Education: Keeping the Faith!
Wednesday, October 21st, 2015
This summer, the nation’s 700,000 strong GCSE students celebrated another year of laudable results, with more youngsters passing than ever. Pupils from the vibrant and growing Muslim school population achieved fantastic results. But can Muslim schools bridge the gap between faith, education and the wider society?
This August, thousands of pupils across the British Isles welcomed yet another year of successes in their GCSE courses, with English teachers everywhere lauding the four percentage rise in English C grade passes compared to last year.
Nicky Morgan has praised recent government reforms, stating “a generation of young people from all backgrounds are now securing the GCSEs that help give them the widest range of options later in life.” Morgan seemed less optimistic on the prospects of children in some faith schools earlier in the year when she announced the Christian Durham Free School would be closing due to its inability to challenge bigoted views.
But faith schools have always excelled in GCSE results and preparing their students for the future, even our Muslim faith schools, which are inspired by the Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) words to seek knowledge, “even unto China” and that seeking knowledge is “an obligation on every Muslim.”
So after a bruising year for Muslim schools, with the Trojan Horse scandal, attacks in France on Jewish schools, the government’s de-radicalisation programme and now David Cameron’s threat to close down any school that espouses intolerance, can Muslim schools hope to build upon their successes?
Muslims are ever aware of the inherent bias in these types of loaded questions. Why should we assume that only Muslim schools may be affected by extremism? Why do people assume that any Islamic educational initiative is likely to be tainted with intolerance and bigotry? How can we accept unfair juxtapositions of Islam and extremism?
Muslim educators and schools do encounter an uphill struggle to banish the spectres of zealotry and anti-western worldviews that haunt their corridors and classrooms. Especially as much of the time these phantoms have been conjured up by the nefarious arts of the right-wing press and Islamophobes. But it’s true, in some cases, Muslim educators, influenced by anti-western and exclusivist theologies, have been guilty of failing to prepare their charges for a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and pluralistic culture. I have seen this for myself when speaking to pious Muslims who want their children to be saved from the “impure” culture and excesses of western society. Your average UKIP reply is to state, if you don’t like us then pack your bags for Saudi Arabia!
I really believe that Muslims schools, in their various guises have succeeded and will continue to succeed, as long as they embrace and interact with the world around them, in any way that they can. If they do not, they threaten to exacerbate the growing intolerance that Muslims are suffering at this time.
The Muslim schools that I have interacted with have been bursting with energy and the strong desire to help children to succeed in their studies but to also provide a firm foundation for their faith. And they do well in this. In one of the schools I worked with, I know of girls who graduated with excellent GCSE results but also a fluency in Quranic Arabic and the basics of Islamic jurisprudence. These girls went on to university or to further their Islamic studies. Muslim schools nurture proud Muslims who do attain pleasing results in many cases.
Muslims schools produce inspiring achievements in their students, with poorer resources, inexperienced staff and sometimes lacking facilities. I visited a school in South London, in which the playground was a converted cinema screen hall. The boys still had great fun kicking a sponge football around!
Graduates from Muslim schools are now becoming our future imams, religious leaders, female scholars and researchers.
But these schools will only have a future in this country and in this culture if they do more to open their doors and enter into a dialogue with the wider society. Those schools that desire to create an Islamic utopia, free of idolatry, innovations, impure thoughts and free-mixing may struggle to gain a foothold. The shadow of intolerance is creeping up our walls. Society’s patience is wearing thin. Those schools that seek to engage meaningfully, like the companions of the Prophet (peace be upon them) when they moved to Abyssinia and similarly the Muslim traders and travellers who took their faith with them to the corners of the world and actively met and worked with those foreign peoples and their strange gods. Those institutions and educators that seek to bridge the gap will succeed and have already succeeded.
And my hope is that Muslim schools and educators will turn their backs to the slanderous accusations of the right wing press and also their own biases, and move forward towards a brighter and illuminated future in the British Isles.
Keep the faith!