Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel Smalley: Tolerance of others' beliefs comes through understanding

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Here's a question for you.

To what degree do you understand the key principles of the world's major religions?

Judaism. Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism?

And how did you develop that knowledge?

Through school? Your parents? The media? Your church, perhaps? Or maybe through your own research?

I'll put up my hand and say that when I entered my 20s, I was religiously ignorant. So ignorant.

I had almost no knowledge of religion, and it was only when I studied journalism that I began to develop a thirst for religious knowledge.

What was central to the Troubles in Ireland?

Why was the Middle East in such a mess?

Why do some Catholics not eat meat on a Friday?

And what on earth is Ramadan?

Early in the 2000s, I moved to Dublin and over the course of the next eight years, lived in Ireland and England.

And I really had to swot up on religion then.

Religion in Ireland was central to life, and later, working at Sky News in London, I realised that so much of what I was reporting on required a sound knowledge of religion - be it in the Middle East, the Russian-Chechen situation, the savage conflicts raging up the eastern coast of Africa, and central Asia too - Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Although 84 per cent of the world identifies with a faith or religion, in this secular country, we receive little or no religious education.

Some parents fear religious studies. I think they're concerned their children will become indoctrinated.

And I was one of those parents, but I'm not anymore.

I want my son to study religion as part of his school curriculum, so that he understands it.

I want him to develop a framework by which he understand other people's values, beliefs or traditions.

Because if he doesn't develop that knowledge, then how will he judge the validity of claims made by the likes of social influencers, politicians and the media?

And when we don't understand something, we fear it - right?

Take the incident in Huntly recently, and the woman who abused and assaulted a group of Muslim women. Why? They were wearing headscarves. A hijab. In essence, they were wearing a piece of fabric draped over their hair and that triggered a fear or a hatred in a New Zealand woman. Her actions were xenophobic - based, it seems, on a deep-rooted fear or hatred of Islam. Or ignorance?

How might that woman have reacted if she had some knowledge of religion?

I love that I live in a secular country, but to understand the world better we should introduce a study of the various religions into our secondary school curriculum.

It's an extraordinary statistic - 84 per cent of the world identifies with a faith or a religion.

So surely to understand the world, we need to understand what is central to the world's five major religions?

If Kiwi kids are taught the principles of various religions, then surely we'd produce more rounded, more open-minded, more tolerant Kiwi kids who'll grow up informed and with a greater understanding of what's influencing the world today.

After all, knowledge is power.

- Newstalk ZB

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Rachel Smalley is a radio host for Newstalk ZB. Listen to her between 5am and 6am every weekday morning.

Rachel’s career in journalism is extensive. She has reported from Europe, Africa, Asia and America, covering elections in Britain, the United States, France and New Zealand. She joined Newstalk ZB as host of KPMG Early Edition in 2013 and also works on TVNZ’s Sunday and Q&A current affairs programmes.

Read more by Rachel Smalley

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