Young people are not as naïve as some adults think

A new course on ‘Islamophobia’

There are clear parallels in the prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions of Islamophobia and sectarianism, says Mr Gray. But there are also important differences…“One thing I try to get across to young people is that terrorists are not truly Islamic,” he says. “The word ‘Islam’ means ‘peace’, and if you read the Qur’an it has a message of peace on almost every page. The idea of murder is utterly against its teachings. Any text is open to interpretation, but the fundamental truth of the Qur’an is submission to the will of God, who demands that Muslims are seen to be peaceful people.”

The word ‘Islam’ means ‘submission,’ and if you read the Qur’an it has different messages in different places.

This distinction between Muslims and Islamists is one that pupils on the course it is designed for (S1-2) are able to appreciate, he says. “In my experience, young people are sympathetic to Islam and are not as naïve as some adults think. They can listen to stories on the news, for instance, and say, ‘Hold on, I’ve studied Islam at school and I know that’s not true’.”

Or they can say, ‘Hold on, I’ve studied Islamophobia at school and I know what I was taught in that course’ – which could itself be thoroughly naïve. Mr Gray sounds somewhat naïve himself.

Besides imparting knowledge and developing understanding, a key aim of the course is to foster this kind of questioning among young people. “We have to challenge ideas and guide pupils to becoming independent learners and critical thinkers. That’s very important,” says Mr Gray.

Provided, of course, they question and challenge in the way Mr Gray has taught them to; provided they become independent learners and critical thinkers who reach the conclusions Mr Gray wants them to reach. It doesn’t sound very much as if he wants them to question Islam, or challenge the ‘fundamental truth of the Qur’an’ or become critical thinkers about Islam. It sounds as if Mr Gray wants them to learn that ‘terrorists are not truly Islamic’ and that Islam means peace and that ‘Islamophobia’ is a bad thing. It doesn’t sound as if he’ll be assigning them any books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali or my friend Ibn Warraq. Questioning is as questioning does.

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