Arguing that all cultures and beliefs are equally valid ignores the fact that ours is a predominately Western culture, committed to liberal democratic institutions and Judeo-Christian values.
Imagine the howls of outrage from the secular non-believers if the Catholic Church argued that every school subject had to include a Catholic perspective and that understanding Christianity is a vital part of our state education system.
Imagine the outcry if the Church, along with a respected national curriculum body and a prestigious university, published curriculum material and held teacher workshops celebrating Christianity’s contribution to Australian society and Western civilisation.
Given that Australia’s schools, on the whole, are secular in nature and the argument that classrooms should not be used to teach a particular faith, it’s understandable why introducing religion into school subjects, for many, would be unacceptable.
Not so, when it comes to teaching Islam and introducing Muslim perspectives to the curriculum. Those responsible for the booklet Learning From One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools, sponsored by the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies are happy to assert that teaching Islam should be embedded in every school subject.
Citing the Julia Gillard inspired national curriculum directive that subjects must be taught from an Asian perspective and the, supposedly, negative stereotypes presented in the media, the booklet argues that there is a “degree of prejudice and ignorance about Islam and Muslims” and Australian students must be taught to embrace difference and diversity.
The booklet’s authors also bemoan the fact that “most texts used in Australian English classes still have a Western or European perspective” and argue that providing “students with a Euro-centric version of history denies them the opportunity to evaluate different perspectives on past world events”.
Ignored is that some 64 per cent of Australians describe themselves as Christian, while those committed to Islam only make up 1.7 per cent of the population. Also ignored is that while Australia is a multicultural society, our political and legal institutions and much of our culture is Western in origin and steeped in the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral framework.
While it is understandable that the booklet presents Islam in a positive way and seeks to downplay the significance of a Western, Eurocentric view of the world, the danger is that students are given a misleading and one-sided interpretation.
While secular sceptics criticise the fact that some Christian schools teach a Biblical version of creation, the Muslim booklet stresses a faith-based approach, when it states, “The Muslim philosophy of science is based on the idea that God is the creator of everything… Science in this case is driven and inspired by divine revelation, not simply questioning or investigating everything”.
While describing the early growth of Islam and its spread throughout the Mediterranean and parts of Europe, the booklet states, “many of peoples of the newly conquered regions converted to Islam. Those who did not were allowed to live peacefully and practice their faith as long as they abided by the law of the land”.
Ignored is what some see as the inherently violent nature of the Koran, where devout Muslims are called on to carry out Jihad and to convert non-believers, and the destructive nature of what is termed dhimmis – where non-believers are forced to renounce their religion, are discriminated against and forced to accept punitive taxation laws.
While celebrating the positive contribution of Islam to subjects like mathematics, geography and the Arts, the booklet also fails to mention the widespread prevalence of slavery under Muslim rule. Years before the slave trade to the Americas, Muslim rulers along the Mediterranean coast enslaved thousands of Christians, inflicting torture and death.
As noted by the author, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, there is also the fact that women within Muslim societies do not have the same rights and freedoms as those women living in Western liberal democracies. Examples include being stoned for adultery, female circumcision, being banned from going to school and forced to wear a head to toe hijab.
Multiculturalism is based on the mistaken belief that all cultures are of equal worth and that it is unfair to discriminate and argue that some practices are wrong. The Muslim booklet adopts a multicultural approach, arguing that Australians must accept diversity and difference and that Muslims and Christians accept the same values and beliefs.
In relation to God, the booklet argues, “ Muslims believe that they worship the same God that was worshipped by Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The God of the Muslims is the God of all, including Jews and Christians”.
While it is true that the three religions worship the same God, there are significant differences. Muslims, for example, do not see Jesus as divine nor accept the concept of the Holy Trinity.
As noted by Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell, “It is difficult to recognise the God of the New Testament in the God of the Koran, and two very different concepts of the human person have emerged from the Christian and Muslim understandings of God”.
The statement in the book that, “Students will come to appreciate that there are many valid worldviews and perspectives” ignores the reality that some worldviews are preferable to others and some religious and cultural practices are un-Australian.
Dr Kevin Donnelly
Promoting diversity and difference and arguing that all cultures and beliefs are equally valid ignores the fact that ours is a predominately Western culture, committed to liberal democratic institutions and Christian values.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute. He taught for 18 years in Melbourne government and non-government schools and is the author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars and Dumbing Down : outcomes based and politically correct – the impact of the Culture Wars on our schools.