The controversial issue of renewing religious discourse in Egypt, which President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi took upon himself years ago, has extended to the school curriculum. As the easiest way to implement the authority’s vision in terms of “revising” the curricula for religious education, history, and the Arabic language in particular.
A few days ago, the Parliament’s Defense and National Security Committee discussed the Ministry of Education’s plan to confront extremism and terrorism, in the presence of Reza Hijazi, Deputy Minister of Education, where a new course was welcomed to teach about the common values of all religions and the principles of tolerance, citizenship and coexistence.
To here, things were proceeding normally, until the Deputy Minister of Education stated that “there are directives (without specifying their source) to limit religious texts to the subject of religion only,” in response to a question that there are examples of religious texts in curricula other than the religion curriculum, according to Al-Youm Al-Sabe ‘newspaper. And others.
A member of the National Defense and Security Committee, MP Freddy Al-Bayadi, described placing religious texts in Arabic language, history and geography subjects as a “great danger”, and gives a room for teachers who are not qualified to interpret those texts extremist and destructive interpretations, as he claims.
These statements sparked widespread criticism by experts, specialists and politicians, in addition to their surprise that the issue was discussed in the National Defense and Security Committee, and not in the Education Committee, which is tasked with reviewing the curriculum with ministry officials.
Two days after the session, Hegazy (Deputy Minister of Education) denied what was reported on social media regarding the removal of Quranic verses and hadiths from the Arabic language and history subject, under the pretext that this is spreading extremist ideas.
The issue of renewing the religious discourse adopted by President El-Sisi, and the official religious institutions, the press, and the media, have not neglected the religious texts in the school curricula, and placed them among its priorities in its battle that it says is targeting terrorism and its sources.
The development of school curricula under the pretext of revising them was one of the wrong topics and texts, among the recommendations of the Wasatia Forum held in May 2015 at the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs at the Ministry of Endowments under the title “Renewing the Mechanisms of Religious Discourse”, where the document called for “developing curricula and the method of training preachers, as well as On the call for the cooperation of state institutions and sectors to produce a discourse commensurate with the circumstances of the times.
Observers believe that the issue is also related to confronting the ideas of certain Islamic political currents, but it remains exclusive to reviews of power and liberal currents, as well as official religious institutions, including Al-Azhar, which preferred to wait and move according to its own mechanisms, which did not live up to the authority to a large extent.
It was remarkable what happened years ago, specifically in April 2015, when the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education in Giza Governorate Buthaina Kishk burned dozens of books in the courtyard of a school, in an incident that came after President Sisi called for renewing religious discourse and refuting heritage books in early 2015. Under the pretext that it incites violence and terror.
However, human rights organizations – including the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (local) – expressed their grave concern about the incident, and considered it a flagrant violation of the freedom of artistic and literary creativity guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and international charters and conventions on human rights.
In a speech broadcast on state television in January, Al-Sisi called in front of a crowd of Al-Azhar men and scholars on the occasion of the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday. To a “religious revolution”, pointing out that he does not mean the constants of religion, but radical ideas that have gained sanctity over several centuries.
Renewed old attempts
In his comment, the Egyptian parliamentarian and former member of the Education Committee, Dr. Mahmoud Attia, asked: “What is the relationship of the Defense and National Security Committee with discussing issues of school curricula?” He added, “The Qur’an is a method of life and not a subject to study, and there is a strong and close connection between the Arabic language and the subject of religion.”
In his interview with Al-Jazeera Net, he explained that the matter is not new, as there were previous attempts to teach a subject called “ethics” in schools to students, but they failed due to the presence of parliamentary opposition at the time and representatives who are not controlled, but now I do not expect anyone to oppose any proposal in this regard.
Obliterating the Islamic identity
As for the former deputy of the Religious Committee in the Egyptian Parliament, Dr. Muhammad Al-Sagheer, he criticized what he considered persistent attempts for years to obliterate the Islamic identity of Egypt, and said that “there are attempts being made for 7 years, each of its episodes represents an aggression against the Islamic religion, a belief and Sharia.”
In press statements to Al-Jazeera Net, he warned that the next stage may witness the replacement of the book of religious education with the book of ethics or shared values, and it becomes the basic material, as is the case in European countries, and becomes a material drawn from all divine religions, which means diluting Islam for young people.
Al-Sagheer stressed that the Arabic language cannot be separated from the Qur’an texts and the hadiths of the Prophet, and any direction to separate them aims to reduce their impact on the souls of people, as it is an aggression against the Arabic language, and an explicit accusation of religious texts that they feed extremism and terrorism, adding that what is noteworthy is the discussion of the topic in a committee National Security and Defense, in the silence of the Education Committee, the Religious Committee, and the Salafi-oriented Nour Party.
Guillotine of curriculum adjustment
The issue of reviewing the curriculum in Egypt has been going on for years, not according to the requirements of educational development, but rather the whim of the system, according to the educational and educational expert Ali al-Laban, who indicated that one of the conditions of the Camp David agreement signed between Egypt and Israel in 1978; Modifying the curricula to become more strong and positive towards peace, and accordingly they were revised and formulated in line with the requirements of the authority.
He added to Al-Jazeera Net that since that time, matters have been proceeding in the manner of diluting the Qur’an texts and the hadiths of the Prophet, and the topics related to them, and the Ministry of Education in Egypt in 2015 removed complete lessons about Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi and Uqba bin Nafi, claiming that they incite violence.
The Ministry of Education had formed a committee of educational experts in March 2015 to review the curricula of the stages of education “to refine them from all ideas calling for violence and extremism,” as well as political and religious ideas that could be misunderstood, in addition to removing redundancy and repetition, according to a ministerial statement.
Al-Labban expressed his concerns about the transformation of religion in school curricula into a set of shared values. With the aim of obliterating the Islamic identity of Muslim students, considering that this contravenes the law and the role of the state, Education Law 139 of 1981 stipulates that the learner should be trained in a culture, education and nationality, and this can only be done by Islamic values.