Saturday , 15 December 2018

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Clampdown on madrassas misses the point of why parents send children for extra study

David Cameron used his recent speech at the Conservative Party Conference to announce that madrassas, Sunday schools, yeshivas and other religious institutions that teach children “intensively” will have to register with the Department for Education and will be subject to inspection.

The prime minister’s proposals mean that all religious supplementary schools in England that teach children for more than eight hours a week will be subject to inspection. Those that fail to meet the required standards or are found to be “teaching intolerence” will be shut down.

Cameron tried to be politically correct by referring to all religious institutions when announcing the policy. But it was obvious from his speech that it is primarily targeting Muslim madrassas. He prefaced it by expressing concern that “there are some children who spend several hours each day at a Madrassa” and that “in some madrassas we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions, being beaten, swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people”. By referring to “conspiracy theories about Jewish people” the prime minister is promoting a rift between communities which does not befit a national leader.

Copson claimed that “thousands of Jewish children in strictly orthodox yeshivas grow up learning no English, cut off from the rest of society and taught to fear or even hate those outside their immediate communities,” and he also mentioned indoctrination in some Christian schools.

There seems to be a complete lack of awareness around the challenges associated with this new policy, or why plans focused on regulating supplementary schools have been shelved in the past. A proposal for a voluntary code of conduct for some supplementary religious schools, which was shelved by the Department for Education as recently as 2014.

Muslim families targeted
The real issue here is the explicit targeting of a faith community who are already faced with educational, economic and social challenges. Instead of trying to understand and attend to these issues, Muslims are being exploited politically and held responsible for extremism, so increasing their marginalisation. Many earlier government initiatives and policies that aimed at alleviating this marginalisation have fallen short for young Muslims – such as the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, Every Child Matters, or Building Schools for Future.

The growth of supplementary Islamic faith schools in the West is a recent phenomenon. There are no precise statistics on how many supplementary religious schools exist in the UK, but it’s estimated to be between 3,000 to 5,000.

These schools have gained support and popularity in the era since the fatwa on Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses and since 9/11 in order to resist perceived threats from secular societies to Islamic culture, moral values, and Muslim identity. They have also been created to challenge exclusion in mainstream schools, and to enhance Muslim children’s educational achievement, job opportunities and upward social mobility.

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