The Movement for Islamic Schools in the UK
Since the early 1980s there has been a move within the Muslim community to provide children with a Muslim education. Just exactly what this is has precipitated much debate. Whatever the case may be, there is little doubt that has been instigated by the fear of an encroaching secular outlook provided by British education.
The anxiety is that Muslim values are dissipated within the young as a result of undergoing such an education. On the other hand there is a significant number of Muslims who, wishing their children to succeed within British society, actively encourage their children’s attendance within state provided schools. The result is a mixed bag of initiatives.
By far the most common form of Muslim education is the after school or weekend madrasahs or schools, usually centring around the local mosque for the purpose of getting children to read and memorize the Quran. Even those who look favourably at state provided education may well require their children’s attendance at these madrasahs. However, there is a growing criticism of these initiatives based on dissatisfaction with rote learning, ill educated imam and a propensity for corporal punishment.
There are also other schools which are set up known as the Dar al Ulooms (Place of Knowledge) also know as madrasahs. Many of these tend to exist in the Midlands and northern areas of England and cater primarily though not exclusively to children of Pakistani and Bengali youth. One renowned school of this nature is the Dewsbury Markaz with a school population of 600 boarding and day pupils. These schools are usually private boarding schools and the curriculum is devoted almost entirely to what is termed the Muslim Sciences (or Disciplines). The aim here is to produce Imams (Mosque prayer leaders), Ulama (Theologians / Scholars) or Hufuz (those who have memorized the Quran).
Classes are held mainly in Urdu and Arabic.It is important to stress that such madrasahs should not be immediately equated with extremism given the notoriety that the word has gained through media coverage. The word madrasah simply means school but usually equated with a full Muslim curriculum. Many of these institutions provide what would be considered, on an unbiased and closer inspection, a classical liberal education insofar that they are thoroughly grounded in things like Greek logic and rhetoric and complex theological and philosophical arguments. Should one replace the Ancient Greek or Latin with the Arabic language the picture is further complimented. It may come as a surprise that many of those who graduate from such institutions are well equipped to take on Higher Education Degrees within British universities as a result.
Other schools have curricula that are ostensibly western and secular. These are also usually private and cater mainly for the middle professional classes but which are set up and maintained by Muslims for Muslims though theoretically admission may be open to people of all faiths or none. The King Fahd Academy in London provides an example of this. The school has been set up by the Saudi Embassy and is attended by a small number of diplomats' children with the rest of the school population made up of the diverse London Muslim community, though in the main of Arab background.
Finally, there has been a burgeoning demand since the late 1980s for Muslim voluntary aided (VA) schools. These are schools that are to be equated with Anglican, Catholic or Jewish schools, which are supported financially by the Local Authorities with devolved money from central government. Such schools are required to teach the National Curriculum and undergo OFSTED inspections as any other state supported school. In a Muslim VA School, Religious Education will be predominantly Muslim but also deal with the other faith positions. Naturally, classes are expected to be carried in the English medium with the exception of Arabic which is taught under the auspices of Modern Foreign Languages as part of the National Curriculum.
The argument behind these schools has been that Muslims as taxpayers, like Anglicans and Catholics have a right to have their religion represented in the British education system. During the Thatcher years a mounted struggle took place for such ventures by segments of the community headed by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). Resistance from governmental authorities were perceived as being composed of fears of educating a ‘fifth column’ of Muslims at the expense of the state. In 1998 with the advent of the Labour government coming to power, the first Muslim Voulntary School, the Islamia Primary was allowed. Several other ventures followed and there are presently nine schools of this nature now established. Currently, there are approximately nineteen of such schools in various stages of the application process. The establishment of Muslim education within the British system has precipitated the wider debate on faith schools generally.
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