Thursday, 29 May 2008

rejection of an islamic school

i heard the interview this morning on radio nz regarding the sydney council that has rejected an islamic school. one of the interviewees denied that the decision had anything to do with racism/bigotry. yeah right. the reasons given for the rejection were as follows:

Mayor Chris Patterson said the council's decision was based on concerns surrounding the impact on traffic flows, loss of agricultural land, highlighted in the planners report and not on religious grounds.

please excuse me if i take this with a grain of salt. i say so based on the experience of obtaining consent for the mosque here in hamilton. we faced objections too, and they came from particular christian groups. we had no doubt about that - the objections were public documents. but not one of them objected on religious grounds. no, they went to the expense of paying for a traffic consultant , and objected on the grounds of impact on traffic flows. which meant that our cash-starved and small community had to incur a similar expense to prove otherwise.

having said that, i'm not sure that i agree with the idea of a separate school. i can see the positives. there is the protection against this very bigotry that makes life very uncomfortable for so many children of minority groups in public schools. at a segregated school, the children can be in an environment where they don't have to be ashamed of who they are, or to hide their religious practices.

classes can be organised around prayer times, and the food will always be halal. and all the many hours i've spent teaching my children at home, as well as the invaluable input of my parents, would instead be part of their daily curriculum. it would certainly take a lot of pressure off me.

there are other little things as well. for example, some of the teachers like to have the radio playing in the classroom. i have a problem with that: i don't want my kids to be listening to "hit me baby one more time" or any number of other misogynistic lyrics while they're doing their school work. it's something that i've not felt strong enough to complain about at any of the schools my kids have gone to, but at an islamic school i wouldn't even have to worry about it.

so yes, sending my children to an islamic school would certainly make my life so much easier. but on the other hand, if minority kids aren't mixing with other kids, what chance is there of changing attitudes? the segregation involved, while protecting the minority kids, means that the other kids won't get to learn about their cultures and religions. there won't be the opportunity to break down stereotypes, or to increase the feeling of belonging for the minority children. bigotry decreases with interaction. to deny that interaction is to ensure that bigotry will continue to exist.

the other issue for me is the kind of messages my daughters might get at an islamic school. would they provide restrictive choices for the girls? i don't want them to be going to a school where they were denied opportunities, or were told that their proper place is in the home.

while motherhood is highly valued in islam, and i would consider it the greatest role in my life, i hate the kind of attitude that says this is all there is for women. as if to want something more is a betrayal of your children or of your very nature. it's the kind of attitude that makes women feel guilty for wanting a career or opportunities for achievement outside these "traditional" roles.

i'm reminded of a visit i made to the mormon centre just out hamilton at the end of last year, at their invitation. they gave us a tour around the place, and showed us the religious classes as well as the books used to teach mormon children. i had a quick read through the book used for girls (there was a separate one for boys, of course), and sure enough, it talked about the joy of domestic chores and how these were fulfilling in themselves. women were home-makers and should be proud to take on that role. i felt sick reading it.

which is one of the reasons why i get so angry when people say that women are treated as equals in this country. i bet i could go into a number of other schools around nz and find the same sort of messages being given out. if not in the schools then in the prayer halls, under the guise of family values, the same message that good girls stay at home and look after their families. if they are not happy in that role, then there is something wrong with them. this is going on today, in our country.

in an islamic context, it makes me extremely angry because the lives of early muslim women were not like this. these women were warriors, they were businesswomen, they were religious scholars and they were leaders. they were highly educated, they were politically active, and they played an active part in building the community. to have my children being taught something different under the guise of religion would not sit at all well with me.

so on the whole, i don't support segregated schools in that i wouldn't send my own children to one. however, i do support the right of people to build and attend such schools. i don't support bigots who'll use whatever means possible to prevent it from happening. if we're not happy with what may or not be taught at such schools, the best option is dialogue, interaction and social exchange. hostility breeds hostility. bigotry breeds resentment. i hope that the people of south western sydney might think twice about the consequences of this decision.


IftikharA said...

Education of Muslim Children

London School of Islamics is an educational Trust. Its aim is to make
British public, institutions and media aware of the needs and demands of the
Muslim community in the field of education and possible solutions.

Today in Slough Islamic school Trust Slough had a seminar on Muslim
education and schools in Thames Valley Atheltic Centre. The seminar was
addressed by the education spokesman of MCB. I could not attend the seminar
but I believe lot of Muslims from Slough and surrounding areas must have
attended. Very soon, the Muslims of Slough will have a state funded Muslim
school but there is a need for more schools. A day will come when all Muslim
children will attend state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim
teachers as role model.

Muslim schools are not only faith schools but they are more or less
bilingual schools.

Bilingual Muslim children need to learn standard English to follow the
National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve
humanity. They need to be well versed in Arabic to recite and understand the
Holy Quran. They need to be well versed in Urdu and other community
languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of
their literature and poetry.

Bilingualism is an asset but the British schooling regards it as a
problem. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not
want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. Pakistan is only seven hours
from London and majority of British Muslims are from Pakistan.

More than third of British Muslim have no qualifications. British school
system has been failing large number of Muslims children for the last 60
years. Muslim scholars see the pursuit of knowledge as a duty, with the
Quran containing several verses to the rewards of learning. 33% of British
Muslims of working age have no qualifications and Muslims are also the least
likely to have degrees or equivalent qualifications. Most of estimated
500,000 Muslim school-aged pupils in England and Wales are educated in the
state system with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. Majority of them are
underachievers because they are at a wrong place at a wrong time.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual
Muslim teachers during their developmental periods. There is no place for a
non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. As far as higher education
is concerned, Muslim students can be educated with others. Let Muslim
community educate its own children so that they can develop their own
Islamic, cultural and linguistic identities and become usefull members of
the British society rather than becoming a buden.

We are living in an English speaking country and English is an
international language, therefore, we want our children to learn and be well
versed in standard English and at the same time well versed in Arabic, Urdu
and other community languages. Is there anything wrong with this approach?

It is not only the Muslim community who would like to send their children to
Muslim school. Sikh and Hindu communities have started setting up their
schools. Last week. British Black Community has planned the first all black
school with Black teachers in Birmingham.

Scotland's first state funded Muslim school could get the go-ahead within
months after First Munister Alex Salmond declared he was sympathetic towards
the needs and demands of the Muslim community.

Iftikhar Ahmad
London School of Islamics Trust

stargazer said...

wow, thank you very much for these comments. some brief responses:

1. the situation in new zealand is very different to britain in that muslims have not had to face the high level of hostility over such a long period the way british muslims have had to.

2. i'd still say that segregation of the type you describe in the last couple of paragraphs is problematic. how do these separate groups interact if they are all at segregated schools? however, i could live with segregated primary schools and mixed/integrated high schools.

3. i'd prefer that general public schools provided for arabic and other language classes, and had some time for religious studies, where students could choose the religion of their choice. atheist/agnostic students could choose philosophy or world religions or some other similar topic.

4. your assertion that no non-muslim teachers or students have a place in a muslim school would simply be illegal in nz. i think by law, at least 5% of the roll has to be open to all others. if people want to send their kids to a muslim school, why should we stop them? they'd be learning more about islam and that can only be a good thing.

in any case, all the best with the work that you do.

IftikharA said...


There are over 120 Muslim schools in the United Kingdom and ten are state funded. None of the school ever recieved an application for admission from a non-Muslim parents. Those state schools where Muslim children are in majority, the native parents move to those areas where native children are in majority.

stargazer said...

that's really sad. we have the problem of "white-flight" here in nz as well and i don't even know how to begin solving that problem.

oh, and i love the use of the word "natives" in this context. it's brilliant, and quite hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I think there's a significant difference between you rejecting the idea of Islamic schooling for your kids, and the Christian Bigots rejecting it for you.

I don't live near the proposed school but even elsewhere in Sydney it's been sad to see some of the stupidity from religious nutters (of all persuasions) around this issue. (If nothing else I'd hope that they'd be looking at it from the other side and saying "there but for the grace of G*d goes my school". Especially as it looks as though similar concerns will stop the Church of Cash opening a casino in Redfern (Hillsong want to build a device to deceive money out of poor people in a very poor area).


Ben R said...

I think it's questionable whether children should be getting indoctrinated in any religion at school anyway.

People clearly tend to form 'in-group/out-group' biases, and religion just provides another form of this.

Obviously, it seems hypocritical for people to oppose an Islamic school, when there are Catholic and Anglican schools.

I think the reason though why people in non-Muslim countries may partly be bigotry, but also concerns about radical elements in Islam promoting hateful messages about non-muslims.

"A former teacher at an Islamic school, who alleged that it taught an offensive and racist view of non-Muslims, has been awarded £70,000 by an employment tribunal after winning his case for unfair dismissal.

Colin Cook told the tribunal in Watford that pupils were taught from Arabic books that likened Jews and Christians to “monkeys” and “pigs” at The King Fahad Academy, which is funded and run by the Saudi Arabian Government."

stargazer said...

um ben, if you read the full article, the teacher won his case around whistleblowing. it doesn't look like the cheating was proved, nor was it proved that the children were taught to be racist. rather, it was the dismissal procedure that was the issue.

"The school denied ever teaching any form of racial hatred and insisted that the offending passages in the books were “misinterpreted” and were never used in class. But it later got rid of the books."

which could mean that said books were lying around in a box somewhere and were gotten rid of when it became clear what was in them.

in any case, there are plenty of "radical elements" in the uk and in this country too who preach hatred of muslims. you might say that they don't cause violence, but i would say that the attacks on iraq and afghanistan were made much easier by such hatred. hundreds of thousands died as a result.

Ben R said...

"which could mean that said books were lying around in a box somewhere and were gotten rid of when it became clear what was in them."

Although that isn't what was alleged, by this man who was found to be "an honest witness" and Muslim himself.

Do you really think the school would admit to teaching that other religions are worthless & that there adherents are pigs and monkeys?

"in any case, there are plenty of "radical elements" in the uk and in this country too who preach hatred of muslims."

So that makes it ok for a school to teach those things? Can you at least see why there is suspicion of such schools?

"i would say that the attacks on iraq and afghanistan were made much easier by such hatred."

I disagree. The invasion in Iraq attracted massive protests by Europeans and Americans. They were pushed through against the will of the public as part of a neo-conservative agenda.

The invasion of Afghanistan was supported because it was understood the Taliban were involved with the attack on the Twin Towers.

Do you think the US would not have invaded if the Taliban had been Christian?

stargazer said...

alleged means exactly that ben. your "honest witness" did not prove any of his allegations other than that the process used to dismiss him was unfair. stop treating allegations as truth. it was never proved that this school was teaching anything "radical". it's fine to be suspicious of radical schools, if you can prove they are and if you do it consistenly across all schools.

the taleban had nothing to do with 9/11 ben. your last few comments have shown such an amazing ignorance that i'm beginning to think you're a troll. the afghanis had knowledge of where bin laden was, and were quite prepared to hand him over to the international criminal court. the US rejected this, and bombed them. try reading a little history, instead of making it up as you go along.

Ben R said...

"the taleban had nothing to do with 9/11 ben."

My understanding was that the Taliban regime had provided support and safe harbor to al-Qaeda.

That's the first I'd heard that they were prepared to offer Bin Laden. Although doing a google I find this which supports what you say.

"try reading a little history,"

I'm not trying to make things up as I go along, I consider myself reasonably well informed - and that was the first I'd heard that Bin Laden had been offered up.

If that is the case it is shocking that the invasion continued.

"it's fine to be suspicious of radical schools, if you can prove they are and if you do it consistenly across all schools."

"it was never proved that this school was teaching anything "radical".

No, but it is extremely difficult to prove something on balance of probabilities where you have a "his word against their word" situation. That's why I ask - what does he have to gain from making this up?

And it doesn't appear to be an isolated case. For instance the Islamic Saudi Academy school in North Virginia has recently had to rewrite passages of its textbooks.