School hand-book on Islamic history and culture hits the rocks

A project aimed at presenting the history and culture of Islam to Czech students in view of building a multicultural, tolerant society has hit the rocks. The Czech Education Ministry announced on Thursday it was withdrawing its support for the project after receiving numerous complaints from parents.

Illustrative photo: archive of Radio PragueIllustrative photo: archive of Radio Prague The project Muslims Thorough the Eyes of Czech Students took experts and students from the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University two years to prepare. It aims to acquaint students with the culture and religion of Islam, giving them greater insight into the way of life of the Muslim community. The project received support from the Czech Education Ministry and while it was voluntary, schools were expected to make wide use of it in promoting a greater understanding of foreign cultures. Now, the ministry has abruptly withdrawn that support and the fate of the project, which has just come to completion, remains uncertain. Education Minister Marcel Chládek gave the media a terse explanation:

“Given how this project was realized, and given the concerns voiced by parents, experts in the field recommended that we withdraw support for it.”

Marcel Chládek, photo: Filip JandourekMarcel Chládek, photo: Filip Jandourek As the authors of the project point out, parents have not had a chance to see the project and judge for themselves. Their concern presumably stems from the present international situation and warnings on the website of a group which has launched a public initiative “NO to Islam in the Czech Republic”. The group has just collected 25,000 signatures on a petition calling on the Czech authorities not to award enhanced rights to the country’s Muslim community. Such rights would entitle the community to establish Islamic schools, teach Islam at public schools, and provide religious services in the army and in prisons. Muslim marriages would also be officially recognized. The Czech Muslim community was officially registered in the Czech Republic ten years ago and now has the right to apply for enhanced rights. It has not done so to date and according to the authorities it has failed to fulfill all the necessary critieria, such as handing in annual reports on its activities. Despite this the group “NO to Islam in the Czech Republic" launched the petition which it handed over to Parliament deputies on Thursday.

Bronislav Ostřanský from the Oriental Studies Department of the Czech Academy of Sciences says stirring up public concern over what such enhanced rights would bring is unjustified since most of the changes would have primarily a symbolic significance for the Muslim community. He has also reviewed the Muslims Thorough the Eyes of Czech Students project and finds nothing wrong with it.

Bronislav Ostřanský, photo: Alžběta ŠvarcováBronislav Ostřanský, photo: Alžběta Švarcová “The information presented is based on facts. It is a didactic hand-book and it is absolutely in order.”

The handbook will now be available to any school that asks for it. The Jan Kepler grammar school in Prague has applied to make use of it saying that at a time of growing Islamophobia it is an ideal educational tool. Other institutions may follow the lead of the Education Ministry and give it the cold shoulder.

However with thousands of Muslims now settled in the Czech Republic in cities like Prague, Teplice, Brno, Hradec Kralove, Liberec and Karlovy Vary, Czech schools will have to consider the need to address multicultural issues in one way or another.

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