Articles From the July 1994 Unification News
An Islamic Unificationist Perspective on Religious Education part 2
By asking Muslim to learn a second language, which is religious education, Prophet Mohammed did not talk about converting automatically non-Muslims to Islam. Instead, he urged his people, especially the most educated among them, to establish an inter- religious dialogue with other religions. Like any other new religion, Islam came with its own religious language, but the already established religions could not understand it and therefore rejected it. Hence, for Islam, more important than the conversion of the believers from other religions to Islam is the establishment of a common base for an ecumenical religious dialogue with other religions, centered on the only "GOD".
In Sura 10, Verse 94, God asked Prophet Mohammad himself to check with those acquainted with the pre-Islamic religions in case he might need some clarification on the revelation he received: If thou wert in doubt as to what we have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee.
However, it is very hard for any new religion to exist and grow without getting new members. Obviously, unless a new religion reaches a certain number of unconditionally committed members, it cannot take a risk to establish an ecumenical dialogue with the already established religions. Therefore, the desire of any new religion to convert new members is understandable because it is a necessity. Nevertheless, the necessity of converting new members should not for ever prevent a new religion from establishing an inter-religious dialogue with other religions. Also, while focusing on the conversion of new members, a new religion should not neglect the religious education of those who already joined.
In his book, Religious Education As Second Language, Gabriel Moran wrote: "Whether conversion is at the center of Christian education is a question that goes back at least to the middle of the nineteenth century. The liberal wing of the Christian churches has been skeptical of conversion, often pitting education as an alternative to conversion. The conservative wing, for its part, has often staked everything on the one moment of conversion that would make any future education unnecessary. "
Several of the greatest writers in religious education, faced with what they considered to be mindless and emotional preaching, speak in disparaging or even negative tones about conversion. Coe, for example, writes that "the constant aim of elementary religious education should be to make conversion unnecessary." That is an unfortunate relinquishing of a central religious, in this case Christian term.
Religious Education and Ecumenism
Islam also emphasizes the call for ecumenical work among the "people of the Book", namely, Jews, Christians, and Muslim. Sura 3, Verse 64, says, "O people of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you : that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, lords and patrons other than Allah."
It is indisputable that anyone of us could certainly gain a lot by dialoguing and communicating with people from other cultures and religions. This gain would be even greater if the give-and-take were based on mutual respect and appreciation. In order to understand and appreciate other people's religion and culture, we have to study and practice sincerely and seriously their belief for a certain period of time. Putting ourselves in their shoes will help us to improve our relationship with them and avoid any conflict in the future. Furthermore, by doing so, we will be able to understand and appreciate more our own religion and culture.
In his article "Three traditions of Religious Education", Dr. Kieran Scott describes beautifully how much is it valuable to us to understand other's religion in order to understand our own: "Religious education in a reconceptualized mode is the way we go understanding our own religious tradition, convictions and our God over against the religious identity of "the other," the stranger.
John Dunne's method of "passing over" to other persons, cultures and religions and "coming back" is an invaluable educational technique at our service here. What one does in passing over," claims Dunne, "is try to enter sympathetically into the feelings of another person, become receptive to the images which give expression to his feeling, attain insight into those images, and then come back enriched by this insight to an understanding of one's own life which can guide one into the future."
The Oral Teaching
In the Qur'anic school, we would use a rectangular piece of wood (Luhha) for a notebook and a piece of reed (Qulom) as a pen, wetting the tip with cheap ink. Every day we had to write and memorize a few verses dictated to us by Fquih before erasing Luhha for the next day. The purpose of the Qur'anic school is to help students to memorize the whole book of the Qur'an and to learn and practice the basic Islamic teaching, including prayer. In order to preserve the authenticity of the tradition, only oral teaching was used.
Gabriel Moran explains in the same book above the meaning of the oral teaching: "Tradition is the oral stream which does not contradict the text but instead provides the origin and larger context of the writing. Tradition awakens us to the oral nature of truth."
At the age of seven, after learning the basic Islamic teaching, I joined a modern school, which provided real notebooks, pens, and a blackboard. The curriculum was much richer and more diversified but less spiritual, personal, and familial than at the Qur'anic school.
The Example of UTS:
As many scholars and professors acquainted with UTS testify, this institution founded by Father Moon twenty years ago is the first institution of its kind to provide students with genuine religious education. The curriculum is so rich and diversified, containing, in addition to Unification theology, the teachings of almost all world religions. Hence, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism and other major religions are taught at UTS by Unificationist and non-Unificationist professors. In terms of ecumenism, the UTS library is one of the best libraries in the USA. I was pleased to find there more than one hundred books, periodicals and journals dealing with Islam.
My hope is that the field of Religious Education can keep growing and developing and build strong bridge between the believers from all the religions around the world.
As a Muslim-Unificationist, I pray that the United States of America succeeds in establishing a genuine Religious Education which could unite all the people from different religions and cultures living in this country. In this matter, I share Gabriel Moran's reflection about the challenge facing the USA to accept other religions than Judaism and Christianity as American Religions: "Buddhists and Muslims are the most likely next major religions that can get admitted as "American" (that is, religions of the United States). If and when that happens, the meaning of religious education may undergo drastic change. The nineteenth-century invention "Judeo-Christian" will no longer be able to hide the real differences and points of conflicts."
Mr. Mesbah is a student at UTS. He is also Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Association for Islamic Renewal (AIR) in New York City. Mr. Mesbah has just finished the course "Foundations of Religious Education" taught by Dr. Kieran Scott at UTS. This is the last part of the revised content of his research paper, presented at the end of the course. The first part was published in the May issue.
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