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‘Radical clerics aggravate sectarian, religious rows’ ‘Teach tolerance in schools’

‘Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been quietly reining in their clerics on concerns that preachers could use their influence to stir up trouble and inflame sectarian divisions at a time of high tension over the crises in Syria and Egypt” (Arab Times, Nov 25 2013).

Reining in extremist clerics is a good step otherwise some conservative societies in the Middle East will continue to fall victims to sectarianism and violence. However, in order for governments to succeed in curbing extremism in society, an Education of Tolerance must be sustained. The kind of tolerance which needs to be advocated is not just sectarian tolerance, but a tolerance of difference, and a tolerance of other religious faiths. Unless, ME governments launch clear and effective educational and social strategies to check and limit fundamentalism through education, extremism will continue to afflict the region causing persistent suffering and anguish.

Extremist elements in a typical Middle Eastern conservative society tend to be religious fundamentalists who continue to hold a monopoly over religious discourse in society. Exploiting the apparent lack of a well-established tolerant religious education, extremists continue to manipulate the religious feelings of some ordinary people. Many Muslim individuals find it hard for example to question some of the extreme religious views they have been exposed to for decades. Fearing exclusion and sometimes fearing religious ostracism, many contemporary tolerant Arab Muslims fear intolerant lash backs against their call for religious and sectarian harmony in their societies. Nevertheless, in order to establish Tolerance and sectarian harmony, Middle Eastern governments need to act quickly to debunk some extremist views: many extremists believe that their current aggressive sectarian and religious slogans prepare the battle field for sectarian and religious wars! Indeed, some fanatic individuals aspire toward an open war with their imagined enemies; Muslims who belong to other sects and non-Muslims.

Education of Tolerance can provide an antidote against zealotry and extremism. In order to expose the deceitful nature of fanatical devotion to violence in the name of religion, ME governments should encourage a culture of tolerance among young people.  In fact, it is more effective to fight fundamentalist religious views in the classroom, instead of designating all energies and efforts to fighting it outside the school. For instance, extremist clerics especially those who continue to condemn and vilify in their sermons other Islamic sects and other religions tend to attract followers among some young people. Being rather impressionistic, sometimes naÔve, some of these young people get so much excited about their faith. They start to believe that their only responsibility in life is to defend their faith against imaginary enemies! It is ironic of course, that many young people who get involved in jihadist activities are the sons of ordinary people, extremist clerics do not send their sons to be Jihadists!

By Khaled Aljenfawi
Special to the Arab Times

By: Khaled Aljenfawi

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