IT'S NOT easy being a Muslim in Britain. Distrust, fear and even hatred of anything Islamic is not uncommon, even among rational people who don't read the red tops. This is not unlike the Catholic-Protestant divide that is more familiar in most Scottish schools, says David Gray, an East Ayrshire teacher.
It's a subject the principal teacher of values and citizenship at Grange Academy in Kilmarnock knows well. An entire course on anti-sectarianism that he devised has become Learning and Teaching Scotland's key resource on the subject for secondary schools. "I am very interested in Islam and, after 911, I could see similarities between sectarianism and Islamophobia," says Mr Gray. "So I began to bring bits and pieces of anti-Islamophobia into my teaching."
The impetus to develop these into a complete course on Islamophobia, along similar lines to the existing anti-sectarian materials, came from the same source that had helped make the latter available nationally Rowena Arshad, director of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality in Scotland.
There are clear parallels in the prejudices, stereotypes and misconceptions of Islamophobia and sectarianism, says Mr Gray. But there are also important differences. The physical and cultural threat from Islamists is perhaps the most significant. "One thing I try to get across to young people is that terrorists are not truly Islamic," he says. "The word 'Islam' means 'peace', and if you read the Qur'an it has a message of peace on almost every page. The idea of murder is utterly against its teachings.
"Any text is open to interpretation, but the fundamental truth of the Qur'an is submission to the will of God, who demands that Muslims are seen to be peaceful people."
This distinction between Muslims and Islamists is one that pupils on the course it is designed for (S1-2) are able to appreciate, he says. "In my experience, young people are sympathetic to Islam and are not as naive as some adults think. They can listen to stories on the news, for instance, and say, 'Hold on, I've studied Islam at school and I know that's not true'."
Besides imparting knowledge and developing understanding, a key aim of the course is to foster this kind of questioning among young people. "We have to challenge ideas and guide pupils to becoming independent learners and critical thinkers. That's very important," says Mr Gray.
"They can respect the views of adults, but at the same time realise that their own might sometimes be better informed and closer to the truth. It is an uncomfortable idea, but young people can challenge their parents' view of the world."
The Islamophobia course could run from six to 10 weeks, he says, or selected activities might be used in standalone lessons. While providing detailed guidance on activities such as role-play, storyboarding, mind-mapping and the use of ICT, the materials also give teachers scope to adapt them to their own purposes and the varying levels of knowledge and awareness among their pupils.
"I'll be pleased if the units help young people to learn about Islamophobia, and how to address it in themselves, their friends and the community," says Mr Gray. "I hope it might contribute to making them critical thinkers and better citizens.
"What we are aiming for in everyone is an attitude of critical openness: open to questions, open to ideas and open to change."
David Gray and Maariyah Masud, of the Centre for Education for Racial Equality, who developed the section of the new course on women in Islam, will deliver Teaching about Islamophobia in the classroom on September 19 at 4.45pm.
The anti-Islamophobia materials will be launched at the festival and made available to teachers online shortly afterwards.
The existing anti-sectarian course is at www.ltscotland.org.uk antisectarianactivitiesandlessonssecondary