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5 Benefits of Tolerance Teaching and Learning in Islamic Education Classrooms

Tolerance is an important value of the UAE’s national character. The historical trade trips to neighboring countries, traditions of tribal dispute resolutions, and the unity of the country are all testimonials to the spirit of tolerance that has resided in the hearts of the Emirati people for generations[1]. The founder of the country Sheikh Zayed stated that “Tolerance is a duty. If God the Greatest, the Almighty Creator, is forgiving, we human beings are all brothers. The righteous is our brother and the sinner is our brother. We don’t abandon the sinner, nor do we desert him, instead, we should rescue and support him until he is back on the right path.’’

Due to the turbulent atmosphere witnessed within the region, it has become critical to institutionalize tolerance through different societal organizations. Islamic education by its nature is a caller for peace, tolerance, and protection of dignity for humankind. Naved Bakali and I studied the case of tolerance in Islamic education classrooms in the UAE and have formulated five key points that illustrate the benefits of nurturing tolerance in the young generation through Islamic education. We have also included some of the ways it can be implemented to ensure these benefits are achieved.


1. Acquiring Compassion for Creation

A running thread throughout the study of Islamic education is that of compassion for creation. Compassion is an obligation towards the earth, plants, animals, and mankind. Compassion can be manifested in the way a person treats and cares for someone else. When this character is instilled in students through fundamental Quranic values such as acceptance, understanding, love for humanity, and respect for the other, as well as through the abundant examples in the life of Prophet Mohammed, his companions, and those who followed them, we observe the development of a caring attitude in students. Teachers and parents can foster compassionate character through modeling and storytelling. Additionally, participating in national and international campaigns and events that demonstrate compassion, such as those pertaining to the environment or to supporting the needy, are also potential ways for instilling an attitude of compassion. Tolerance is achieved by compassionate people who renounce animosity and hatred and hold love for everyone regardless of their ethnicity, religion, class, educational level, or any other consideration.


2. Engaging in Positive Citizenship 

Instilled values need to be translated into actions. The UAE Islamic education curriculum speaks to the students in a relevant way by including lessons that address the practical life considerations of economics, environmental awareness, health, and social life. This demonstrates to the students the applications of authentic Islamic teachings within their contemporary world and breaks the illusionary barrier between religious teachings and the students’ surroundings. Educators can help their students develop an engaged attitude by offering them volunteering and service opportunities and exposing them to ways in which they can participate in activities that match their interests and that resonate with the values that they learn about. Many students have neighbors who come from different religious, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds. By learning how tolerance leads to positive citizenship, students will be able to foster better relationships with different members of society. Tolerance thrives in societies of social cohesion where the citizens actively and positively participate.


3. Developing Reason and Critical Thinking

A primary focus of the UAE Islamic Education curriculum is the value of reason in Islamic teachings and tradition. The curriculum focuses on reinforcing the concepts of rationality in Islam. Lessons taught in Islamic education classrooms emphasize reflection, deductive thinking, critical thinking, and research methodologies. Equipped with these skills, students gain an intellectual capacity that enables them to discern the authentic from the fake, protecting them from misleading ideas. Educators can further develop this capacity in their students by engaging them in dialogues and case studies where they can develop methodological approaches to problem solving. The teaching of logic is also a powerful way to build up critical thinking skills. Tolerance thrives in environments of reason, mutual understanding, and dialogue.


4. Attaining Appreciation of Differences

The UAE Islamic Education curriculum emphasizes the role of difference in tradition as a driver for the enrichment and elevation of scholarly tradition. This is taught throughout the curriculum, but specifically in Grade 10. The students take a full lesson on the schools of jurisprudence, the ways they differ, and the rich traditions that have resulted from these differences. The curriculum teaches students that difference is not only legitimate but also an innate quality of humanity. Students learn how scholars of different schools of thought respect and learn from each other. Educators can connect such lessons to students’ daily lives by exposing them to role-play cases and scenarios in which they practice confronting each other with different views and learn how to tackle these in an appropriate manner, without relinquishing their own views and ideas. As a result, the Islamic Education curriculum fosters a stronger and healthier community in UAE schools and beyond. Educators can also connect this appreciation of differences with the anti-discrimination law that was enacted in the UAE in 2015.


5. Challenging Extremism and Extremist Ideology 

The UAE curriculum explicitly addresses the issue of extremism, its causes, and its effects. Through these discussions, the students develop an awareness of the rhetoric used to manipulate people towards extremism. Educators put students on the right track by familiarizing them with the tradition and its sources and by guiding them to the correct channels for acquiring authentic knowledge. This is knowledge that has been recognized by whom and how the knowledge has been transmitted, with the source and transmission of knowledge being validated. As a result, students develop the capacity to seek further religious knowledge through accredited sources rather than being prone to extreme or unauthentic voices on social media. Tolerance finds fertile land to grow when extremism is pushed to the peripheries.


The contemporary challenges of today’s world can take various forms, but a generation equipped with deeply rooted values of tolerance will stand firm in the face of extremist calls, whether they are religious, political, or economic in nature. When youth from varying backgrounds establish tolerant connections with one another, they form the kind of bonds that lead to a strong society and a flourishing country.


To learn more about tolerance in the UAE Islamic education curriculum, check out Mariam Alhashmi and Naved Bakali's open-access policy paper


[1] Gupte, P. (2009). Global Emirates: An Anthology of Tolerance and Enterprise. Dubai: Motivate Publishing.