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'Impractical' to take other faiths, argues Muslim secondary

WHEN the Al-Hijrah school receives its first round of council funding in April, it will become the only Muslim state secondary in the UK that admits boys and girls.

The Birmingham school's intake is 100-per-cent Muslim, with most pupils drawn from the surrounding Bordesley Green area. According to deputy head Akhmed Hussain, allocating places to non-Muslims would simply not work in this largely Asian community.

"The argument against having a percentage of non-Muslims at this school is a practical one, and it is a problem," he said. "You could go to the state schools near here and you would find that they have the same problems of integration as we do."

The school was previously private, with fees of pound;1,800 a year, supplemented by the school's own registered charity.

It was founded in 1988 as a class for 12 children, in the basement of Birmingham Central Mosque. Since then, it has relocated and pupil numbers have risen to 185 at secondary level with about 200 attending the adjacent, still private, primary school.

Due to its new voluntary-aided status, secondary numbers are expected to hit 600 by 2008. The school is already oversubscribed for September 2002.

Boys and girls are educated on separate floors by teachers of the same gender. The girls, clad in white headscarves, are kept away from boys at breaks and lunchtimes. In addition to the core curriculum, pupils are taught about Islam at the start of the school day. Further prayers are said after lunch. Al-Hijrah school organises trips to Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.

"This school has been established out of the needs of parents in our community. Its intake reflects the area we are in," said Mr Hussain.

Under an agreement with Birmingham education authority, Al-Hijrah will not only take Muslims in its catchment area but also allocate places to Muslims from every ward of the city. By spreading its intake city-wide, Al-Hijrah says it will integrate pupils from a broad range of ethnic backgrounds.

"We are one step ahead of other comprehensives because our intake is pan-Birmingham. We will take children from all ethnic backgrounds, which I see not as divisive, but as a means of integrating pupils," Mr Hussain said.

"Faith schools will relieve the problem of sectarianism, which arises when people don't understand how their faith encourages them to relate to others."

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