Call for madrassas inside state schools

14th October 2005 at 01:00
Muslim experts suggest ways to tackle alienation behind London bombings

Madrassas, the religious schools linked to mosques, should have the option of moving to the site of their local state schools, an education taskforce set up by Tony Blair following the London bombings has said.

The group of Muslim academics and educationists, which includes Yusuf Islam, formally pop star Cat Stevens, handed in its report to Charles Clarke, Home Secretary, last week.

Proposals included the creation of a Muslim educational research centre, a national ethnic achievement programme and shaking up the UK's Islamic schools or madrassas.

The 16-member taskforce believes these informal religious schools should be given the option of setting up on the site of local state schools under the extended schools programme and so would be regulated accordingly. A small number of madrassas in the UK have been associated with teaching extreme fundamentalism.

The group is one of seven set up by Downing Street and the Home Office in response to the July 7 attacks on London's transport network, in which 52 were killed.

Bushra Nasir, head of Plashet school, a girl's school in East Ham, a member of the group and president of the Muslim Teachers' Association, said education had a big role to play in preventing disaffection among young Muslims.

She said: "If children are not successful the long-term impact is they drop out or are excluded from school, mix with the wrong people and then there is crime and other dangerous influences. Is this about avoiding 77 again? Yes. That is the underlying theme behind the task force: how do we move forward from there?"

One of the report's core proposals is a "faithful reflection of Islam in the curriculum", which will raise awareness of the contribution of Islam to society. Mrs Nasir said schools could teach pupils about Muslim inventors and look at other ways of "showing Muslims in a more positive light".

A British Muslim National Education Research and Foundation Centre would design, monitor and advise, as well as research and disseminate good practice.

Mosques and madrassas should also have access to training that would help them introduce modern teaching and learning practices.

Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of The Muslim Council of Britain, broadly welcomed the proposals but warned the Government that if it was trying to impose its own form of Islam by the backdoor it would be "unacceptable".

He said: "Many madrassas and mosques suffer from overcrowding and a lack of modern facilities so we would welcome the proposal to site them on school premises. It is important that our children understand their own faith because a good Muslim will be a good citizen.

"There are so many negative images of Islam and Muslims when our history has so many positive examples of the contribution of Islam, so all we ask is that we are given our dues in the curriculum. I think that the educational centre is a good idea.

"But if the Government is trying to control Islam or impose its own type of learning, it will be counter-productive. The council has made clear that any such initiative must be community-led or it will be unacceptable."

* Dull history lessons could be contributing to the anger and alienation that led educated British men to plant the London bombs, Sean Lang, director of the Historical Association's curriculum project, told a conference this month.

He said repetitive, formulaic history exams could have far reaching consequences. "I wonder if the price we pay is not just a generation that finds history exams boring but (that it is) actually adding to an issue of alienation and disillusion in more general and deeper terms that can in fact lead to acts of violence," he said.

He told The TES that the association's research based on anonymous responses had shown that many pupils were frustrated because they wanted to learn about the history of India and Pakistan.

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