Muslim schools intolerant? 'But we are taught about Judaism and Christianity'

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The Independent Online

"Yes, I'm Muslim but I'm also British," said Asilah Khan, 15. She is proud to be both. Asilah goes to the 700-pupil Leicester Islamic Academy - one of the first independent Muslim schools to be established in the UK.

"Yes, I'm Muslim but I'm also British," said Asilah Khan, 15. She is proud to be both. Asilah goes to the 700-pupil Leicester Islamic Academy - one of the first independent Muslim schools to be established in the UK.

Yesterday, she and her fellow pupils were discussing the claim made by David Bell, the chief schools inspector, that many Muslim schools did not teach respect for other cultures and were threatening the cohesiveness of UK society.

Ironically, the discussion was led by a teacher in a setting which would not have been out of place in one of the compulsory citizenship classes now demanded of state schools - a subject Mr Bell claimed was being ignored in many faith-based schools.

"At first I was shocked by what he had to say," Asilah said. "He hasn't visited our school and he doesn't know what's going on in it. We are taught about Judaism and Christianity and to respect all other religions. We are taught tolerance."

Asilah is taking 10 GCSEs next year and hopes to become a barrister. When she leaves the academy she will go on to a further education college for her A-levels and then university.

The Leicester Islamic Academy was set up 20 years ago with just seven pupils being taught in a top room in the local mosque.

Since then, it has expanded and moved into its own premises. Last summer it achieved a 100 per cent success rate in getting its GCSE candidates to obtain at least five A* to C grade passes.

At present, the school charges a fee of £1,300 per pupil, well below the average for the country's traditional public schools, which is about £9,000 a year for a day place.

It is seeking voluntary aided status but has been waiting three years to hear whether it will qualify for state aid. Only five of the 110 Muslim schools have so far been granted that.

In the wake of Mr Bell's comments, ministers were expected to face increased pressure to boost the number of state-aided Muslim schools.

Yesterday, Mohamed Mukadam, the academy's principal, who is also the chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, described his anger at the comments made by the chief schools inspector.

"Why does he make them?" he said. "It's as if Muslim kids who come here don't go on to higher education - but they do.

"I'd like to see what his evidence is for what he has been saying because it couldn't have come from here. If you look at the northern disturbances and riots, there wasn't a single person arrested who had attended a Muslim school."

In its initial stages, the school encountered some opposition from the Muslim community over encouraging girls to go on to higher education but Mr Mukadam believes it has convinced the doubters.

"Ninety-five per cent of our girls go on to further and higher education," he said. "We have our first girl studying medicine at Cambridge now."

Mr Mukadam acknowledged that some of the smaller Muslim schools would struggle to provide a broad curriculum and the kind of citizenship lessons Mr Bell is seeking.

"They have a hand-to-mouth existence," he said. "They struggle to raise funds. It is not because they don't want to. It is a question of resources."

However, he believes most Muslim schools do already provide citizenship lessons for their pupils to equip them to cope with the modern world.

Like Alisah he is proud of being both British and Muslim - a feeling that his school seeks to engender in its pupils. He said he believed the growth in Muslim schools stemmed from a feeling of disaffection with the state sector among parents. One reason was the lack of opportunity for youngsters to practise their religion in state schools.

That is provided at the Leicester Islamic Academy but not at the expense of teaching respect for other religions, according to the pupils. The academy also liaises closely with a local Roman Catholic state school.

Muaaz Lunat, 16, said: "We know our faith teaches tolerance towards all faiths. We don't point fingers at other schools and say they don't cooperate."

Hana El'Ahmar, 16, said she had been "quite shocked" by Mr Bell's comments, adding: "Why did he talk about just Muslim faith schools and not faith schools in general?"

VIEW FROM THE FAITH-BASED CLASSROOM

ASILAH KHAN, 15

"In our religious studies we're taught about Judaism and Christianity. We're taught to respect all other religions.

"At first I was shocked by what he said. He has not visited our school and he doesn't know what's going on in the school.

He should come here and speak to the students and look at what their views are. I'm Muslim but I'm also British. You can be both and be proud of being both. I'm going on to college to study for my A-levels and then I hope to go to university. I hope to become a barrister in the end."

HANA EL'AHMAR, 16

"I totally disagree with what he has said. We study the national curriculum and we are taught about other faiths. I think the school does encourage us to develop educationally but also makes us aware of the world around us. We do have separate classes on citizenship. We learn about things like the monarchy and the crime situation. I'd like to go to college and then on to university to study medicine. I was shocked when I heard what he had to say. I think it was very irresponsible. Why did he just talk about Muslim schools and not faith schools in general?"

MUAAZ LUNAT, 16

"I've been at the school for two years - I was abroad before that but my experience of this school is that it does teach tolerance and respect for other religions. We don't point fingers at other schools and say they don't contribute [to society]. What he [Mr Bell] said was not really fair. I was outraged by it actually. After 9/11, a lot of Muslims are being misunderstood. He is biased and he is basically Islamophobic. We know our faith preaches tolerance of all other faiths. After my GCSEs, I plan to go on to college for my A-levels and then go on to university. I want to go into medicine - and study chemistry or pharmacy or something like that. There are links with other schools - with St Paul's Roman Catholic school, for instance. The teachers go there and they talk about how to teach citizenship."

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