In countries like the United Kingdom and across Europe, although a large number of Muslims follow the traditional Islamic way of life, there is concern around the number of Muslims becoming radicalised in their religion.
Lessons from overseas
How could this happen in advanced western countries and what lessons can be drawn to avoid this happening in New Zealand? It is becoming urgent that we address these questions as a nation so all New Zealanders are able to live in peace and harmony.
To be sure, the main cause for the rise in Muslim extremism overseas is the brainwashing and radicalisation of Muslims with inaccurate Islamic teachings and ideologies.
To avoid such a dangerous cataclysm, it is imperative that New Zealand engages and takes action with its communities and implements a carefully planned education system balanced in enriching Muslims’ view of their religion vis-à-vis social cohesion.
The Holy Quran, which is the main source of Islam, is a code of conduct.
Anyone who embraces the religion is taught how to live their daily lives.
A good Muslim will care for his fellow humans and the environment. It is well established that Islam is a religion of peace. When this basic concept is misunderstood or conveyed erroneously to young and vulnerable minds by mullahs or Islamic teachers fanatically blinded by the narrow outlook of their lives, the breeding of extremism and radicalisation can occur.
The face of New Zealand is changing fast.
We have moved from a colonial monoculture to accepting our bicultural status, then an increasing inflow of migrants and refugees has swiftly been transforming us into a multicultural nation.
Therefore, it is now even more important the diverse group of communities that have their home here are able to live in peace and harmony with a shared and ingrained Kiwi identity.
Band-Aid to genuine education
The current Islamic education system in New Zealand is best described as a Band-Aid to genuine religious education. No formal Islamic education is taught in schools. Rather, children are given Islamic education in Mosques and Islamic Centres at weekends and on weekday evenings by teachers who do not have proper training or experience in Islamic teaching.
Without a proper Islamic education system, parents who want their children to obtain higher Islamic education usually send them to overseas countries like Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, where the children are totally immersed in the system, but at a higher risk of radicalisation from the groups that target these countries of highly concentrated belief.
Conversely, children learning Islamic education at weekends and on weekday evenings are completely separated from their normal school environment and regular curriculum. This unnecessarily creates division among children and has the potential of developing identity crises.
The best result is achieved when a proper balance is struck in imparting Islamic education alongside Kiwi cultural values to Muslim children during a normal school period. For this to happen, a group or panel of Islamic educators should be brought under one roof to develop a proper and balanced Islamic curriculum with input from government and faith groups.
Islamic Curriculum essential
This Islamic Curriculum should be taught in intermediate and secondary schools.
New Zealand’s homegrown Muslim children should consider themselves Kiwis and should develop their faith alongside the Kiwi culture.
It is vital that the government takes the lead in ensuring that the development of a ‘wholesome’ Islamic syllabus. In order to create our own homegrown Kiwi Islamic scholars in the future, the education system should be revamped and allow Muslim students and others to offer Islamic studies at the NCEA level.
The Singaporean Example
We only need to look to Singapore as an example, where students develop a well-rounded education in the Islamic religion while being imbued with Singapore’s unique multi-religious and multicultural values. We should take lessons from successful democracies like Singapore and as Kiwis create our own unique, smart and innovative way of living in a multicultural society.
Tahir Nawaz is President of the International Muslim Association of New Zealand and an adjunct research fellow in the School of Education at Victoria University of Wellington.
-Reproduced from the Newsroom under a Special Arrangement