The teachers with a tabloid grasp of Islam

16th September 2011 at 01:00
All bombs and burqas

Terrorism is an intrinsic part of Islam, all religious Muslim women wear the hijab, and the image that best represents the religion is a bomb.

This is the alarming perception most primary teachers have of Islam, according to new research from an academic at Canterbury Christ Church University. When Lynn Revell questioned more than 350 primary and trainee teachers she found that their understanding of Islam was largely formed by the media.

Almost three-quarters of those questioned thought that jihad referred to a physical war. They made no reference at all to it as a spiritual battle. Around a quarter also believed that terrorism was an intrinsic part of jihad. When asked to draw an image that represented Islam, the third most popular option - after minarets and women in burqas - was a bomb.

Understanding of the role of women in Islam was similarly limited. Eighty per cent believed that the extent to which a Muslim woman covers her body indicates her level of faith. The majority also believed that arranged marriages are required by Muslim law.

A quarter said that they would struggle to teach about women in Islam because of their personal feelings on the matter. Others went further, identifying Islamic practices as objectionable, or too controversial for primary pupils.

Headteachers are concerned. "It's perturbing that stereotypes are prevalent among student teachers, brought up when there's been broader global awareness," said Chris Davis, former president of the National Primary Headteachers' Association.

Remarkably stereotypes were reinforced by RE textbooks. Very few trainees had even a GCSE in RE, and so most relied heavily on them. But, Dr Revell said, these repeatedly make generalisations about the lives and beliefs of Muslims.

But Rosemary Rivett, of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, is unsurprised by the findings. "Most primary teachers are generalists," she said. "Islam is one of the religions they would feel uncertain about, and some of the textbooks don't help. Then again, I could look at some of the books about Christianity and find the same thing."

See feature, pages 40-43.

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