Unlearning Intolerence through Education

“We need to create a society that shares the values of love, tolerance, and recognition of the others.”

Secretary General, Association of Arab Universities

The call for a “dialogue among civilizations” has become one of the critical features of the twenty-first century. The term itself has been used to substitute and rethink the “clash of civilizations,” proposed by Samuel P. Huntington and adopted by some Western educators following the end of the cold war between East and West.

Many international organizations and bodies in both the Islamic world and the West have supported initiatives emerging out of the call for a dialogue among civilizations. These initiatives focus on the importance of eliminating disparities through in-depth, extensive knowledge and investigation of stereotypes in order to erase negative connotations and prejudices often promoted by the media and some political and civic organizations who considered “the others” as a threat or as the enemy. The need was to concentrate on educating the media, drafting school curricula and by using information technology and modern communication to achieve a more realistic and neutral vision of the habits, thoughts, behaviours, and practices of others.

As a religion and as a civilization, Islam is against the centralization of a dominant culture. On the contrary, Islam encourages that the world become a forum of civilizations that interacts and cooperates to strengthen universal values.

In its spirit and essence, Islam guarantees freedom of religions. In fact, the Qur’an requires Muslims to believe in all the prophets, and forbids the belief in some and not others. Thus, the Qur’an clearly accepts the plurality of religions, their different laws and ways of life, and treats life as a challenge for humanity to coexist in tolerance, thereby strengthening the forces of peace and moral order which are much more fundamental than differences of faith and devotion. The teachings of the Qur’an in no way adopt a hostile attitude toward other religions.

The world must shape a tolerant universal philosophy deriving its principles from different cultures and laying the basis for a non-violent resolution of controversies. Islam contains great spiritual heritage as demonstrated by the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the Islamic Council of Europe in 1981. The Declaration has shown that the philosophy of human rights does not conflict with religion, but only with fanatical interpretations of religion. Religions such as Islam and Christianity focus on and promote human dignity and, if religion is understood in a true and reasonable way, there is no contradiction between the rights of God and human rights. Therefore, intellectuals, clerics, scholars, and educators in East and West should continue to recognize differences between religions and doctrines, and aim at achieving mutual understanding through genuine receptiveness to other viewpoints. They should also work to reject intolerance and forced confrontations.

New education policies and community activities should be implemented for coexistence and mutual understanding so as to achieve our goals through a rational perspective. We need to create a society that shares the values of love, tolerance, and recognition of the others. This is where the role of our education institutions is crucial. We need to develop education frameworks that effectively formulate and articulate the dialogue among civilizations at all levels of our education system.