Saturday, October 02, 2004

Divide And Conquer - (Part VII) Indoctrination of the Youth: University

I recently pointed my readers to a blog written by a young American woman in Jordan who is taking part in studies abroad for her Peace and Conflict program at University. Her blog Terrorism Unveiled should be on everyone's "to read" list. She not only has important information about her studies, but about the social and political aspects of living in an Arab country.

Most of us would consider Jordan to be "moderate", but, as Athena points out in her blog, "moderate" has a number of meanings. The first of which might be that the government of Jordan does not support terrorists and takes steps to track them down. However, the people of Jordan might be a different story. One reminder to folks, Jordan has a population of nearly 50% Palestinian, which certainly influences the flavor of the culture and keeps the government from acting as strongly as it might against certain parts of it's society.

The other important fact to remember is that their culture can produce "Islamists" just as much as Saudi Arabia. Al-Zarqawi is a citizen of Jordan. Despite his checkered past, he has risen to some prominence within the Islamist organization, specifically organizing and running the Tawihid and Jihad (Unity and Holy War) organization in Iraq. Despite the BBC article claim that I link to that states he is possibly a rival of bin Laden and definitely autonomous, this is debunked by his letter to bin Laden and senior Al Qaida members which was intercepted in February of this year. I don't want to get off subject, but I will be addressing the European attempts to separate these groups into something less than a world organization that is at war and more into small groups to be separately combated.

Going back on topic, I wanted to give you all a taste for the types of religious programs and studies, both in the United States and in Saudi Arabia and how that impacts the rise of Islamism in the Middle east. Go to the inner sanctum for more information.

In an email conversation with "Athena" she let me know what she was studying (Sept 29):

I'm studying a program in Peace, War and Defense at my University in the USA. Here, I am with a private program consisting of 12 students.

We mainly study Arabic. There are 3 different levels, beginner, novice and intermediate advanced.

In the morning we have Arabic and in the afternoon a lecturer with expertise in a certain "topic of the day" comes in and details us how this affects Jordan. Usually we have professors come in from the University of Jordan or professionals or leaders of national or international organizations.

We study political economy, culture, religion...etc etc.

Here in Jordan there really isn't an indoctrination into Wahhabism. Actually, it's forbidden by the Hashemite Kingdom/government because such sentiment is very destabilizing and anti-monarchy/democracy.

The public schools are heavily regulated in what they can teach. All public university professors are screened by the muhabarat here (spy agency).

As for private schools, there may be Islamist teaching, but it's not as vitriolic as in Saudi Arabia where Wahhabism is prevalent.

It's not that the educational programs here advocate terrorism or violence, they simply don't denounce it like they should.

I hope this answers some of your questions

In opposition to their Saudi counterparts, wahhabism is not an acceptable religion and the schools are regulated to insure that they don't preach/teach this doctrine. It is a fact, however, that scores of young men have gone into Iraq to fight the Jihad (holy war). This is most likely the result of their participation in prayer groups in the mosques.

In Saudi Arabia, however, religious teachings do take place and have a peculiar flavor of their own. For an undergraduate degree in Islamic and Arabic Studies at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, these courses must be taken:

Serial Course No. Course Title Credits Hrs
1 GS 220 Information Searching Skills (2-0-2) 2
2 GS 221 Industrial Sociology and Production (3-0-3) 3
3 GS 321 Principles of Human Behavior (3-0-3) 3
4 GS 423 International Relations (3-0-3) 3
5 GS 424 Planning and Social Development (3-0-3) 3
6 GS 427 Human and Environment (3-0-3) 3
7 IAS 101 Practical Grammar (2-0-2) 2
8 IAS 111 Belief and its Consequences (2-0-2) 2
9 IAS 131 Reading and Writing (1-3-2) 2
10 IAS 201 Objective Writing (2-0-2) 2
11 IAS 211 Ethics in Islam (2-0-2) 2
12 IAS 231 Grammar and Composition (1-3-2) 2
13 IAS 301 Literary Styles (2-0-2) 2
14 IAS 311 Islamic Shariah (2-0-2) 2
15 IAS 331 Literature and Text (1-3-2) 2
16 IAS 411 Contemporary Islamic World (2-0-2) 2
17 IAS 416 Al-Sirah Alnabawya (2-0-2) 2
18 IAS 417 Inimitability of Al-Quran and Al-Sunnah (3-0-3) 3

There are no general "religious" studies as in the United States universities which provide an overview of the main religions of the world. I looked up my local university, University of Kansas (KU) to see what their religious studies program consisted of:

First Semester
ENGL 101 Composition 3
MATH 101 Algebra 3
SPAN 104 Elementary Spanish I 5
REL 104 Introduction to Religion 3
Elective course 3

Second semester
ENGL 102 Composition and Literature 3
MATH 115 Calculus I 3
SPAN 108 Elementary Spanish II 5
REL 171 Religion in American Society 3
SOC 104 Elements of Sociology 3


These studies go towards an overall degree in a Bachelor of Arts, from which you would grow to specific studies in the following courses:

107: Living Religions of the West
106: Living Religions of the East
U 171: Religion in American Society
U 109: Living Religions of the West, Honors
U 108: Living Religions of the East, Honors
U 172: Religion in American Society,
U 311: Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament in English)
U 360: The Buddhist Tradition in Asia Honors
U 507: Religion in India
U 339: History of Religion in America
U 315: History and Literature of Early Christianity
U 508: Religion in China
U 373: Supreme Court and Religious
U 509: Religion in Japan Issues in the U.S.
U 320: History of Judaism in the West
U 375: Supreme Court and Religious
U 321: History of Judaism in the East Issues in the U.S., Honors
U 325: Introduction to Judaism U 585: New Religious Movements,
U 345: Christianity Western
U 435: Development of Islamic Tradition Non-Western
U 586: New Religious Movements,
U 570: Studies in Judaism
U 671: The Communitarian Tradition

As you can see by the list of classes, some of them are very similar in name at least. Sociologic studies, literature and composition. However, even in these studies, one can see the difference in what is being taught in the courses.

For instance, "Industrial Sociology and Production" gives the class description as:

Industrialization and sociological cultural exchange, Saudi Arabia and development of human resources, industrialization and environment, industrial technology and human relations, production and ideal spirit.

Opposed to "Elements of Sociology" from the University of Kansas:

The study of social life, including how human groups are organized, how they change, and how they influence individuals. Consideration is given to a variety of human organizations and social institutions and how these groups and institutions both determine, and are determined by, human beings.

The question may be, what does "Industrial" sociology mean? It would appear to be a class on how industrialization has impacted society and it's growth. I find the last part of the phrase "ideal spirit" to be interesting although it gives no additional description about what it means. After reading some of the other class descriptions in the King Fahd religious studies course, it is easy to envision this study to be about the "ideal" of interaction between Islam and industrialized parts of society. Most likely, the negative impact of industrialization on the lives of Muslims and it's inherent temptations. But, that is only a guess since they offer no additional catalog of classes and descriptions for review on line.

The most interesting differences in the studies, of course, is that, at my local university and universities across the United States (including Jesuit and other religious universities), I can study any religion, language or culture, thus, giving me at least an idea of what other religions and cultures believe. There is no such universal studies at King Fahd U (KFU). Which is the point I make about their indoctrination to very insular views. These are promulgated by fundamental Islam itself, which views all exposure to other cultures, technology, etc as temptations that must be guarded against should it turn Islamic adherents into "apostates" (heretics or non-believers).

To bring home this point, one should look at the descriptors of the specific religious classes from each university. For instance, at KFU in Saudi Arabia, the class titled, "Belief and Consequences" has the following description:

The roots of the right faith, special characteristics of the Islamic faith, Islamic description of the universe, human beings and life, reasons for increasing the faith.

Or, "Ethics In Islam":

Good behavior for the integrated Islamic personality, principles of social dealings, professional ethics.

Or, "Contemporary Islamic World":

Foundations and basics of the Islamic society, introducing the contemporary Islamic world. The outside world challenges that may face the Islamic world in future, and how to overcome and surmount them

In all, the emphasis is on Islam, it's relationships, development and promotion. And this is not at a "religious" university. This is a standard university in Saudi Arabia that also offers degrees in computer sciences, petroleum management, business management, chemistry and science, etc.

Compare this to the course description for studying Christianity at KU (US):

H Study of religious thought, practice, and institutions of Christianity with an emphasis on the examination of primary documents. LEC

REL 530 Christian Origins: from the Beginnings to Augustine (3).
H/W This course covers the major political, literary, and theological developments in Christianity from the first century through Augustine in the early fifth century, including: (1) the development and significance of the New Testament canon, (2) relations between Christians, Jews, and the Roman government, (3) the nature of orthodoxy and heresy, and the rise of the major Gnostic systems, (4) the growth of the orthodox network, (5) theological debates and councils, and (6) the biography and theology of Augustine and his influence on the medieval church. Prerequisite: Junior standing or above. LEC

REL 377 Religion and Moral Decisions (3). H Introduction to religious viewpoints on individual and social ethics. Influence of religious thought on the making of moral decisions, and on value development. Examined in relation to specific moral issues. LEC

If you read carefully, no where does the descriptor include anything about the superiority of Christianity. Even in discussions about "morals", it is only a general discussion about how religion impacts individuals and societies and is not meant to promote one moral value over another.

The following is a description of a class on Islam at KU (US):

REL 435 Development of Islamic Tradition (3). H/W Origins of Islam; the prophet Mohammed; the Holy Koran; religious symbols and moral mandates; historical developments. LEC

AAAS 433 Islamic Literature (3). NW H/W Contemporary literature that is set in the context of Muslim cultures provides for an examination of Muslim identity on its own terms. This course focuses on the literary examination of works by Muslim authors from Egypt, Sudan, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Nigeria, and Niger. From the perspective of both male and female authors, the issue of what it means to be a Muslim is considered through fictional accounts set in contemporary contexts. Some works will be read in translation from Arabic or French; others are written originally in English. Cultures considered in this course vary widely in their origins and customs, which allows for a focus on the one pervasive element they share in common: Islam as it shapes people’s lives. LEC

AAAS 445 Arab Thought and Identity (3). NW N/W The intention of this course is to present a comprehensive portrait and a deeper understanding of the Arab society and its cultural background. We will focus on the debate that is still raging about traditionalism versus modernity, and authenticity (assala) and specificity (Khususiyya) Arab identity which manifests itself through a sense of belonging and diversity of affiliations, and relies as well on shared culture and its variations, and shared place in history and common experiences. It is designed for any student interested in this ethnic group. LEC

It would be disingenuous for me to claim that your local Christian seminary does not have classes about Christianity being THE religion or how to promote it. At our local Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, this is a course description:

Core Values
Ministry is Biblical: We believe that the Bible is the authoritative inerrant word of God and thus, it instructs, motivates, and guides us in all areas of ministry. We are committed to helping students know, communicate, apply, and practice Biblical truth.
Ministry is Leadership: We seek to develop leaders who exemplify and communicate God's vision in their ministry settings.
Ministry is Relational: We believe Christ-like relationships with God, family,church, community, and world are essential and should be cultivated.
Teaching Objectives: We seek to integrate Biblical teaching within Midwestern's theological context to equip students to mature in their Christian worldview and professional ministry skills.
Learning Objectives: Through its exegetical, theological, and practical educational processes, We seek to produce students who will: Believe that the Bible is authoritative and inerrant (2 Tim 3:15-16; 2 Pet 1:19; Mt 5:17-18). Understand
and apply Biblical and theological truth (Rom 15:3-5; Jn 17:17). Exemplify Biblical leadership and doctrinal integrity in ministry (1 Pet 5:2-4). Demonstrate Christ-likeness in seeking and cultivating all relationships (Eph 4:30-32; Col 3:12-13). Manifest a developing and disciplined Christian life (Gal 5:22-23; 2 Pet 1:5-7; 1 Tim 4:7). Be equipped to minister in culturally relevant ways (1 Cor 9:19-23). Commit
themselves to fulfilling the Great Commission in worshipping God, in evangelizing the lost, in edifying believers, and in establishing healthy New Testament Churches (Mt 28:18-20; Eph 4:11-14). Approved by the Faculty of Midwestern Baptist
Theological Seminary on April 11, 2001 and adopted by the Board of Trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on April 23, 2001.

What then is the difference between Islamic studies and the Baptist Seminary studies of Christianity? Certainly, the Baptist Seminary promotes Christianity and the inherent truth of the bible, but how does it compare to teaching about other cultures and religions? There is one difference that seems clear in their idea of promoting Christianity:

Ministry is Personal and Spiritual: We seek to provide an atmosphere for students that cultivates consistent, disciplined, and balanced spiritual growth and that validates their call to ministry. We strive to accomplish this through Biblically based teaching and providing opportunities to develop a lifestyle of Christian love and integrity.

The difference is in how the Baptist Seminary approaches the ministry of Christianity. It is the ministry of "love". Love thy neighbor. Do unto others as you would have done to you. It is not an "exclusionary" teaching. It does not promote isolation from temptation or other cultures or persons of other religions. Nor do any of it's classes promote the demonization of other cultures or religions.

Here in lies a difference. As a Christian, my religious beliefs, my interaction with God is about me. While I might be concerned at the behavior of another Christian and attempt to influence them away from certain behaviors, my beliefs do not insist that person be punished or shunned. Far from it, Christianity promotes forgiveness and bringing the "lost" into the fold through compassion and counseling. Nor does main stream Christianity promote the subjugation nor persecution of others who do not believe.

Sadly, even Christianity has it's share of people that would shun others and consider them "untouchable" such as gays or lesbians. Fortunately, this does not represent a majority of Christians and they do not have the power through our state to make their prejudices into law or influence a majority of people. It is also fortunate that we live in a country where a specific religion is not enforced and different cultures and religions are readily available for exploration.

This is not true for countries such as Saudi Arabia nor even Jordan. Until such a time as these societies are open, the persecution of non-Muslims and the growth of fundamental Islam will continue to conflict with the outside world.

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