Swaziland, a small country in Southern Africa has a constitution that guarantees freedom of belief yet the government pulled a shocker as recently as this week. Schools in the country are going to be teaching Christianity alone in a move widely considered to be an indirect attack on the Islam religion. With Christians making up close to 90% of the citizenry, the government may feel there is no need for inclusivity but in the face of growing intolerance for the Islamic religion, Swaziland’s move endorses the Islamophobic international politics ruling the day.
Swazi schools opened for the new academic year on the 24th of January with government ordering them to teach only Christianity. Critics have however chided the government for launching an attack on the Islamic religion in the country.
Paul Muir, a top official in the ministry of education said, “Other religions will not be offered at primary and high school level,” adding, “At tertiary level they will be able to make a decision to learn about other religions.”
This leaves up to 10% (The U.S. State Department says the correct figure is closer to 2%) of the Swazi population who are practicing Muslims out in the cold. It is not clear whether that was the direct intention of the order but clearly it has been a consequence of it and it was obviously conceivable. The order is an extension of the international sentiment towards the Islamic religion which has been popularized by American President Donald Trump.
An Islamophobic World Order
President Trump once declared to CNN that Islam “hates us” (America). When pressed for clarity on whether there was a difference between extremists and ordinary believers, he said, “..it’s very hard thing to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.” In essence, he refused to draw a line of distinction between the ordinary Muslims and extremists. Trump also called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until such a point when the U.S.A. could “figure out what is going on”. In fact, Trump is preparing to ban entry to the U.S. from countries that include Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen which are predominantly Islamic states. There is likely to be an exception for refugees who are part of religious minorities in their countries, leaving room for Christians to go to the United States. It then becomes apparent that this is another Islamophobic policy. In Europe, former United Kingdom leader, Tony Blair expressed a rising sentiment in the continent when he said millions of Muslims held a view point “fundamentally incompatible with the modern world”. With comments coming from the French leader that Muslims need to be saved from their own religion, it seems Europe is now decidedly leaning towards an anti-Islam philosophy.
However, it should be pointed out that the Western conceptualization of Islam is unfortunate and Africa should not follow the Western lead. As it stands, the religion is being equated to terrorism and that is a dangerous over-generalization. It is this rather unsophisticated sentiment that Swaziland is playing into. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, Swaziland is becoming the latest member of the Islamophobic group of nations.
The U.S. Department of State reported in 2012 that, “There were reports of societal discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice, including a general mistrust of non-Christian religious groups, especially in rural areas.”
This means the political leaders in the country are now only echoing the general feeling of their people. There is much change that is required here. People need to appreciate diversity more. If religion breeds veiled hatred and intolerance, it defeats the reason for its own existence: love.