'Separation could provide the key to integration'

14th September 2007 at 01:00
Madani High in Leicester has been built with segregation in mind, writes David Marley. Boys and girls have separate entrances and the doors between the two wings of the school remain locked.

All lessons are taken separately, with women teaching girls and men teaching boys. There is frosted glass in the boys' classrooms to stop the different sexes catching a glimpse of each other across the school courtyard.

Yet Dr Mohammed Mukadam (right), the principal, is convinced that schools such as his hold the key to integration.

The school for 550 pupils, which opened last week, is the most expensive state-funded Muslim school in England.

The pound;18 million building, which has its own mosque, is the result of six years' work to bring what was the secondary part of the private Leicester Islamic Academy into the maintained sector.

The Government promised this week to make it easier for other independent faith schools wanting to make the same move, prompting criticism that it would create divisions in society.

But Dr Mukadam said bringing Muslim faith schools into the state sector was an important step in integrating marginalised young people. "What is important for us is being able to develop in these young people a sense that they belong to the mainstream," he said. "These pupils can now see that the state caters for their needs as Muslims. It is important for young people that they have that sense of belonging.

"They have improved resources, which will mean improved opportunities for these children. That will help them contribute to the state, rather than be targets for extremists."

Anecdotal evidence shows that a higher proportion of pupils from Muslim schools go to university than Muslim pupils in comprehensives, Dr Mukadam said.

He said parents worried about "losing their daughters to the western world" were given reassurance by Muslim schools that their children would grow up confident in their faith and that this allowed them to support their daughters in going to university and taking their place in wider society.

Madani High had more than 400 applications for 120 places in Year 7 this year, highlighting the strength of demand for faith-based education among sections of the Muslim community.

Dr Mukadam, who is chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools UK, said the process of more private schools joining the state sector would be slow because of people's prejudices.

Concerns have been raised that the teaching of some faith schools on homosexuality is in conflict with moves to tackle homophobic bullying.

"From a faith perspective, homosexuality is forbidden and we teach that in religious studies," said Dr Mukadam.

"But we also teach that we must respect the individual. Religion taught properly will turn out a human being that respects others, and allow them to keep to their own value systems."

He said the school, not all teachers are Muslims, has a full and balanced curriculum with only 10 per cent of time devoted to religious studies.

Photographs: Neil Turner

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