Muslims threaten to desert Labour

4th July 1997 at 01:00
British Muslims say they will withdraw their traditional loyalty to Labour if the Government does not allow the community's highest-profile primary school to opt in to the state system.

Islamia Primary School in the London borough of Brent is still waiting to hear whether its application for grant-maintained status has been successful. However, this week the Muslim News reported that the bid could be rejected because there were too many surplus places in the area.

The community's hopes were raised last December when the Funding Agency for Schools recommended that Islamia should be given GM status. The school was founded by Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, the pop singer.

Muslims now worry that Labour's opposition to GM status - which it intends to abolish this autumn - overrides its commitment to equal opportunities.

There are currently 50 privately-run Muslim schools, compared with 725 Christian and 24 Jewish schools in the state system.

Ibrahim Hewitt, a spokesman for the Association of Muslim Schools, said Labour was guilty of hypo-crisy. If funding was denied, Muslims would drop their traditional allegiance to the party, he warned.

"Labour's refusal would illustrate that the old Tories and new Labour were one and the same - treating Muslims as second-class citizens in educational terms. It's a great myth that Labour looks after ethnic minorities." He added: "Tony Blair's kids can go to a religious GM school but Muslim parents can't enjoy the same right."

Islamia's head, Dr Azam Baig, said the school was never intended to be private and it was unfair on Muslim parents who could not afford the Pounds 2,000-Pounds 3,000 fees.

The last Muslim school to apply to join the state system, Feversham College in Bradford, was rejected on health and safety grounds, but the then education secretary Gillian Shephard asked it to reapply, emphasising that she was not closing the door on Muslim schools.

Akram Khan Cheema, Feversham's chairman of governors, said Labour had been sending conflicting signals to Muslims.

"I know many Muslims who supported Labour and will feel betrayed - I'm disappointed but not surprised."

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