MaltaToday Survey | Maltese split on teaching of Islam in state schools

Survey results also show a relative majority of respondents (48%) agreeing to making the teaching of ethics compulsory while 87% of the general population supports retaining the Roman Catholic religion as Malta’s official one

james
James Debono
16 April 2017, 7:30am
Last updated on 17 April 2017, 7:42am
The Maltese are split right down the middle on a proposal to teach Islam in state schools, but the majority disagrees with the teaching of Islam in Church schools, and would not vote for a Muslim or atheist candidate in a general election, steadfastly wanting to uphold Roman Catholicism as Malta’s official religion.

These views were shared by both churchgoers and non-churchgoers who responded to MaltaToday’s Easter survey, based on a sample of 450 respondents contacted by telephone last week.

Respondents were asked whether Muslim students attending state schools should be given the opportunity to attend classes on Islam during the same time allocated to the teaching of Catholic religion to other students. 

The proposal came to the fore following the announcement of the closure of the Mariam Al-Batool Islamic school and the probable influx of its students in state schools, and has been backed by both government and Archbishop Charles Scicluna. 

But the survey shows the Maltese split in half over this issue. The survey shows a higher level of support for the teaching of Islam in state schools among those with a higher level of education, those who have attended independent schools and those who do not attend Sunday mass.

But despite declarations by Archbishop Scicluna advocating the same treatment for Muslim students attending Church schools, 63% oppose the teaching of Islam in Church schools. In this case opposition to the teaching of Islam is strong even among those with a higher level of education and respondents who have attended Church schools or private schools.

Opposition among those who attended a Church school grows to a staggering 67%. 

The survey confirms a mistrust of the Islamic religion to the extent that only 20% said they would vote for a Muslim candidate in a general election compared to 30% who would vote for an atheist candidate. Significantly among respondents under the age of 34, while 65% would vote for an atheist candidate, only 38% would vote for a Muslim candidate.

Majority want compulsory ethics

The survey shows a relative majority of respondents (48%) agreeing to making the teaching of ethics compulsory. The subject, which helps students recognise right from wrong from a perspective based on universal values, is currently only offered to students whose parents exempt their children from learning religion.

Most of these (40%) still want children to learn religion as a separate subject. 32% agree with the present system through which ethics is only to be taught to students whose parents opt out of the teaching of Catholic religion. Only 8% would like ethics to replace the teaching of religion.

But when asked directly how religion should be taught to their children: 44% replied that they want their children to learn only about the Catholic religion, 32% would like their children to learn about different religions but mostly about Catholicism, while 6% would like their students to be only taught ethics. 

A further 4% would like their children to learn about different religions, and to be given equal treatment. This suggests that while the Maltese are disposed to see children learning ethics from a universal values perspective, they also want children to learn religion mainly from a Catholic perspective. Only a small minority want religion to be learnt from a more universal or ecumenical perspective.

87% want Catholicism enshrined in constitution

Despite indications on various fronts that Malta is becoming a more secular society, the survey also shows strong support for retaining Roman Catholicism as Malta’s official religion among all age groups and levels of education.

This suggests that in a time of change, Catholicism is becoming more a mark of identity than a way of life, which defies racial and ethnic stereotypes. It also suggests a tension between the more open Catholicism preached by Pope Francis and Archbishop Charles Scicluna and a resurgent traditionalism, which might accept more civil liberties but defends symbols of identity.

While 87% of the general population supports retaining the Roman Catholic religion as Malta’s official one, support is also strong among those who do not attend Sunday mass (82%) and is lowest among respondents under 34 (74%).

Only 30% of younger generation attend mass

The survey shows that 65% of under 34-year-olds do not attend Sunday mass compared to just 12% of respondents over 55. Respondents aged between 35 and 54 years of age are split between 52% who attend mass and 46% who don’t.

Respondents who do not attend mass are marginally more likely to agree to the teaching of Islam in state schools (49.5% against 41%) but are opposed to the teaching of Islam in Church schools (63%). 

Younger respondents are also more likely to agree with the teaching of Islam in state schools.

Agreement with the compulsory teaching of ethics but not to the exclusion of religion is also stronger among these who do not attend Sunday mass. But 82% of those who do not attend Sunday mass agree that the Catholic religion should remain Malta’s official religion.

A majority in this category would still not vote for a Muslim candidate (64%) or for an atheist candidate (52%). 

Moreover 32% of non-churchgoers still would like their children to exclusively learn the Christian religion compared to only 12% who would like their children to only learn about universal values through ethics.

60% of University educated favour Islam in state schools

While 60% of university-educated respondents favour the teaching of Islam in Church schools, support for the teaching of Islam in Church schools among this category falls to 28%.

This could reflect the greater likelihood of this category having attended a Catholic school. In fact among those who attended a Church school opposition to the teaching of Islam in Church schools rises to 67%.

‘Not in my school’

The survey shows that while 47% of respondents who attended a Church school agree with the teaching of Islam in state schools, only 32% agree with the same thing happening in a Church school.

But the greatest discrepancy is found among those who have attended a private non-Church school. Among this category, while 57% agree with the teaching of Islam in state schools, only 29% agree with the same thing happening in Church schools. 

This suggests that the middle class that frequents private independent schools  tolerates the teaching of Islam in state schools where their children are less likely to attend, but are not so keen for the same to happen in Church schools where their children are more likely to attend.

It may also suggest that respondents schooled in Church schools are more likely to defend the Catholic ethos, which has been traditionally defined through exclusion of other religions rather than their inclusion.

On the other hand, secondary-educated respondents who oppose the teaching of Islam in state schools are slightly more likely to accept the teaching of Islam in Church schools (33%). 

University-educated more liberal

While the university-educated are opposed to the teaching of Islam in Church schools, they are still the most secular in their approach to religious teaching.

60% of university-educated respondents agree with the compulsory teaching of ethics but only 10% of this category would like ethics to substitute religion entirely. 

Support for removing the constitutional reference to Roman Catholicism as Malta’s official religion is also highest among this category (24%). The university-educated are also most likely to vote for an atheist candidate. 

Younger respondents would vote for an atheist

65% of under 35-year-olds would vote for an atheist candidate compared to only 38% who would vote for a Muslim candidate. This suggests that this age group may be more secular in its outlook but still displays islamophobic traits. 

This contrasts to only 10% of over-55s who would vote for an atheist candidate and 9% who would vote for a Muslim candidate.

Opposition to the teaching of Islam in Church schools is highest among 35 to 54-year-olds who are most likely to have school age children of their own. Among this category 54% disagree with the teaching of Islam in state schools compared to 42% of over-55s.

In fact while an overwhelming majority of over-55s will not vote for a Muslim candidate, a majority in this category favour the teaching of Islam in state schools.

Methodology 

A total of 689 respondents were contacted. 450 accepted to participate. The results were weighed to reflect the age and sex balance in the latest census. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 4.6 points. 

 

james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...