23 February 2007
British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD) is deeply concerned about the recent information and guidance document published by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) titled "Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools". We believe the guides would have a detrimental effect on Muslim children and on the practice of progressive education. The MCB document in effect institutionalises the exclusion of Muslim pupils and their parents from various school activities and alienates them further from the rest of the pupils. BMSD further believes that the recommendations in the guidance document, which seems to have the tacit approval of the government’s Advisor to London Schools, Professor Tim Brighouse, would put unnecessary burdens on many state schools. Furthermore schools, which may view the recommendations as impractical and divisive, may be forced into acceptance and implementation by undue pressure being put on them on them by hard-line organisations such as the MCB. Muslim parents and pupils who are otherwise liberal minded and flexible in their approach towards practising their religion would also come under social and peer pressure to conform to the general notion that all Muslims (parents and pupils) wish to see these recommendations implemented within the schools.
BMSD is wholly opposed to the following recommendations:
- Major changes to school uniform policies to accommodate the perceived and widely disputed Islamic requirements of clothing such as Hijab and Jilbab.
- Prayers rooms according to strictest of specifications and allowing children leave school premises for extended periods of time to perform Friday prayers.
- Alteration to sports activities affecting all school pupils such as mixed-gender contact sports and exemption of Muslim pupils from dance, drama and other expressive arts with provision of alternative activities.
- Changes to the contents of Religious Education (RE) sessions to cover Islamic teachings as opposed to other faiths, emphasis on statutory right of withdrawal of Muslim pupils from RE sessions as a result of non-compliance by schools. Provision of external Muslim teachers for Islamic education as part of RE as an alternative to complete withdrawal of Muslim pupils from RE.
- Major changes to provision of Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) according to Islamic beliefs, or exemption of Muslim pupils from attendance as a result of non-compliance by schools.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob of BMSD said "The guidance cannot and should not be seen as entirely reflective of the desires of the majority of the Muslim pupils and their parents, since they hail from diverse range of backgrounds based on ethnicity, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs. MCB being an umbrella body for mainly mosques and other religious organisations is not a representative body for all Muslim parents in Britain and therefore the views expressed in the document should not be considered by the schools or the government as the collective will of the numerous Muslim communities in Britain.
It is amusing to find that one hand MCB wishes to promote better understanding and coexistence between Muslims and members of other faiths, and would like to see Islamic belief to be taught in schools where there aren’t even any Muslim pupils, yet according to their guidance document they wish to remove British Muslim pupils from essential teachings for today’s youth such as Sex and Relationship Education and Religious Education classes where they are likely to be exposed to faiths such as Christianity, Hinduism or concepts such as Atheism. Moreover they demand that additional instruction be given to Muslim pupils only in Islamic education by external Muslim teachers, provided for at the expense of the schools’ resources".
He said "The recommendations, should they be implemented by schools, would not only serve to increase the segregation of Muslim pupils from heir non-Muslim peers, who may grow up viewing Muslim pupils as those unduly awarded concessions and treated somewhat differently, thereby creating a wider gulf between the communities in the years to come".
Notes to the editors:
1. BMSD is made up of a group of Muslim democrats of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds, who support a clear separation between religion and the State.
2. The initial focus of our organisation is Britain; however, we are aware of the international and geo-political ramifications of the perception of a threat from a ‘globalised and radicalised Islam’ and the impact that this perception has on the every day lives of secular Muslims across the world. We therefore are keen to link our work to the European and global contexts in the future.
3. BMSD claims no mandate or false representative status. Our primary concern is democratic engagement not detailed theological analysis or debate. The level and depth of commitment to the doctrinal core and orthodoxy of the faith varies among Muslims as much as it does in members of other faith groups. BMSD founders wish to create a platform for alternative, diverse Muslim views, essential for a progressive, multi-layered, democratic identity that is not in conflict with itself or fellow citizens.
4. For details please visit http://www.bmsd.org.uk
5. For any further queries, please contact:
-Dr Shaaz Mahboob on shaaz bmsd.org.uk or 07884473491
-Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui on drsiddiqui talk21.com or 07860259289