From the Revd Dr Nigel Scotland
Sir, - It needs to be recognised that one underlying reason
that so many young British men have gone to join the jihadist cause
in Syria and Iraq is the education or lack of it that they receive
in this country.
Most young people understand well enough the differences between
science and philosophy, wisdom and law, poetry and history. Yet,
when it comes to religious education, they are taught to revere and
respect sacred scripture in an uncritical way that often causes
them to lose the capacity to distinguish between its differing
In consequence, such sacred texts gradually become invested with
a divine status, with the concomitant that jihadist, paradisal, and
other poetic texts come to be interpreted with a blunt literalness.
This process is further reinforced by the fact that much religious
education in secondary schools is largely uncritical teaching about
religion, usually in the form of a Cook's tour of the world's great
faiths, focusing on founders, food, and festivals. There is often
little in the way of opportunity to consider the rightness or
otherwise of religious beliefs, or the chance to assess critically
the consequences that issue from holding them.
It often happens, about the time when young people leave school,
that they begin to find themselves in a state that some
sociologists have termed "normlessness", meaning that they are
unable to cope with the social, political, and general
uncertainties of life. Inevitably, some young Muslims among their
number who find themselves desperately in need of a framework with
which to counteract these feelings and make sense of their
existence will turn to the only ideals and values that they have
known, drawn from fundamentalist understandings of the Qur'an which
have been learned in the main by rote at a mosque or
madrasah, or from a social-media site.
Clearly, it is vital that our education system, and specifically
the teaching of religion in our secondary schools, ensures that all
young people in this country not only respect and honour sacred
scriptures, but are also taught to contextualise and interpret them
in ways that are just, compassionate, and respectful of all human
life. In consequence, they will, it is to be hoped, recognise that
no deity worthy of the name would require men or women to live or
act in any other ways.
It is vital that they, and indeed all people of faith,
understand that texts that advocate advancing a religious cause by
means of violence, bloodshed, loss of life, and the denial of human
rights can only ever at best be understood as human misconceptions
of the divine.
Only in this way, at the level of the education given to every
child and young person in the nation's schools, can the
Government's recently expressed intention that all UK citizens must
learn the British values of tolerance and acceptance of others
begin to become a reality.
Bristol BS9 1JP