The Muslim Teachers Association convened its AGM in London this week around the theme of ‘Muslim Teachers creating a better future.’ Keynote speakers included Professor Salim Al Hassani, President of the Foundation Science Technology and Civilization and Sulaiman Neve of the Nida Trust.
Maurice Coles, Founder of Compassionate Schools CoEd was also one of the senior Muslim educationists speaking on his latest project aimed at establishing Muslim schools with compassion as their main ethos .He said ‘Compassionate education is the conscious implementation of love in action, of the values and virtues outlined in the mnemonic ‘acts for love’. It involves making compassion the organizing principle of everything we do. It embraces the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and intellectual development of students and of society, as well as their physical and mental health. It includes faith and interfaith approaches as well as secular movements devoted to values and character education, to educating the heart, to emotional literacy and to the building of empathy and resilience.’
Farid Pajwani Head of the UCL Institute of Education also delivered a presentation introducing CREME- the Centre for Research and Evaluation of Muslim Education. He began by quoting a great Muslim philosopher “We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth from whatever source it comes to us…For him who seeks the truth there is nothing of higher value than truth itself.” (Al-Kindi, Arab Philosopher, d. 873) and went on to argue that a lively, world-leading tradition of philosophy in Muslim history was a great point to begin from because ” today, we need philosophy to save democracy and to deal with personal and collective challenges. We need to rekindle philosophical tradition in Muslim contexts.”
CREME in fact designed and supported a ‘Philosophy for Children’ project in a Muslim schools after a pioneering campaign by the Alhambra Free School led by Hannah Smith and Syed Mohsin Abbas to place critical enquiry and reasoning skills at the heart of childrens education. Philosophy Foundation headed by philosopher Peter and his wife Emma Worley, who initially worked with the Alhambra Free School initiative, had already been focused on what they called the ‘if’ question as part of their Philosophy for Kids programmes.
Ashfaque Chowdry, Chair of the Association of Muslim Schools and Andrea Tuijten from Three Faiths Forum were the other speakers. Andrea’s presentation focused on Faith School Linking which saw explained “provides opportunities for young people of different faiths and beliefs to meet and create long-lasting bonds of understanding and friendship.”
Andrea emphasized that ” students on this Linking programme take part in three engaging and memorable link days throughout the academic year and deepen knowledge and understanding of different beliefs by engaging directly with students from different backgrounds.” She added that they were also also helped to “develop skills of communication, empathy and reflection” whilst “teachers on the linking programme benefited by building long-lasting links with local schools” and received ” expert interfaith guidance and training in 3FF core methodologies.They also benegited from networking with other teachers and education professionals through a programme of Continued Professional Development.
An ‘Art of Empathy’ programne was instrumental in ” opening connections through exploring complexity in ones own identity as a starting point for understanding complexity in others” according to Miss Tuijten. She added that the third component in this project was the Art of Asking designed for “cultivating dialogue skills to engage with and explore each others complexity and lived faith and beliefs. As well as helping in analysing the power of language in opening and closing dialogue and developing skills for asking sensitive questions.
The final aspect The Three Faiths Forum highlighted was ‘Encountering Faiths and Beliefs’ which was all about “Bringing real-life experiences of faith, belief and identity into the classroom via a panel of trained speakers from different faith and belief backgrounds.” Speakers shared their personal stories and answered the students’ questions in an engaging and informative way while modelling interfaith dialogue and collaboration.
These presentations were all very encouraging, however, the current educational climate in Britain is dominated by the counter extremism, and a muscular liberalism agenda hell bent on making Muslims conform to poorly defined British values and the legally undefinable notion of ‘ extremism’. The themes dealt with by the key speakers did have a subtle range of reactionary narratives to the Government’s ongoing beligerent covert targeting of Muslims as a problem community.
Many Muslims are increasingly fed up with the neoconservative-fanned political targeting of Muslims in education. The latest instance being Amanda Spielman, Head of Ofsted, and her support for the effective banning of hijabs for primary school girls in St Stephens School in London. Parents objections forced the school to reverse it’s decision; but this latest battle shows the pressure both Muslim teachers schools and children are being subjected to by an increasingly Stasi State style intrusion into how Muslims should think or behave.
The papers presented at the conference undoubtedly addressed positive developments in educating Muslim children, however, such is the toxic atmosphere created by top down British establishment that any initiatives positive or negative targeting Muslims will also inevitably now be scrutinized to see that they are not part of a politically motivated educational engineering agenda. Since 9/11 government scrutiny of the so called Muslim terror issue has been a double edged sword designed to access and control Muslims in the education sector or their pupils.
Inspite of the backdrop of suspicion and political intrigue behind top down Muslim educational development in Britain the Conference organiser Mrs Ruksana Yaqoob, Head of the Muslim Teachers Association,and her team are to be congratulated on organizing a progressive event which could well provide positive solutions for young Muslims growing up in the shadow of British institutional Islamophobia.