original idea was that a teacher would become a second father and the school a second home [for the children], but if conditions at this second home resemble terrorism – because of student beatings -- then this becomes a very dangerous situation we must confront," he said.

The committee is currently holding discussions with school administration and faculty members to prevent this phenomenon, Jaber said.

The school's administration and the parents agreed to conduct daily follow-ups to discuss student shortcomings or failures so the teacher does not lose his or her temper and react inappropriately, he said.

"We also agreed to contract a sociologist" so we can refer misbehaving or difficult students to him or her "so we can better understand [these children's] aggressive behaviour," Jaber said.

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    حسن عبد اللطيف

    2012-12-4

    We all remember well the verse which reads: “bow to your teacher with much respect… He is almost a messenger of Allah.” I swear that Allah will never send a messenger who beats his own mother or treats her with violence. Of course, I do not mean that there will be other prophets for no one is a prophet unless God makes him so. However, we compared the teachers to prophets because they spread knowledge and educate students. The teachers are supposed to show good manners. They should not show any deviant behavior such as beating others. The teachers must not be violent. In fact, the modern educational system that is based on psychological studies, showed in its sciences and researches that beating the learners is useless. It leads to nothing but depression and other mental illnesses. Therefore, unless the teachers have these objectives, they are supposed to give up beating the young Egyptian children in view of the destructive consequences of such acts. On the other hand, the students might react violently any time against their teachers. The aggression of the student might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Egyptian teachers should bear in mind that they were easily recruited by the government upon their graduation. Thus, they make a living and enjoy a prestigious social position. However, the students they are beating now, will graduate with a greater and more recent scientific baggage than what the teachers had studied. They might even obtain a higher degree, and still they will find themselves unemployed. Then, they would remember nothing of the school days except the beating and humiliation. They study hard for years and get tired both physically and emotionally in order to get the degree only to remain unemployed. Have mercy, O teachers, over the students who might have the proper awareness and thought that would benefit Egypt. Be more sensitive and leave the stick to the carriage riders.