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I am a socially and politically liberal commentator. I have also written many books and literally thousands of blog posts criticising Christianity. Nobody in my community bats an eyelid. I have done that because, as an atheist philosopher, I’ve been born and brought up within a Christian context. However, I have also been unabashed in my criticisms of Islam as well.

And yet I have been attacked by fellow liberals in the past for criticising Islam so robustly. I think this is quite unfair because they never have an issue when I attack Christianity, quite possibly because they see Christianity in a power dynamic within their own context and see Islam or Muslims as an oppressed minority in whatever Western context they are living. However, if you are living in Saudi Arabia, this power dynamic would be very different and I don’t think attacking ideas, per se, is particularly context-dependent in this manner.

My position has long been that Islam is not a religion of peace. Embedded within the Qur’an (but also very much so the Hadith), are concepts of violence and intolerance that are integral to the religion. My argument is that when you have liberal Muslims, they are further away from “True Islam” than more intolerant and fundamentalist Muslims. At the end of the day, fundamentalists are retaining the fundamentals of their worldview! Now I know that any claim to a “True Religion” is problematic given the usually varied provenance of the revelations, but Islam is slightly different in that, if you believe in the stories of Mohammed receiving his visions and revelations, there is less scope for interpretation in the way that there is with, say, Christianity.

I’m not going to set my case out here. You can read the following pieces.

What is the purpose of writing today? Well, I was contacted by my friend who is a Year 6 teacher, which means he teaches 11-year-olds. He contacted me because we have previously talked about this subject and he wanted to bend my ear in how to teach the following. Here is a screengrab from a scheme of work that is trying to plan, it being some national curriculum and county council guidance in the form of a medium-term planning unit:

The first thing to say is that this is a really high-level bit of thinking for 11-year-olds. Now, it is important to have high expectations for our children in terms of education, but I do think that adults would struggle to have the intended sort of meaningful conversation about this without some serious theological and philosophical background. I say this because my teacher friend is an exceptionally intelligent man with whom I have some very high-level philosophical conversations. He has been an occasional member of The Tippling Philosophers and he is struggling to work out how to approach this, how to teach this, what the core content really entails.

The problems here are that a) it is not a religion of peace, and b) is it really more important to Muslims than it is to Christians or other non-Muslims?

I think the questions here are really difficult and the only way the teacher can approach delivering this is to answer it very generally, very generically. In other words, answer this as if Muslims are just any other human. Which renders the whole thing rather pointless.

This very much looks like the thrust of the topic from those who create RE planning frameworks and the national curriculum is to show that Islam is a religion of peace. Which is to cherry-pick the theology from within the Qur’an that signposts this conclusion. Which is to say that there is peace if everyone submits to Allah, when everyone is a fully-fledged Muslim and there are no dissenters anywhere in the world. It is simply not a religion of peace when considering social cohesion in a pluralistic society. We have many other religions with billions of adherents, and many nonreligious people, in the world, and the ramifications for such people under Islamic and Qur’anic jurisprudence is thoroughly problematic for this appraoch.

As you will see from my previous pieces linked above, the further on into the life of Muhammad we go, the more violent and militaristic he becomes. The peaceful theology is chronologically trumped by the militaristic and violent theology, and the most coherent exegesis of this is that the theology follows the chronology. It is my opinion that this is the only way to coherently (?) harmonise the outright contradictions within the Qur’an and revelations of Muhammad.

So I would argue that to teach this the way you are being expected to is to cherry-pick the Qur’an and the Hadith in a way that liberals do to argue it is a religion of peace when it is quite clearly not. As a paid-up liberal who wants to find it to be a religion of peace, you have to do some mental gerrymandering, since, if you take a chronological theological interpretation, it gets progressively more violent and that is where you end up. That is part-and-parcel of what the religion is.

Which is dishonest but it gets you to a better place in the end as far as social cohesion goes.

This is the tension between teaching the truth and teaching a version that is consequentially more beneficial to wider society. In other words, I think I am advocating cherry-picking theology and delivering an inaccurate representation of what Islam properly “should” be.

Truth versus social cohesion.

This kind of goes against my principles, though, since I would prefer to see the truth taught: that all religions are historically false rather than “here is one of many religions that various people around the world believe in, and look how positive it is”. I get why they need to do this for children, and I get that we are better encouraging liberal Muslims over discouraging the truth of Islam as a whole. I get that.

But when moral consequentialism is pitted against truth, there is a very uncomfortable tension that I do not like.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...