One of the major concerns of the Association for World Education is the elimination of intolerance based on religion and belief. And, clearly, education is an essential part of developing a spirit of co-operation and respect toward the "Other". Before addressing the theme which I was asked to address, I would like to provide a brief historical note on Egypt.
In 1836 Edward Lane published An Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians. Referring to the intellectual education of Egyptian male children he remarked: "He receives also lessons of religious pride, and learns to hate the Christians, and all other sects but his own, as thoroughly as does the Muslim in advanced age."/ "They regard persons of every other faith as the children of perdition; and such, the Muslim is early taught to despise."/ "I am credibly informed that children in Egypt are often taught at school a regular set of curses to denounce upon the persons and property of Christians, Jews, and all other unbelievers in the religion of Mohammad."
In 1954, President Gamal 'Abd al-Nasser's cultural secretary at the Egyptian Education Bureau, Saad El-Din, wrote a warm 'introduction' for a new Everyman's Library edition of what he called "Lane's masterpiece," but he added a reservation: "one cannot agree with Lane that a Moslem is taught from his childhood to hate other religions." He explained that any fault was due to "Turkish influence" -- and even blamed the Turks for introducing the use of the veil for women, while insisting that "Islam is very tolerant towards the other Semitic religions, Judaism and Christianity." On what he called "the evil and reactionary grip of Al-Azhar" in the field of education, he was optimistic: "[Al-Azhar] graduates are no longer the narrow-minded superstitious hair-splitters of the past." (viii-ix).
In his classic study, Lane provided a long description on the Copts of Egypt under the improved tyrannical regime of Muhammad Ali, noting: "The Copts are not now despised and degraded by the government as they were a few years ago." On the Jews of Egypt, he had this to say:
"They are held in the utmost contempt and abhorrence by the Muslims in general (...)"; and also: "the Jews are detested by the Muslims far more than are the Christians (...) At present, they are less oppressed; but still they scarcely ever dare to utter a word of abuse when reviled or beaten unjustly by the meanest Arab or Turk; for many a Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation of uttering disrespectful words against the Kuran or the Prophet." [Everyman's Library, Dent: London / Dutton: NY, 1963, pp. 283, 548, 559-60]
With this 'prologue' from the past, let me turn to the contemporary situation and to my main theme: What is being taught in the schools of Saudi Arabia and Egypt in this twenty-first century?
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