The formation of Madrasahs can probably be traced to the early Islamic custom of meeting in mosques to discuss religious issues. At this early stage, people seeking religious knowledge tended to gather around certain more knowledgable Muslims; these informal teachers later became known as the shaykhs; and these shaykhs began to hold regular religious education sessions and while Madrasahs are not by founding or tradition breeding grounds for terrorism and extremism- many of them have become exactly that.
Due to administrative mishandling, radical political indoctrination of students and adoption of a more conservative view of the simple teachings of Islam, especially in certain Muslim countries such as Pakistan, madrasahs nowadays are frequently deemed as ideological and political training grounds for hatred against the West.
The west has been horrified by these Madrasahs – especially the conservative Christian fundamentalists in the United States. But after watching “Jesus Camp” and exploring the “Kids In Ministry” web site- Becky Fischer and her ministry have created a Christian Madrasah in the worst interpretation of that word. They openly indoctrinate children through fear, emotional manipulation, quashing an open mind and free thinking, and create, to borrow a phrase from Christiane Amanpour, “God’s Christian Warriors”.
A few scenes were absolutely horrifying to me but what struck me the most was the indoctrination of children about abortion. These are children of an age who probably have not been given any education on sex or, given the thinking of their families, never will have adequate sex education. Yet these children were told horrific things about the killing of innocent babies in the wombs of mothers. They were shown plastic figurines that theoretically showed a fetus at various points of development and what was striking was that the fetus did not look any different at age 7 weeks than it did a later stages of development- it was just smaller. A fetus at 7 weeks is about 5-6 mm is length and while there are distinct features to it that may look like a human baby – it hasn’t fully formed those features – and to show it only getting bigger rather than maturing and developing is wildly misleading. Especially for impressionable children who are being horrified and told that they might have a lot of other friends if they hadn’t been murdered in the womb.
Let me be clear- I am not pro-abortion but I am pro-choice. I know women who have had abortions and in all cases it was a painful decision- but one that they felt was necessary for them. The rhetoric about using abortions as a regular form of birth control for women is wildly misleading. If young women, especially from low income backgrounds, had accurate sex education as well as information and access to contraception there would be fewer abortions among women who feel that they are not in a position to bring a child into the world. Interestingly enough the same people who would eliminate a woman’s right to choose are the same people who want to make access to contraception for young women impossible and sexual education banned.
But I digress from my point here. How can you talk to children about abortion and not about sex? The answer is that you cannot and that unless Ms. Fischer was conducting a sex ed class before her rants about abortion to her campers, she was doing nothing but brainwashing young minds. Ironically enough- the young girls in this camp- who probably will never get adequate sex education or information and access to contraceptives are the same young women who will probably be the prime candidates for unwanted pregnancies and potential abortions in the future. And of course with the guilt and horror instilled in these young women they will need to be rushed to a therapist too.
The language of war and the political indoctrination of these children was shocking. A phrase oft repeated in the movie “reclaiming the country for Jesus” keeps haunting me. I did not know that Jesus ever “claimed” this country. While the founders may have been men with a deep faith in God they created a country that clearly defined the church and the state and tried to enshrine that among these two never the twain shall meet. To teach children that this country is a Christian nation is to defile the constitution and the tenants of the nation’s founding.
Let’s not forget the scene in the film where the children welcome President Bush and pray over him. Okay – it’s a cardboard cut out, but it sure seems like political indoctrination to me. Maybe a little idol worship thrown in for good measure.
And then there is “speaking in tongues”. For a brief moment in time as a teenager I visited some charismatic ministries and they explained to me that speaking in tongues was letting the Holy Spirit speak through you. OK- I’ll play. But what if I don’t feel God moving my mouth, tongue and vocal chords to make those noises of that Holy language which often eerily sound Semitic? I was informed that it was just fine to start “in the flesh” and the spirit would take over. In other words- start making nonsensical noises sounding like you are reciting Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and then God will do the rest. That sounded absurd to me as a teenager and sounded absurd again when I heard a similar instruction given to the children in “Jesus Camp”.
The next time any fundamentalist Christian criticizes the indoctrination of Islamic boys in Madrasahs in Pakistan and elsewhere- let them look in their own back yard or even better yet at the “Kids in Ministry” website.