Some of my Muslim school buddies knew The Lord’s Prayer better than me.
And it only started bothering me later on in life that I didn’t know one single Arabic prayer.
Like everybody else, I grew up hearing the Adhan all around me.
I knew that it was a call to prayer for Muslims and I thought the singing was beautiful, but I didn’t understand what the man was saying.
I hated not knowing things, and I was curious about religions at a very young age.
I wondered why we weren’t learning it at school.
So I was very interested in last week’s court ruling that government schools are no longer allowed to promote one religion over another.
This means it is unconstitutional for kids in public schools to say the Our Father at assembly in the mornings.
In fact, public schools are not allowed to instruct any kind of religious observance or practices at school, but it must allow kids to practice their individual beliefs.
The court application was brought by a group calling itself the Organisation for Religious Education and Democracy or OGOD, who argued that in a diverse society with many religious beliefs, it is unconstitutional for government schools to force Christianity onto kids. Let’s overlook the irony of their name, OGOD.
I found the ruling especially interesting because I had recently been visiting primary schools as part of a project I was doing for my radio show.
One of the things I noticed was that the kids were no longer praying, but were instead doing a pluralistic ritual that was all about being good and kind.
At one school, what would have been a reading from the Bible a few years ago, was now a teacher reading an inspiring quote and talking about respect.
Of course this was beautiful. And of course I agree that schools shouldn’t be promoting just one religion.
But I can’t help but wonder if – in the name of political correctness – we aren’t missing something here.
I think this is an opportunity to reinforce, rather than remove.
Faith still plays a very big role in people’s lives and I’d like to think most parents would like their religious practices to be continued by their kids.
Most religions preach peace, understanding, tolerance, respect and kindness, among others.
Perhaps this is an opportunity for schools to dig a little deeper beneath the surface and show our kids how similar we all are.
It feels to me like we are instead hiding behind what makes us different.
I fear this will breed ignorance and fear and, ultimately, extremism.
I think what I’m saying is that perhaps school assemblies should have the kids sharing their religious practices with one another.
I would love to see a Hindu child sharing a teaching from the Bhagavad Gita at one assembly, a Muslim child sharing from the Quran the following week, a Jewish child talking from the Torah another week, and so on.
That kind of peer-to-peer teaching can be powerful and the foundation for greater tolerance and appreciation in adulthood.
Religion appeals to the greater good in us; and I can’t think of a better time for us to encourage that sort of thing.
We all agree that our communities are becoming moral wastelands.
On the Cape Flats, life is cheaper than ever, with trigger-happy 15-year-olds running around with automatic guns, young girls prostituting themselves, drugs driving young men to abusing their own mothers, babies being raped and murdered, and respect for elders has become an outydse practice to be laughed at.
But the old days taught religion at school.
Perhaps not Christianity, but definitely something that speaks of the divine that binds us all together.
Taking it away completely may just be the nail in the coffin for future generations.