Muslims demand more faith schools

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Parents unhappy at lack of respect for Islam, mixed-sex classes and teaching of evolution. Graeme Paton reports

Half of all Muslims in Britain want to educate their children in Islamic faith schools, according to a new study.

A report by the Islamic Human Rights Commission said mainstream schools showed a lack of respect towards core principles of their faith.

Mixed classrooms in most state schools, the teaching of the theory of evolution in biology and anger over sex education lessons were the main reasons why Muslim parents wanted to move their children to all-Muslim classrooms.

Some pupils questioned as part of the study, which is published next week, also claimed they faced discrimination by teachers in mainstream schools.

Support for Islamic faith schools comes despite comments from David Bell, the chief inspector, earlier this year that some Muslim schools were a threat to social cohesion because they did not teach enough about other cultures.

But one 30-year-old Muslim woman from Ilford, London, told researchers: "My culture comes from Islam. Things such as boys and girls socialising, undressing for PE together, music, non-Muslim festivals, sex education, taking a non-Muslim as a role model... these all contradict Islam, therefore I do not want my children to find them acceptable."

A 57-year-old man from Solihull, West Midlands, said some lessons were "questionable in terms of Islam", adding: "One of my secondary school daughters was recently instructed to construct a 3D bra and knickers for an art project, despite her offer to construct some other 3D object."

Another mother from Ilford said: "Science is taught without recognising that everything has been created. Evolution is taught as fact (and) young children can be confused."

The report said there was also evidence of a "culture of insensitivity and even hostility against Muslims" in some schools.

An 18-year-old Muslim from Brighton, who did work experience at a hospital, said: "One teacher suggested that if I can't place the stethoscope in my ear because of my (head) scarf I should re-think my career in medicine."

Another pupil from Luton said: "An RE teacher once mocked Shiaism as being a religion which cries out for something that happened 1,400 years ago. It totally devalued my religion."

Government figures show there were 371,000 Muslim children aged five to 16 in England last year. Around 97 per cent attended mainstream state schools and 3 per cent were educated at private Muslim schools.

Fewer than 2,000 children are educated at the seven Muslim state schools in England.

But according to the survey of 1,125 people, 47.5 per cent said they favoured all-Muslim classrooms.

Support was strongest among people who claimed they did not have a "sense of belonging" to Britain. Almost two-thirds who did not feel part of British culture supported segregated classrooms, while only 37 per cent of Muslims who had strong attachments supported Muslim schooling.

The Islamic Human Rights Commission called for more funding for Muslim state schools and more resources to improve the teaching of Islam in mainstream schools.

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

Secular or Islamic: what schools do British Muslims want for their children? costs pound;7 and can be ordered by emailing info@ihrc.org

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