After the Prime Minister announced regulation of supplementary schooling in his Party Conference speech, he laid out claims that specifically Islamic supplementary education, madrassahs, are preaching hate, preaching conspiracy theories about Jews and beating children.
Such claims so sweeping, so accusatory about a core institution of a single community would be shocking. But under the brush of radicalisation, such comments by the Prime Minister are justified. Yes, he did claim it wasn't all madrassahs. But imagine telling a class full of children that some of them are failing and are an abomination to their class, without specifying who you are talking about - anyone would agree this would deeply damage the morale of everyone, and target everyone, in the classroom.
Of course, no one would say criticism is bad. Rather criticism enables better understanding, facilitates explanation and discussion. Many Muslims are all up for a bout of explanation. But when a Prime Minister decides to make a blanket statement that Islamic madrassahs are preaching hatred to children on public television, using emotive language about minds being filled with 'poison', the buck stops there. There is no room for open explanation, there is no platform from which we can create understanding with wider society, as the judgement has already been made.
Every person who now drives past the premises that are used for this Islamic after school provision, or past children dressed in Muslim garb walking to those premises, will remember the hate-filled language used about this institution. And they will drive a little faster. Every Muslim parent, who send their children to one, will become that much more nervous, more apprehensive, to be seen taking their child into the now 'blackened' madrassah premises. Every madrassah which has been serving the Muslim community, all of them independent and under pressure, won't feel empowered but anxious, that such a bold and accusatory attack will be applied by someone somewhere, to them. And for the few problem madrassahs, after such a public attack they would probably now go underground, leaving the vast, massive majority struggling to exist and maintain their image.
The actual outcome of labelling another institution of the Muslim community as hate-filled, will only make people believe that we are all potentially hate-filled and entrench forced segregation of the Muslim community even more - At a time when Muslims are feeling increasing challenge in being accepted in society with increasing islamophobic crimes.
There is no denying the institution of the madrassah has faced challenges. What institution that started in people's living rooms over three decades ago, to existing in a whole host of sizes and forms across towns and cities of the UK today; wouldn't? Whether its financial, approach to learning, or curriculum. But aren't these challenges that supplementary schools across communities face?
Islamic madrassahs have been supplementing the spiritual and moral identity of Muslim children in the UK, for far longer than even Eastenders has been running. With a longstanding standard curriculum of learning to read and memorise the Quran, learning prayers and basic Islamic studies around the core belief, there is nothing radically new today. They have definitely evolved for the better since the time I was a child, using more fun and innovative ways of learning. Most Muslim parents you speak to in this day and age, already aware of the scrutiny of what Muslims teach their children, would tell you that the claims couldn't be further away from the truth of what their children learn.
If random spot check had been done beforehand, it is more than likely the Prime Minister would have found that the vast majority of madrassahs are doing something positive for society. They are working hard to imbibe core values in the children of the UK, after school hours. Whether it's honesty, trustworthiness, an all round sound moral character, spiritual fulfilment, building self esteem or service to your community - These are all part of Islamic madrassah teaching.
Islamic education seeks to make children assets to their community and society. And in this difficult time of Muslim scrutiny, it is this I will always say, that needs the most explanation and discussion.