Following are excerpts from a program about child beating in Koran schools, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV's children channel on September 29, 2007:
Mahmoud, member of the audience: In some schools, children are beaten if they don't memorize the text, or if they don't prepare their homework. This make the children reluctant to go to school, out of fear.
Interviewer: Is this a principle of Islam? Is education...
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri, child psychologist at the Qatar Ministry of Public Health: No, it isn't. But the teacher of the sheik must be strict with the student, especially when it comes to the memorization of the Koran. When we examine the history of Koran schools, we see that all scholars – especially the psychologists and educators – including Alchabitius, Avicenna, Al-Farabi, Ibn Khaldoun, Ibn Badis, and Sheik Al-Bashir Ibrahim... They all say that the teacher must be strict, but not cruel.
Interviewer: But "strict" does not necessarily mean beating.
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: That's right, I don't mean he should be cruel, but he may be strict with the student, and say: "Memorize it!"
Interviewer: But isn't it possible that the beatings might deter the student in such schools from continuing to memorize the Koran, since it leads to beatings and pain?
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: But there must be cooperation between the teacher and the student's family. We must be clear on this: There shouldn't be any beatings.
Interviewer: Fatima, have you ever been beaten to make you memorize the Koran – you or any of your classmates?
Fatima Abd Al-Hamid, a student at a Koran school: No, but sometimes the teacher punishes me. If I make a small mistake, for example, she says that I must concentrate on this. Sometimes, she tells us to concentrate on it again.
Interviewer: How are you punished?
Fatima Abd Al-Hamid: She tugs our ears or hits us with a ruler.
Interviewer: What about you, Luqman?
Luqman Abd Al-Hamid, a student at a Koran school: When I don't memorize the lesson, the teacher gets a little angry with me. One must be a little strict with children, because that's the only way children memorize the material.
Interviewer: Have you ever been punished like Fatima, or beaten, for not understanding something, or for being remiss in your memorizing – you or any of your classmates?
Luqman Abd Al-Hamid: Yes, once I was remiss, and the teacher got a little strict with me, but Allah be praised...
Interviewer: In what way was he strict?
Luqman Abd Al-Hamid: He hit me on the hand.
Interviewer: With a ruler?
Luqman Abd Al-Hamid: No, he hit me lightly with his hand.
Interviewer: Can you show us how he hit you?
Luqman Abd Al-Hamid: He has a strong hand, Allah be praised, and he hit me.
Interviewer: So he hit you on the hand with his hand.
Luqman Abd Al-Hamid: Yes.
Interviewer: What do you think, Dr. Al-Qweidri?
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: That's what I said about punishment. I am not talking about severe beatings, like when a student is beaten senseless. The punishment is meant to serve as an example. When Luqman or Fatima are beaten, it is meant to serve as an example to others, so that they devote themselves to their memorization, and keep things quiet and orderly. No punishment – no order.
: Have you ever been beaten?
Member of the audience: Yes, I have.
Member of the audience: With a rod.
Interviewer: With a rod?
Member of the audience: Yes.
Interviewer: On the hand?
Member of the audience: Yes.
Member of the audience: Doesn't beating run counter to the religion of Islam?
Interviewer: He is referring to the beating of children.
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: Do you mean beating as a punishment at school?
Member of the audience: In school and in Koran memorization schools.
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: This beating does not run counter to Islam. It is permitted for the sake of education. But by "beating," I mean light beatings, light punishment, so that the child or student will learn a lesson, and will serve as an example to others. If the student is left unpunished, there will be chaos.
Interviewer: We must draw a distinction, in order to avoid confusion, between justified punishment, which may be accepted by all [education] methods, and even by modern education within the family – and between beating. Beating constitutes violence...
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: I don't mean the traditional kind of beating, in which the child is suspended by the feet and beaten with a rod.
Member of the audience: In my opinion, beatings may sometimes have a psychological effect on the child or person memorizing the Koran.Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: No, he is punished, but not harshly, in a way that leaves marks on the body. Instead, he is punished...
Interviewer: But even without marks, how can Islam possibly justify beating a child? Isn't this considered humiliation? Besides, I do not know where we have taken these rulings from, since the Koran does not say that teaching should involve beating. How can we possibly permit beating, even if only on the hands? How can we permit such behavior, when we try to promote tolerant Islamic principles, which are completely divorced from what we witness today? This is a vicious circle, because we return to the heart of the problem. The teacher, who is supposed to fend off these principles, practices them on the student.
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: In Qatar, beating students in Koran schools has been prohibited.
Interviewer: But you realize that we are not talking only about Qatar. It was just an example. But don't you think this is widespread throughout the Arab world?
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: Yes, it is.
Interviewer: It is widespread in Koran schools everywhere.
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: These practices exist...
Interviewer: What should be done?
Dr. Arabi 'Atallah Al-Qweidri: Instructions should be issued to decision-makers in the ministry of religion or religious endowment to pass a law preventing beatings in schools and in Koran schools.