Religious intolerance must come to an end

Leroy Dzenga Correspondent
In compiling leading topics that have characterised public debate in Zimbabwe in 2017, ignoring the new primary and secondary education curriculum would be dishonest.

The policy’s implementation has inspired conversations in varying spaces – from pubs, churches, public transport and any other place – where Zimbabweans were able to meet and engage.

Of all concerns raised, one flew higher than the rest. There were claims that through the new curriculum, “Lazarus Dokora, a bearded Muslim, wants to smuggle his religion into the national education system.”

Names were called and the resultant anger was clearly visible. The former Primary and Secondary Education Minister, Dokora, carried the cross for trying to liberalise religious education from a linear Christian monopoly, opening up spaces for other religions to be taught to learners.

In doing so, he sparked the ire of a significant number of Zimbabweans, who believe that it is Christianity or nothing when it comes to belief. It is difficult to blame people for a seemingly allergic stance to anything that is not within their naturalised religion without historical context. Years of colonisation always leave the host country spiritually violated and quite often paranoid.

People will condemn each other, trying to defend a belief system that was brought by colonisers, but not say a word in defence of their indigenous systems.

While everyone has a right to follow their conscience and pledge allegiance to ideas they find fit, some end up believing they have bigger rights of worship than others.

Freedom of thought, expression and religion should be a visible beacon in a country known for its educational endowment, but it seems some in Zimbabwe are not ready for alternative perspectives.

Is there anything wrong with Islam as a belief to the extent that people would reject ideas meant to improve the education system based on rumours of its introduction?

Several attempts to set the record straight by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education did not do much to change the perspective of a people who had already made conclusions.

Instead of appreciating that learners would have a chance to grow exposed to different religious and make informed decisions, people insisted on the colonial way of confining people to singular religious ideas.

Religious intolerance is an elephant in the room threatening to stomp the Zimbabwean society. There is need to address it properly; the Islam confusion in local education can be an apt reference point. Wasn’t our past education system complicit in nurturing protracted ignorance about other religions?

In primary school, Religious and Moral Education – a lot of coverage was given to Christianity, while other religions like Hindi, Islam and the African Traditional Religion were given peripheral treatment.

The system has moulded adults who are uninformed on the fundamentals of religions they do not subscribe to, as a result they do not want their children to be introduced to new ideas.

Some have argued that religious calibration should not be a central process, every family can teach their child ideas they believe are best for them.

Following this trajectory would do away with other religious groups feeling under-represented, the opportunity cost is the moral fabric which may get tested.

The Constitution defines Zimbabwe as a secular republic, this means that there is freedom of worship and trying to teach a few because of their popularity is a disservice to the numerically under-represented.

There is a concept in democracy known as the tyranny of the majority. This is when the people who make up most of a certain demographic have more audible voices in society. Agitations by Christian groups over the new curriculum have shown that they are not willing to share space with other religions, an element of the tyranny in numbers.

When the debate was raging, some churches had rebuttals thinly veiled as sermons, urging members to “pray for our children”, turning a blind eye to the chance afforded to choose a religion.

In one extreme social media video clip, there was a supposed demon that confessed to be Dokora. If that was not mischief or borderline madness, it was both.

If Christianity is good, then it should be allowed to compete with other ideas of faith and transcend through its doctrine not interpellation. The country is gliding into a new dispensation and as in other spheres, there should be dialogue around religious tolerance. Ideas are not mutually exclusive and there is enough space for everyone to believe in their own religion.

There is already a long list of polarising factors in the world, Zimbabwe could benefit from striking religion off the list. Just like racism, religious exclusion leaves minority groups exposed to prejudice, which may result in limited opportunities for them.

For inclusive development and growth, there has to be a culture of respect despite one’s religious standing. The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education’s plan to ensure that all religions are given an equal platform, creating foundations for improved social relations and co-existence has been met with resistance.

At face value it can be seen as the normal resistance to change, but there is need to scrutinise the sentiments to ascertain if society is not fighting as a result of religious intolerance.

 

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