Tutti-frutti is flavour of the month for young Muslims

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Aisha Karolia rocked gently up and down on the banana-shaped see-saw, gazed around the new playground and said it was just right for her younger brothers and sisters.

She had joined in the celebrations which marked the official opening of a street play area designed with Muslim children in mind.

"It's colourful and I think a safe place to play," said 14-year-old Aisha. "I just hope it's not spoiled by the big boys."

The Pounds 70,000 playground, paid for with inner-city regeneration grants, is on the corner of Beaumont Street in Batley, West Yorkshire, in the heart of a strong Muslim community.

All the play equipment is modelled on pieces of fruit - strawberry and apple bouncers, and a banana see-saw. Apple and pear trees carved from brick guard the gate.

What's missing is any reference to monsters, dinosaurs or any other kind of nursery or playroom animal, apart from a cat and a goldfish featured in a mosaic on a castle used as a climbing frame and slide.

Artist Ailsa Magnus, commissioned by the charity Public Arts to design the playground, said she talked to many Muslim parents and learned that creating models of living creatures would be offensive.

"According to their religion, only Allah can create animals or humans, and to build an image of one would be insensitive," said Miss Magnus.

"And the fruit and tree theme does fit nicely with the history of the area, which was once an orchard."

Yasmin Mamamiat, 11, said she would not have minded a dinosaur or two but did regret there were no swings. And she wanted to make it clear that over-14s should be banned from the area.

"Older children would just spoil it for us. They would bully us and ruin everything with graffiti. There should be no bikes or dogs either."

One parent, Zafar Chmibda, said he hoped to show children how to play Indian games, such as Gila Danda, which involves hitting sticks into a goal. He added: "But cricket is still the most popular game, and football too."

The opening of the playground comes as neighbouring Leeds Council announces its intention to investigate children's play needs.

A consultation document which has just been launched considers how a changing environment - especially urbanisation - has affected the way children play.

It says anecdotal evidence shows how many adults' memories of childhood are of going scrumping for apples or playing in fields, while present-day six- and 10-year-olds talk of playing round the dustbins, or playing ball-games in the road.

Play, says the report, has an important role to play in crime prevention. Children interviewed as part of the research said things like: "There is a playground near us but it's full of broken glass and burnt-out cars; we don't go in there" or: "We broke a load of windows in a garage; we hadn't got anything else to do."

Adults now perceive many children at play, especially in inner-city areas, as indulging in criminal activity.

The report argues that if inner-city deprivation can have an adverse effect on children's play, so too can affluence. Children's toys are today a major growth industry, but their increasing dominance in a child's life leads to isolation and a growing "privatisation" of children's lives.

Children are becoming less public and more private, and the report concludes this process should be reversed. Children, it says, are social animals and must be offered every opportunity to play together.

The report's action plan includes a review of play provision in Leeds looking particularly at therapeutic play, playgrounds, home streets and open spaces. It also recommends establishing a children's and young people's council to help adults keep in touch with their needs.

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