LONDON: The pressure on British Muslims to integrate more fully into British society is intensifying. For decades many Muslim clerics and their followers in the UK believed that if they kept a low profile they would be left alone to pursue their lives as they saw fit.
But the mood is changing. Violent jihadists’ terror attacks, pushback against the increasingly assertive attitudes of some young British Muslims and the growth of English nationalism have together resulted in demands that British Muslims do more to internalise British values. Complaints about racism and Islamophobia, which once silenced people who raised such issues, are making ever less impact.
The shift in attitude is perhaps most apparent in the education sector. That is in part because of the so-called Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham in which it was claimed Islamists were seeking to take over the management of state schools to advance their religious agenda. Official investigators uncovered a WhatsApp messaging group in which Muslim teachers in the city exchanged deeply intolerant messages.
For decades, Muslim communities have been expanding the range of Islamic schools in the UK. But the authorities are now indicating they have had enough. They have ordered the closure of four Islamic schools, two of which have links to Rafi Usmani, president of the Darul Uloom Karachi. The schools have vowed to fight the decision in court.
One of the banned schools, Jamia Al Hudaa in Nottingham, offers education to 250 girls between the ages of 11 and 19. A linked school in Sheffield teaches 60 boys. Both are run by the Madni Trust, which says it aims to “provide the best education in an Islamic environment through the knowledge of the Quran and the Sunnah.” The Sheffield school’s website seeks to attract Muslim parents by saying that most British schools promote “un-Islamic activities such as attending mixed swimming classes, and doing PE semi-naked”.
As recently as 2010, education inspectors were full of praise for the school in Nottingham, finding that “the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of the pupils of all ages is outstanding”. The report expressed its support for the fact that “Islamic Sciences study time increases throughout the secondary department culminating in full-time study in the sixth form”.
But the tendency of Islamic schools in the UK to hide pupils away from mainstream British society is increasingly difficult to sustain. There are more and more demands that Muslim pupils — like those of other faiths — should be taught about British society rather than cut off from it. A spokesperson for the department of education told Dawn: “Under the tough new standards and rigorous inspection regime, Ofsted inspections are exposing practices that were, in the past, tolerated. Where these practices are exposed — schools are given the opportunity to take action to improve. If they don’t, we will move to take them off the register.”
Working off the new guidelines, Ofsted strongly criticised Jamia Al Hudaa Nottingham in 2015, declaring the school to be “inadequate” and well short of required national standards. An official report complained that a book in the library was by an author who had been banned from the UK. A further inspection in 2016 found that although some improvements had been made, they were insufficient. A closure order soon followed.
For one former pupil of the school, that came as a relief. Aliyah Saleem, who was expelled from Jamia Al Hudaa Nottingham for possessing a camera, has described the school as an utterly cruel institution that failed to prepare pupils for life in the UK. With no non-Islamic history or geography taught, she left school not knowing about major events such as the two World Wars. The strict school rules included: no make-up, no radios, no music with instruments, no mobile phones and no newspapers. Even Harry Potter — being devoured by other children in the UK — was banned. Students at the school faced a fine of £20 for using chewing gum.
Headmaster Raza ul Haq — who has vowed to use the law to fight the closure order — has connections with Khatm Nabuwat, and once organised coachloads of activists from the Nottingham area to attend a Khatm Nabuwat event in London. He has also invited a number of radical clerics to participate in school events. Karachi cleric Rafi Usmani has frequently spoken at events held in Jamia Al Hudaa buildings.
The Nottingham school has remained open whilst the legal appeals process is ongoing. It is not clear how long the legal hearings will take to be completed. School staff told Dawn they did not want to make any comment on the issue whilst the matter was in court.
With reference to the closure of some Islamic schools a government spokesman said: “Extremism has no place in our society and when we find schools promoting twisted ideologies or discrimination in classrooms, we will take action, up to and including closing the school or working with the police as necessary.”
Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2016