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Muslim leader calls for secular education at state schools

'State schools should not teach religious doctrine, but provide students with basic knowledge about every religion' 

tim_diacono
Tim Diacono
28 March 2017, 3:32pm
Laiq Ahmed Atif has called for secular education at Maltese state schools
Laiq Ahmed Atif has called for secular education at Maltese state schools
Education at state schools should be secular and void of religious doctrine, the leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Malta has said.

Laiq Ahmed Atif told MaltaToday at a conference that religious education at state schools should be limited to providing students with a comparative study of different religions.

“States and religions are different entities and each should play their own role. State schools should provide secular education to all students irrespective of their faith,” he said. “Muslim students can go to imams and prayer schools to learn about their faith, and similarly for Christians and Jews. The state’s role shouldn’t be to indoctrinate students but to provide them with basic points about each religion.”

In light of the impending closure of the Mariam al-Batool Muslim school in Paola, Imam Mohammed El Sadi has said that Muslim students should be allowed to learn Islam at state schools.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna said that he would be open to allowing Muslim students to have separate classes in Islam while their peers have their normal Catholic religion classes, a suggestion that prompted an online petition calling for his removal.

Education minister Evarist Bartolo said that like all other subjects, Islamic studies would need to adhere to a programme approved by the ministry and which would lead to SEC certification.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who Ahmadis believe is a prophet. This has placed them in conflict with traditional Muslims, who believe that Mohammed was the last prophet.

During the conference at the University, which was held to address common misconceptions of jihad and terrorism, Atif admitted that there existed a degree of friction between the Ahmadiyya community and the Sunni Muslim community led by Imam El Sadi.

However, he extended a hand of friendship to the Imam and called for more dialogue to develop between the two communities.

“Dialogue with other Muslims is crucial and no Muslim should every deny this; dialogue is a starting point for us to demolish barriers and build bridges,” he said. “The Holy Quran states that Muslims should unite with Christians and Jews in their common belief of God. Muslims have so much in common with each other, so why don’t we unite on our commonalities?

The Ahmadiya Muslims were addressing a conference at the university
The Ahmadiya Muslims were addressing a conference at the university
“As a community, we always preach the importance of building bridges and we have never resisted dialogue towards the common good.” 

Similarly, Irish Imam Ibrahim Noonan – who was invited for the conference – said that Atif has often tried to open up dialogue with El-Sadi but that the latter has kept on resisting.

“We will keep on pushing for dialogue. We recently held a brief conversation with the Imam but it is clear that they are not open to it.”

The two Ahmadi leaders both argued that terrorism had nothing to do with the tenets of Islam, with Noonan going as far to say that people who carry out acts of terror in the name of Islam are not truly Muslims.

“If you understand the source of Muslim knowledge, then it is impossible to envision using it as an excuse for terrorism,” he said. “My own teacher had told that just as fire and water cannot live together, so is it impossible for a Muslim to be a terrorist. Some people say that not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim, but how can any terrorist be Muslim at all when the Quran teaches love, harmony and righteousness?’

Atif said that Islam upholds the principles of human dignity and freedom, and the Quran stipulates that Muslims should act benevolently to people of other faiths. Ignorance is the greatest enemy of humanity and is often exploited for terrorism. How can a young child who knows nothing of the religion believe that killing a human being will send him to paradise?”