Leading article: We need modern lessons in Islam

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The Independent Online

A speech by Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, in May has been little noticed until now. In it he addressed the Government's response to the London bombings of 7 July last year, from an education perspective. One of the suicide bombers, Mohammed Siddique Khan, had studied at London Metropolitan University. Rammell wanted to find out more about the influences young Muslims are exposed to in further and higher education.

His tour round Britain's universities and colleges was clearly a bit of an education for him, as was the lesson he had from Forward Thinking, a group that acts as a bridge between Muslims and politicians and the media. This group seems to be behind his decision to have an inquiry into how Islam is taught on British campuses. But what did he mean when he said his most surprising finding was "that the quality of teaching of Islam that takes place in our universities needs to be improved"?

Surprisingly, the minister was unable to enlighten The Independent's reporter, referring her to Forward Thinking, who passed her to Sheikh Michael Mumisa, a University of Birmingham scholar, who had met Rammell. Mumisa isconcerned about the version of Islam that is put across at private Islamic seminaries and the Islamic colleges that offer degrees in Islamic studies validated by British universities. Rammell might be able to influence the latter group.

Islamic teaching in the seminaries is based on a medieval curriculum which encourages Muslims to believe that Jews and Christians are their enemies condemned to perish in hell. Islamic teaching in the colleges is a glorified seminary curriculum written in modern academic language, says Mumisa. It does not ask serious questions about how to reinterpret medieval texts in a modern pluralist society.

But it seems British universities teaching Islamic studies also funk this issue. Soas, for example, has no permanent member of staff teaching Islamic thought. The hope must be that the inquiry under Ataullah Siddiqui, the director of Markfield Institute for Higher Education, is able to begin the process of introducing Muslims and the wider world to a version of Islam that is relevant for today.