One of the most interesting people we had the privilege of meeting with while filming in Egypt was the Bishop of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Egypt, Rev. Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis. The Bishop, who has helped facilitate talks between high level Muslim and Christian leaders in the Middle East, met us in his office next to the beautiful, lotus-shaped All-Saints Cathedral in Cairo.
Despite being in the midst of travel and having only slept around two hours, the Bishop was impressively articulate (in English no less) as he discussed the current and future status of Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. I’ll leave most of his comments for the film, but I wanted to share his insight on creating a future of mutual respect.
More than just dialogue initiatives and liberal parenting strategies, the Bishop maintained that the philosophy of education in Egypt needs to undergo serious reform. Specifically, the Bishop suggested that schools should adopt a curriculum that focuses on teaching students to think critically, not just to memorize facts. If students are raised in a educational culture which consists almost entirely of accepting and repeating the “facts” handed down to them by their superiors, they will consider it their social duty to press “right facts” on others as a means of fixing problems. On the other hand, if a student learns to think critically and creatively, to consider varying facts and form independent conclusions, they will be better able to consider and respond to the ideas of others in their society with humility and respect.
Students who are awarded for memorizing facts rarely challenge those facts and oppose anyone who does. Students who learn to think develop an appreciation for the limits of human reason, the immense complexity of reality, and the value (rather than threat) of discussing different perspectives on a given subject. These students have the capacity to understand and interact with their peers as fellow truth-seekers, even if they do not agree on specific concepts.