Muslim Schools in Britain

Counterproductive unless they concentrate on Relevant Islamic Values

The Islamic Guardian (UK), April to June 1980 Issue (Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 17–20)

There have been some suggestions from Muslims in recent years in this country [England] for the establishment of ‘Muslim’ schools receiving state support on the lines of Catholic or Jewish schools. However, these have not found favour with the education authorities who perhaps fear that pupils taught in such schools would retain their Muslim values and reject the secular values which the modern state tries to propagate to replace the traditional religions. The fact that, for example, Jewish and Polish schools do receive state assistance, and proposals to extend the same help to Muslims are rejected, seems to indicate that it is the very different cultural values of the Muslims which the authorities do not wish to be propagated to the succeeding Muslim generations in this country.

It should be added that the religious education needs of Muslim children cannot be satisfied by a weekly comparative religion lesson which would sometimes deal with Islam, nor by the reading of a few lines from the Quran at morning assembly. One reason for this is simply that almost the whole of the child’s environment — school, society, magazines, television — represents and portrays, explicitly and implicitly, values either of Christianity or of secular materialism. Hence the Muslim child needs a strong and positive reminder of Islamic teachings, by word, deed, and atmosphere, which certainly cannot be provided by the odd class lesson at school.

Bad Example of Muslim School:

Be that as it may, what the ITV programme Credo (27 January [1980]) showed off a so-called ‘Muslim’ school should fill all Muslims with considerable alarm as to what the organisers of this institution believe Islam to consist of. In class and at dinner children had to sit on the floor as an essential of the Islamic faith! Without at all understanding the text, they had to memorise the whole of the Holy Quran in Arabic! And the father of one of the pupils, whom the programme team were following, made his comments only on the sound because he felt it to be against Islam to have his image appear on the screen! (As this gentleman comes from Pakistan, we wonder what he did about his passport photograph!)

Outmoded Priestly Class:

Such ideas and practices have nothing whatever to do with Islam in any way, and they would be rejected by the great majority of Muslims living in Britain, or indeed anywhere else. These extreme views are propagated by a well-known class of self-appointed Muslim ‘priests’ of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent who have now lost all credibility with, and moral authority over, the Muslim public in that part of the world. Unfortunately, it is this very class which is found running most of Britain’s mosques and other Muslim institutions, and ministering to the religious needs of the Muslims here.

Rejected in Pakistan and India:

Muslims of India and Pakistan will always remember that some decades ago this unofficial “clergy” of Islam caused the greatest possible set-back to the Muslims of the then British India by declaring it un-Islamic to pursue modern education. The Muslim public there have now become disgusted with these archaic priests on account of their bizarre interpretations of the Islamic teachings, their mutual wranglings and intolerant declarations a of heresy (kufr) against fellow-Muslims, and their farcical attitudes and behaviour. In fact, large numbers of Muslims there have become disenchanted with Islam simply because their sole knowledge of the religion comes through these extremists.

Bleak Future for Muslim Children in such Schools:

It was briefly noted in the programme that this ‘Muslim’ school (Darul Uloom, situated in Lancashire) was really a school for training young Muslims as ‘priests,’ though any Muslim child may attend it. Now the kind of education provided in such schools, as experience from Pakistan and India shows, equips one only to become a run-of-the-mill neighbourhood mullah [cleric] in the Muslim society there. Of what conceivable use is such education for living in Britain? Muslim parents must ask themselves whether they wish their children to receive such religious instruction as would make Islam a laughingstock of this country. That is far more likely to alienate young Muslims from Islam than the secular education provided in state schools. Such alienation can be seen in Pakistan, to name but one country. Does this nonsense of abandoning tables and chairs to sit on the floor have any bearing on the moral welfare of Muslim children? And, will a parrot-like, unintelligible memorisation of the Arabic text of the Holy Quran, without any grounding in Islamic ethics and morals, lead to the children understanding and practising Islamic values?

Some Requisite Features of a True Muslim School:

A Muslim school should provide, and concentrate equally on, Islamic knowledge, moral and spiritual training, and the teaching of the usual academic subjects. The first two should be taught in a way which emphasises their relevance to life in modern, Western society. The pupils must be given a good understanding of Islamic fundamentals and of the Islamic view of modern issues. At a later stage they must also study the basis of other religions and their relation to Islam.

The moral and spiritual training must refer particularly to the avoidance of those commonly prevailing evils which the children may be in danger of picking up from society. It is certainly not enough to teach just the mechanics and formalities of the institutions that Islam has devised for spiritual and moral uplift. The true purpose to be attained through these devotions should be stressed to the children. And there should certainly be high standards of teachings academic subjects — which seems to be far from the case in the school shown in Credo. Finally, a Muslim school should be open to children of other faiths as well, though they would be excused religious obligations of Muslims.

If Christian mission schools in overwhelmingly Muslim countries can, by virtue of high academic standards, attract and influence Muslim pupils or pupils of Muslim parentage, the converse is also possible.

Our Literature:

As pointed out above, a Muslim school will serve its intended purpose only if it teaches a picture of Islam relevant to modern problems, answering the many objections and satisfying the various doubts that have been raised by the adverse criticism of religion in general as well as Islam in particular, and presenting Islam as a vital force in one’s everyday life.

We note with humble gratitude to God, that the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement has, over the past sixty years or so, produced literature in English and other languages which is widely considered as meeting the above requirements. It is our firm belief, backed up by long experience, that only that picture of Islam which is portrayed in this literature, or other literature influenced by it, can instil true faith in the hearts of those who are subjected to the modern onslaught against Islamic teachings — which is the position of the Muslims living in Britain today.

We therefore recommend this excellent literature for the study of Muslim parents and children.