Amid the recent spate of ISIS attacks in Sinai, the Egyptian press published several articles that called to eliminate terror by expunging fundamentalist Islam, which forms the basis of the religious ideology espoused by the terrorist organizations. The articles called to essentially reform the Egyptian school curricula, which they said teach children, staring in kindergarten, values of exclusion, hatred and violence. Instead, they called to develop new curricula focusing on science, humanism, religious tolerance and critical thinking that match the modern age, rather than the Dark Ages.
The following are translated excerpts from two of these articles: one by liberal Egyptian journalist Khaled Montasser in the daily Al-Ahram, and another by Egyptian intellectual Ahmed Sa’ad Al-Zayed in the daily Al-Dustour.
Khaled Montasser: “The Function Of School Is Not To Usher [Children] Into Paradise But To Usher Them Into The Halls Of Knowledge”
Liberal journalist Khaled Montasser argued that Egyptian children are brainwashed from an early age with violent stories about war and conquest that can sow the seeds of an ISIS-like ideology. He called to transform religion into nourishment for the spirit that builds character and fosters knowledge and humanism without excluding the other.
He wrote: “Teaching a child about the exclusion [of others] in kindergarten means planting the seeds of ISIS deep in his mind and his spirit, because the extremist terrorist ideology begins with excluding the ideas [of the other], then excluding him with weapons and finally exterminating him. Religious exclusion is the worst and cruelest kind of exclusion, and has the greatest impact. [Ideas of] exclusion begin in kindergarten… and grow in elementary and middle school.
“The main goal of teaching, beyond imparting knowledge, is creating a collective conscience, because good citizenship begins in kindergarten. Egypt aims to raise children with a humane Egyptian conscience. The function of school is not to usher [children] into Paradise but to usher them into the halls of knowledge, good citizenship, creativity, liberty and free imagination. The key to Paradise is personal, whereas the key to good citizenship is collective… When a child is removed from the room during [religion] class because he belongs to a different religion, children ask why, and the child who was removed asks the same question. Then the teacher, out of religious arrogance, unfortunately begins to discuss religious and ideological differences, [although the children] are too young for this kind of discussion.
“Quite a while ago, we heard there was a plan to teach children the shared moral principles that form the basis of all religions [instead of religion classes specific to their faith], but so far this hasn’t happened. Sadly, there are teachers who still regard the loading of children’s [minds] with religion as [a form of] jihad. Filling children’s minds with religious polemics and with contempt for the other is one of the gates to hell and harms the homeland.
“When schools insist on segregating boys and girls [even] at the tender and innocent age of five or six… the girl asks: Do I pose a danger to the boy? And the boy asks, Do I pose such a danger to the girl? The same goes for requiring girls in elementary school to wear the veil, as is done in some schools… This plants the concept of seduction in children’s minds, instead of the values of love, tolerance, beauty and cooperation. Boys and smart and are bound to understand this practice as intended to protect [the girl] from them, and then the boy’s childish question expands, and he asks: Protect her from what?… Ultimately, the desire to educate and correct [leads us to] destroy and arouse the boy’s mind with ideas of seduction, which causes him to mature too quickly and to be preoccupied with ideas that are not age-appropriate.
“Then the Arabic curriculum for children comes along, and continues this exclusion and this deviation from the main goal of teaching, which is to form a collective conscience… Why are children taught stories… full of blood, murder, wars and conquests, and full of terms of exclusion, such as ‘infidels,’ ‘enemies of Allah,’ ‘jizya [poll tax],’ and ‘beheading,’ which the mind of a small child or a teenager cannot comprehend?
“Have all the great Egyptian scientists, artists and national emblems disappeared, that we must turn to stories that, with a little embellishment, become blatantly ISIS-like? Why not teach children the value of jihad [i.e., endeavor] in the sphere of scientific discovery? Why not take the opportunity to tell stories about cooperation and solidarity between Muslims and Christians who [disregarded] the sectarian differences between them? Why not tell them about the childhoods of [the great Egyptian novelist] Naguib Mahfouz, [the renowned Coptic Egyptian-British surgeon] Magdi Yacoub, [Isaac] Newton or [the great medieval Muslim philosopher and physician] Ibn Sina [Avicenna]? Why insist on blood-filled stories at such a [tender] age? Why insist on including religious Islamic texts in the Arabic-language curriculum and opening the door to religious arguments that do not belong in elementary school? We live in a country with a civil constitution that is inhabited by people of all faiths. So why insist on having religious schools, for children of one faith only, that teach religion alongside physics and chemistry?
“I am not excluding religion, for course, and do not mean to completely reject it, but I want it as spiritual nourishment, not as [a basis for religious] sparring in school. I want [religion] to elevate itself without excluding the other. Avoiding reverence for science and instead playing Islamic hymns at morning assembly is tantamount to religious persecution and a rejection of the music of public harmony because music is forbidden [in extremist Islam] and is regarded as educational and national treason…”
Ahmed Sa’ad Al-Zayed: Terror Will Only Be Eliminated By Fostering Critical Thinking, Eliminating Its Ideological Roots
Al-Zayed argued that only inter-Arab cooperation will make it possible to eliminate Islamic fundamentalism, which disgraces Islam, and called to create a new brand of Islam suitable for the modern era and its values. He wrote: “It is a mistake to think that our war on terror is based [only] on confronting the terrorist elements that have taken the criminal path of vicious religious zealotry. Every act of terror cements our conviction that the war on terror will not end easily, and will not end [just] thanks to the efforts or our brave military and police forces that are defending the homeland.
“Before we start to ponder how to eliminate the roots of terror, we must strengthen ourselves, our people and our army, with its brave men who are killed defending our Egypt, its assets and its people from the evil of this criminal and loathsome religious zealotry that practices takfir [i.e., accuses others of heresy], and which Egypt, the region and all of mankind have been suffering from for several decades. These brave soldiers and officers were martyred so that we and Egypt can live… The terrorists and their criminal brand of religiosity ascribe no importance to human life, except the lives of their own clansmen and tribesmen who share their criminal and satanic takfiri ideology that despises anyone who thinks differently. They harbor a hidden hatred for all of mankind, except for their own criminal gang…
“The roots [of terror] can only be eliminated by thoroughly drying up all the sources of the terrorist religious ideology and developing curricula that place an emphasis on critical and humane thinking… In fact, it is vital to deepen and spread critical thinking in all our educational, cultural and media institutions and to spread a humane culture that believes in unity among all of mankind, in a shared human fate and in the need for peaceful coexistence under the slogan ‘religion is for Allah and the homeland is for all.’ There is no choice but to create a new brand of religion, friendly to the [entire] human race, patriotic, and based on humane values that are suitable to the current age, not to the Dark Ages. “We must realize that confronting these takfiri ideologies is not the task of the security apparatuses alone… We must draft a large-scale humanistic plan… that will fulfill the global and regional role of dismantling and exposing the foundations and principles of the ideology that sells criminal religiosity and present religious and humane alternatives in collaboration with Muslim and non-Muslim countries.
“The Arab states have no choice but to cooperate in this [task], by exchanging knowledge on developing [methods for] combating the disaster created by the so-called fundamentalist Islamic movements, which espouse a violent racist ideology and have managed to penetrate the [very] structure of Arab society. Saudi Arabia’s experience in this context can be helpful, so we must cooperate with it and with other countries and formulate a comprehensive humanistic plan… Sadly, in the absence of such a plan, terror and the criminal religious ideology will continue to kill people, [destroy] private and public property, expunge the beautiful image of a God who loves humanity, destroy the image of the Arabs’ religion and transform it into a religion of violence, murder, hatred and racism. These criminal organizations are the greatest disgrace to the Islamic religion and its Prophet…
“Finally, may Allah have mercy on our brave [soldiers] who were martyred so that we could live and granted us a dignified life…”
 On these attacks see MEMRI JTTM Reports: Islamic State (ISIS) Sinai Continues Increased Attacks Against Egyptian Security Forces, Claims Two Operations In Northern Sinai Resulting In 15 Casualties, May 15, 2022; Islamic State (ISIS) Claims Killing 17 Soldiers In Attack On Egyptian Army Position East Of Suez Canal, May 9, 2022; Islamic State (ISIS) Sinai: Israel’s Assistance To Egyptian Forces Hinders Operatives’ Freedom Of Movement, May 2, 2022.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 11, 2022.
 Al-Dustour (Egypt), May 9, 2022.