Sunday, May 4, 2008

Turkey to the Rescue

The article on the front page of the NYTimes today, Sunday May 4, "Turkish Schools Offer an Gentler Islam" is one that all should read.

A group of Turkish teachers and educators have opened schools in the NW province of Pakistan bordering Afghanistan credited for being a breeding ground for militants. The schools' aim to counteract the radical fundamentalist Islamic schools in the area by providing a balanced alternative: A well rounded curriculum that includes (but is not limited to) Islamic studies and prayer. The Turkish run schools teach Science, English, Math, History in addition to a course on Islam. They encourgae Islamic ways of life in dormitories.The article focuses on Mesut Kacmaz, a Turk teaching in Pakistan; he is quoted throughout the story, "Whatever the West has of science, let our kids have it, but let our kids have religion as well." This quote is important because Muslims must realize that science and Islam are not in opposition to one another as many corrupt fake Islamic scholars have taught. (See below paragraph for a brief background on this.)

(Bkgrnd: There was a backlash against subjects such as science and math that went along with the backlash against things western after years of imperialism, colonialism, oppression and discrimination against the Muslim world and Middle East by Europe and the West. However crazy you might think this is, it happened, and it is crucial that these subjects are reintroduced. There is precendence for this argument: A long history of Islamic scholars have attempted to show that science and math are not 'Western' but universal subjects. In fact, they originated in the East; Cairo and Baghdad were historical centers of learning before Western scholars began thinking about matters such as math: Al-Gebra for example. Two great examples 19th Century Islamic scholars Muhammad Abdo and Jamal al Din al Afghani who are considered 'Islamic Modernists' for their writings advocating higher learning - science, literature, math - within the framework of Islam.)

Back to the article. Also mentioned is Turkish Islamic scholar Fetullah Gulen, who sounds like a modern day Afghani, "without science religion turns to radicalism' he is quoted as saying. He advocates again, moderate Islam taught alongside Literature, Math, Science, and History.

The article also touches on how these fundamentalist schools contribute to the perversion of Islam: Power hungry men use these schools as venues for selling their militant agenda, misinterpreting the Quran and hadiths to recruit young followers. The article quotes Matiullah Aail, a religious scholar in Quetta who graduated from Medina University in Saudi which clearly gives him some street cred in the Muslim world. He compares these radical mullahs to lawyers and doctors, "Doctors and lawyers have to their degrees. But when it comes to mullahs, no one asks them for their qualifications. They don't have knowledge, but they are influential." Knowledgeable educators, like those coming from Turkey, will teach students to see through these fake radical Islamic scholars.

Using a balanced curriculum to teach the Pakistani youth how to think broadly and critically, not militarizing the region, arming tribesmen, and dropping bombs a la US foreign policy, will defeat radicalism and militants.

The article dubs these Turkish teachers the Muslim Peace Corps which I thought was fitting as an ex Peace Corps volunteer.

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