THE BLOG

Muscular Liberalism and the Witch-Hunt of Muslim Schools

11/24/2014 11:35 am 11:35:00 | Updated 23 January 2015

Just when the dust had settled from the Trojan Horse scandal of an alleged "Islamist plot" to take over 25 Birmingham schools, Ofsted visited six independent Muslim schools in the London borough of Tower Hamlets last week.

Like the unsubstantiated claims of the Trojan Horse document, which resulted in numerous Birmingham schools that were previously graded outstanding and then put into special measures, Muslim schools in Tower Hamlets faced a similar fate. The latest inspection has scored the six schools inadequate, despite previous inspections concluding them to be outstanding.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, wrote that the pupils' "physical and educational welfare is at serious risk" and that all the schools "focused too heavily on Islamic teachings". He added that: "Given the evidence gathered from these inspections, particularly in relation to the narrowness of the curriculum, I am concerned that pupils in these schools may be vulnerable to extremist influences and radicalisation." Ms Morgan who asked Ofsted to carry out the snap inspections said, "All schools must prepare children for life in modern Britain."

The principals of some of the schools are having their materials investigated and their Friday sermons analysed - one cannot help but think that we are living in an Orwellian police state. Sir Wilshaw's claims that these pupils were exposed to "extremist influences and radicalisation" have no bearing, as these terms are constantly used but the government has failed to define them.

Normative Islam and Extremism

As expected, some of Ofsted's conclusions were magnified and parroted by the media. These included: pupils were told not to listen to music, homosexuality being a sin, and classes/assemblies being segregated according to gender. The prohibition of music, homosexuality being a sin and gender segregation are principles of orthodox Islamic tradition, and in some cases, different schools of jurisprudence differ on their opinions regarding these matters. These topics have no link to an ideology or a politicised interpretation of Islam, which could be deemed as "radical" or "extremist".

It appears that the government has designated Ofsted as its new weapon to hunt Muslim schools, and the ammunition is the freedom to apply ambiguous scaremongering terms such as "extremism" and "radicalisation" at will. The unfortunate reality is that "extremism" has become an umbrella term, which includes anything remotely Islamic; hence Ofsted was able to find dubious "evidence" against these schools.

The witch-hunt of Muslim schools is part of Prime Minister David Cameron's "muscular liberal" approach to enforce British values (another undefined term) on Muslim children. It has become clear that the initial strategy to create a "British Islam" has been scrapped after second generation Muslims were holistically inclined towards their faith in comparison to their fathers. Now, children at Muslim schools are being directly targeted to adopt secular liberal values from a young age, and what better way to do this by conflating normative Islamic beliefs with extremism?

The government ignores the thousands of pupils at British state schools who are exposed to "sexting", drug abuse, under-age sex and teenage pregnancy but seem determined to pursue Muslim schools, until such problems that are the inevitable outcome of a liberal society becomes prevalent at Muslim schools. Islam's safeguarding measures to protect the youth from such societal ills are perceived as "extreme" when taught at schools, but the same values are acceptable for the private enclaves of one's home because it doesn't fall under the public realm.

In effect, what's actually taking place is the systematic criminalisation of mainstream Islamic views under the guise of "countering extremism". For example, homosexuality being a sin is a mainstream position not only in Islam, but all the Abrahamic faiths, including religions outside of this category. When Sir John Cass Redcoat School's Islamic society posted a video (unrelated to homosexuality) of US scholar Shaykh Omar Suleiman on their social media site, he was targeted as a "hardline preacher" with homophobic views - but his view is very much mainstream. These labels were unfairly attributed to him, which subsequently contributed to placing the school under special measures. Sir John Cass Redcoat School was the only state and non-Muslim faith school in the group to be inspected as part of the same set of seven inspections, and failed for "not safeguarding and monitoring pupils adequately".

Overview of Ofsted Report

Mazahirul Uloom School - Inspectors found pupils did not know the difference between Shariah and British law, and the curriculum "focussed solely" on Islamic themes.

Jamiatul Ummah - (secondary) An emergency inspection of the 185-pupil boys' secondary school found good opportunities to study and practise the Islamic faith, but pupils were not provided with a broad and balanced curriculum. It was previously judged outstanding but has been downgraded to inadequate.

Ebrahim Academy - (secondary) Pupils not prepared for modern British life and curriculum said to be too narrow.

London East Academy - (secondary) Rated inadequate. Curriculum is not broad and balanced, and students have insufficient understanding of how other people live in Britain and abroad. Also school's work to keep children safe is inadequate. Most of the school library books are in Arabic.

Al Mizan - (primary) Rated inadequate. Work in religious studies books shows many pupils have learned only about Islam. Systems for keeping children safe are weak as the public have open access to school.

East London Islamic School - (primary) Rated inadequate. The majority of lessons focus on Islamic or Arabic studies. All pupils learn to recite religious texts by memory and repetition. Teachers adopt a similar teaching style in other lessons.

Future of Third Generation British Muslims

While this incident will undoubtedly have serious implications for the future of Muslims in the UK, it's frustrating to hear Sir Wilshaw and Nicky Morgan talking about "British values", "extremism", "radicalisation" and preparing Muslim children for "modern Britain" - terms that have been left broadly undefined with the intention of shaping them as and when it suits the government.

For Muslims, the rules of the game are changing fast and the unformulated manner in which "extremism" is being exercised to suppress mainstream Islam is alarming. Muslim parents and the community in general have a collective responsibility to challenge this forceful assimilation strategy by protecting their children's Islamic identity.

Another lesson for Muslims to take heed from last week's Ofsted inspections is that the government does not differentiate between theological or sectarian labels. The six Tower Hamlets schools that were inspected were from three different theological groups, but none were spared from the government and media's wrath.

The question that British Muslims should be asking themselves is - how will this affect our children who want to grow up to be productive members of the community? Judging on these spurious Trojan horse episodes, it seems that Islam should have no role or influence in shaping an ideal citizen for "modern Britain". With such harsh intolerance towards Islam under the façade of preventing extremism, this will no doubt have a knock-on effect on community cohesion and how Muslims are perceived by the wider non-Muslim public.