Muslim Academic and Peace Activist Calls for Compulsory Teaching of All Religions to Defeat Terrorism

By Rachel Olding, The Sydney Morning Herald, June 13, 2015

Australia would have a better chance of defeating terrorism and extremism if it was compulsory for students to learn about all religions, including Islam, according to an international academic and Muslim peace activist.

Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi lost his prestigious job at a Palestinian university last year when a storm of controversy erupted over his decision to take Palestinian students to Auschwitz to learn about the Holocaust.

He said a lack of knowledge about "the other" is the cause of the ugly Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and religious extremism rearing its head in Australia.

"There is ignorance and people get scared," said Professor Daoudi, a fellow at the Washington Institute and founder of the Wasatia movement which promotes moderate Islam.

"The point of the [trip to Auschwitz] was to see how much knowledge can bring empathy and empathy can bring reconciliation and reconciliation and moderation can pave the way for conflict resolution."

Professor Daoudi said it was not only important for Australians to learn more about Islam. He also hit out at the one-sided version of his religion being taught at Arab schools and universities that promotes the religion as in direct competition with Judaism and Christianity, whose followers are considered "kafir" or disbelievers.

"Islam is being taught as the only religion – it is not being taught as a comparative religion," he said. "We have to have reform, not in Islam but in the way it is being taught."

He said there was a desperate need for Australian university and PhD courses in comparative religion and religious conciliation, which would produce experts and qualified teachers to offer a more holistic education.

A spokesman for the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Education Standards said students learn about respect, tolerance and religious diversity in the mandatory K-10 PDHPE and K-12 Human Society and Environment courses.

However, primary and secondary schools may choose which religions they offer in mandated religious education classes.

Sydney mother Mara, who asked for her surname to be withheld, said she sent her two Muslim sons to St Andrew's College in the city, an Anglican school, because she wanted them to learn more about other religions and cultures.

"I wanted them to be open-minded," she said. "If we do teach more about different religions and tolerance at schools, I think it will change kids."

She said she'd like the school's Christian Development classes to incorporate more teaching on Islam, following some small examples of Islamophobia.

Surges in Islamophobic incidents across Australia have accompanied an increase in terror arrests and religious extremism.

Professor Daoudi, who visited Australia this week to speak at Monash University and at a Jewish conference in Sydney, wants to open a Wasatia reconciliation centre in Australia to allow people of different faiths to battle out their ideas rather than let differences brew into violent extremism.

"The image of extremists is power and influence while the image of the moderate is weak," he said. "We need to do a better job of empowering the concept of moderation."

Professor Daoudi is an unlikely advocate for moderation. He trained as a guerrilla with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and was banned from Israel for 25 years.

As a professor of American studies at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, he took 27 conflict studies students to Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland to teach them about the Holocaust, which is not part of the curriculum in Palestinian schools.

Local media erupted, his car was torched and he was confronted in the university library by an angry mob, who branded him a traitor.

He was forced to resign and said the university later threatened to sue him for damaging their reputation and causing a downturn in funding.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/muslim-academic-and-peace-activist-calls-for-compulsory-teaching-of-all-religions-to-defeat-terrorism-20150612-ghlh4e.html