Subscribe to Secularism is a Womens Issue

Secularism is a Women’s Issue

Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > UK: Schools of Incendiary Thought

UK: Schools of Incendiary Thought

Monday 30 November 2009, by siawi2

The Guardian, 26 November 2009

Faith schools that may be promoting extremist ideas must be closely monitored – and should certainly not receive public funds

by Shaaz Mahboob

Any institution that promotes segregation and openly prescribes members of society to lead separate lives deserves no sympathy and most definitely not public support in the form of tax money. Certainly not in a secular modern democracy such as Britain, where the graduates of such institutions are at risk of coming out the other end less able to integrate with the rest of the society. On top of this, they are potentially liable to fuel the disintegration of society by firmly believing in segregation, not only of the sexes but also along the lines of faith and belief.

It is therefore quite disconcerting to find that countless “Muslim or Islamic schools” – whatever the distinction might be – receive public funds, and which go to extreme lengths in instilling the seeds of segregation into these young minds.

Nevertheless, they at least appear to be hesitatingly tolerant (yes, only tolerant, not entirely happy with the notion that a nation could be run by the wishes of the Muslim and non-Muslim masses and not that of a male unelected supreme leader).

Disturbingly, certain educational institutions are led and managed by the adherents of a political ideology which goes one step further and calls for the abolition of the democratic system in Britain. As part of their vision, secular democracy would be replaced by another system which is far more intolerant towards religious minorities, placing curbs on their rights and relegating them to a second-class position in society. Unsurprisingly, liberal, secular-minded, pro-democracy co-religionists are relegated to the lowest of all possible positions within such a theocratic state.

Ironically the model of governance to which some of the patrons of these schools aspire seems to have failed elsewhere on other continents; most recently in Afghanistan under the Taliban, which was hailed as the “21st century model Islamic Caliphate” and the Ottomon Caliphate during the last century, only to be replaced by a secular Turkish state. Pakistan appears to be a new target for such movements where certain British Muslims are attempting to transform the nation’s governing structure, from a democracy finding its feet, to a theocratic Islamic Caliphate.

To add insult to injury, such centres of education in Britain receive vast public funding to propagate their message through teaching these values and ideals to the innocent and impressionable minds of our future generations. One example of such schools is that of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation (ISF) that runs such schools in Tottenham, north London, and Slough, Berkshire. Three quarters of the trustees and certain individuals who run the schools are members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT), an organisation which to this day seeks to abolish democracy and freedom.

The recent spat between the Tories and Labour frontrunners over the funding of the schools run by the ISF appear to be between two major stakeholders in the future governance of this country, both equally unsure of how to deal with this Frankenstein’s monster that is threatening society (regardless of who comes into power for the next five years). Although the Tories appear to have pledged to ban HT, they – like Labour’s top advisers – are not prepared to tackle the issue of faith schools and in particular, certain Islamic schools whose governing bodies have links to questionable organisations.

As a matter of principle, organisations such as British Muslims for Secular Democracy have been opposed to any state funding of religious schools, particularly schools which embed hard-line interpretations of religious ideology into their curriculum. These teachings can have far-reaching consequences on the pupils’ personal and creative development. A ban on music is the order of the day and girls as young as five years old are forced to cover themselves up, even though it is a well-established Islamic teaching that women who choose to wear the hijab do not need to do so until the onset of puberty. One of the standard reasons cited in defence of the hijab is that women (and little girls in this case) are better protected by wrapping themselves up from the prying eyes of men. It beggars belief as to who these innocent female pupils are at risk from in a school environment – the same-age male pupils or those whose responsibility is to teach them. By teaching them at this tender age that the exposure of their flesh and hair is somehow provocative to the men (and little boys) around them is perhaps also akin to taking away their innocence before it gets a chance to see the light of the day.

The question to both Ed Balls and David Cameron is not that of this particular school but the future of countless other Islamic schools dotted across the country, those which receive public funding and those which are completely independent. Any institution – even if it operates without any state funding yet promotes anti-democratic ideals and preaches inequality using religion as an excuse – cannot and must not be allowed to function, whether it’s a Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, Christian, Muslim or a Jedi school. And why only target the schools run by Hizb-ut-Tahrir and absolve those run under the protection of Muslim Council of Britain (MCB)?

The MCB almost always comes to the rescue of such schools each time their inadequacies are exposed by the media or the regulatory bodies which brave the Islamophobia rhetoric. Going beyond the remit of acting as an umbrella organisation for the countless mosques, madrasas and Islamic schools, the MCB demands from state-run secular schools certain absurd and impractical privileges on behalf of Muslim pupils, with or without their parents’ agreement. Such demands – recently made to the schools in a cunningly disguised booklet – include promoting the idea that Muslim pupils be withdrawn from religious education classes, yet ensuring that non-Muslim pupils are made to learn about Islam as a religion, in addition to complete segregation on the basis of gender and time off school each week to perform Friday prayers at the cost of valuable lessons.

A potential solution which I have been advocating is perhaps not to close down such schools (and other registered or unregistered educational institutions) in the first instance, but to ensure that their curriculums are effectively monitored for potentially incendiary or divisive material, and revised accordingly. An education that promotes a good balance between different faith backgrounds and cultures should be maintained to promote equality, respect and interaction between the future generations of Britain.