Intro to letter re ISEB Revision Guide
I came across a Study Guide for primary school pupils recently. I went to the section on Islam and found it so deficient I sent the letter below to the teacher who showed me the Guide. The teacher will pass on my letter to the author of the Study Guide, Mr Michael Wilcockson. The age group for this Guide is 12-13 years. The Independent Schools Examinations Board is the group in the UK which prepares pupils for entrance exams to fee-paying (i.e. private) secondary schools. Mr Wilcockson is Head of Divinity at Eton College, which is one of the leading independent senior schools in the UK.
The attachments to my letter consist of the section on Islam in the Guide and my compilation of the quotes from the Qur'an and Hadith I mention in my letter. I did not feel that I could respond to every deficiency in the section on Islam so if you wish to critique a part of the Guide that I did not deal with, feel free to do so here. At some point maybe the ISEB will come here for guidance on their next edition!
I say in my letter I believe that pupils should learn about all religions, including Islam but the task of educating children is not immune from influence of politics and expediency.
14 November 2009
Dear [teacher’s name],
Thank you for showing me the Religious Studies ISEB (Independent Schools Examinations Board) Revision Guide by Michael Wilcockson, first published April 2008.
As you know I am particularly interested in the section on Islam.
I understand that this material is to prepare 13 year olds for entrance examinations. Given this limitation I was still quite surprised at the errors and omissions contained therein.
I think it is not fair to be critical of omissions unless they are very serious ones so I will only comment on a few of those omissions and concentrate on what I consider to be errors of fact. For ease of reading I will only give the references to the Qur'an in the letter and quote in full those references in the appendix.
Also please note that I consider this Revision Guide to contain many more errors than I will comment on in this letter. More comment available on request!
Section 6.1 God (p 128)
One sentence reads: ‘God has 99 beautiful names.’
The Quran openly states that Allah is the 'best deceiver'. (Qur'an 3:54; 8:30)
Allah deceived Mohammed as stated in Qur'an 8:43-44
Allah also deceived Christians as stated in Qur'an 4:157-158 by making them believe that Jesus died on the cross.
Therefore this name/attribute of Allah is not so ‘beautiful,’ in my opinion.
Another sentence in this section reads: ‘God will judge all people according to their deeds on earth.’
My comment: This sentiment is not only untrue but actually contradicts the sentence found later on in section 6.5 (p 133) which states: ‘Unbelievers or the disobedient will be sent to Hell to a life of torment.’
I see a contradiction here. How can deeds be a factor in the judgement of Allah when this chapter also says that Allah will send the Unbelievers to Hell regardless of what they have done? It cannot be both ways. Either good deeds will merit a person a reward in paradise or only belief will. The second sentence says that no matter how many good deeds a person does he/she will be sent to Hell if you are an unbeliever. The reverse seems to be perversely true. Allah will forgive all your sins if you only believe in the true faith and die a martyr, Qur'an 4:95-96.
But the larger error of the first statement is contradicted by multiple verses in the Qur'an and hadith which clearly say who is in hell based on belief not deeds or at least not only deeds. True, there are provisions for ‘bad’ people to go to hell but in Islam ‘badness’ includes non-belief in Islam.
Qur'an 5:72; 5:73; 98.6; 9.73; 3.12; 48.6; 4.56; 33.64; 72.23
And Mohammed affirms that the majority of inhabitants of Hell are women (Bukhari 1:6:301).
Section 6.3 (p. 130)
Under the section on ‘The spread of Islam’ you imply very strongly that Islam ‘spread’ without violence. The only slight nod to warfare was your admission that Mohammed ‘marched on Mecca.’ The sentence: ‘The Muslim empire spread to Africa, India and even reached China’ begs the question: why did it not ‘spread’ throughout Europe? It ‘spread’ all the way to China which is much further away and over many mountains and through many deserts but failed, for some reason, to ‘spread’ to Europe.
Your sentence: ‘Many people were impressed by life at Medina and converted to Islam’ leaves out, of course, the three Jewish tribes who did not convert to Islam. Two were expelled by Mohammed and a third met the fate of the mass execution of all the adult male population by beheading. While a devout Muslim may say there were very good reasons for these events I think that to leave them out and to imply a rosy picture of life in Medina is a serious omission.
In the section on Mohammed (6.2 p. 128) the guide states that Mohammed is the guide to ‘how to live the perfect Muslim life.’
But in this section on Marriage nothing at all is mentioned of Mohammed. This is very curious. There is no mentioned that he had more than four wives and at one time. Also omitted is his ‘marriage’ (I use the quotes because I do not consider this a marriage in the normal sense of the word) to six-year old Aisha and the consummation of that ‘marriage’ when she was only nine years old (Bukhari (005.058.236)). This example of the ‘perfect Muslim life’ is not just a matter of history but is still an ‘example’ for so-called ‘marriages’ today.
I commend the Guide though for this one sentence: ‘Love is not a primary reason for marriage.’ I would hope though that the pupil would seek answers to the obvious questions that would arise from that most vile, but true, statement.
6.2 Mohammed (p.128)
But the major error I see in this Guide is in this section
This sentence stands out:
‘His [Mohammed’s] new laws taught that under God’s rule all people were to be treated as equals.’
It is hard to know how to begin to respond to this sentence. Inequality is in the very fabric of Islam. We know this from Allah’s words and the example of Mohammed.
Muslim men are considered superior to their wife/wives and are allowed to beat them. (Qur'an 4:34)
Muslims are to rule over and dominate non-Muslims (Qur'an 9:29)
Non-Muslims, in a Muslim state are in effect non-citizens. They are required to pay a special/additional tax to be allowed to live in a Muslim state (Qur'an 9:29) Bukhari (039.039.531))
Muslims are not to be friends with non-Muslims or take them as allies or protectors (Qur'an 3:28 and 4:144).
The dominant religion in a Muslim state must be Islam (Qur'an 2:193) (Bukhari (001.002.024)).
Muslims who leave Islam are considered apostates and are to be killed (Bukhari (009.084.057))
Jews particularly have been cursed by Allah (Qur'an 5:60)
Muslims are encouraged to have an attitude or mindset of hatred towards non-Muslims (Qur'an 60:4)
Non-Muslims are considered like ‘cattle’ (Qur'an 7:179)
Slavery is permitted in Islam (Qur'an 016.071)
Non-Muslims (e.g. polytheists, pagans, idolaters, disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, and in the Message of Muhammad) are considered to be unclean/impure (Qur'an 9:28)
Islamic law, the Sharia, does not consent to and therefore does not recognize a marriage of a Muslim woman with a non-Muslim man.
My comment on the details of the Guide end here, but let me offer, by way of a contrast, what is taught in Saudi Arabia's public schools. The information below is part of an article from the Washington Post, hence the American use of the word ‘grade’ rather than ‘year’, but it is equivalent to 12-13 year olds which the ISEB Guide is for.
"As cited in Ibn Abbas: The apes are Jews, the people of the Sabbath; while the swine are the Christians, the infidels of the communion of Jesus."
"God told His Prophet, Muhammad, about the Jews, who learned from parts of God's book [the Torah and the Gospels] that God alone is worthy of worship. Despite this, they espouse falsehood through idol-worship, soothsaying, and sorcery. In doing so, they obey the devil. They prefer the people of falsehood to the people of the truth out of envy and hostility. This earns them condemnation and is a warning to us not to do as they did."
"They are the Jews, whom God has cursed and with whom He is so angry that He will never again be satisfied [with them]."
"Some of the people of the Sabbath were punished by being turned into apes and swine. Some of them were made to worship the devil, and not God, through consecration, sacrifice, prayer, appeals for help, and other types of worship. Some of the Jews worship the devil. Likewise, some members of this nation worship the devil, and not God."
"Activity: The student writes a composition on the danger of imitating the infidels."
"The clash between this [Muslim] community (umma) and the Jews and Christians has endured, and it will continue as long as God wills."
"It is part of God's wisdom that the struggle between the Muslim and the Jews should continue until the hour [of judgment]."
"Muslims will triumph because they are right. He who is right is always victorious, even if most people are against him."
I hope you found my comments and information helpful in understanding Islam. I trust that they will motivate you and other teachers to use other resources if this Guide is not changed considerably. I believe children need to learn about Islam but this Guide is so deficient it amounts to propaganda rather than pedagogy.
P.S. Please see the appendix for the full quotes of the Qur'an and Hadith referred to above.