An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Muslim Schools in Britain: Socialization, Identity and Integration

In Education on March 4, 2012 at 8:56 pm

Dr Sadaf Rizvi, Institute of Education

Thursday 1 March 2012, 3.00 pm, Committee Room 1, Institute of Education


Integration of Muslim children and young people in the UK has been a contested issue. Debates around the construction of young Muslims’ identity and their educational experiences have even been more contested. Some scholars and policymakers argue that the failure of mainstream state schools in meeting the needs of Muslim pupils has posed problems for integration, while others see such schools as an instrument for improving race relations.  On the other hand, some researchers envisage a strong role for Muslim faith-based schools in ‘socializing’ young Muslims and constructing their ‘British Muslim’ identity. Others, more sceptically, see Muslim schools as being divisive, reproducing gender inequalities and threatening the harmony of multi-ethnic British society.

Interestingly, amidst all these controversies, only limited attention has been paid to the voices of young Muslims. Similarly, little effort has been made to understand how, and to what extent, the curriculum in Muslim schools address the educational, religious or cultural needs of Muslim pupils; and how it leads to the construction of their multiple or contested identities.

Based on an ethnographic research conducted in a secondary Muslim girls’ school in England, this seminar will highlight the complexity of multiple factors that have led to the establishment of Muslim faith schools in the UK. It will analyze three different forms of curricula (Islamic, National and Islamicized) being used in the school, and the diversity of young Muslims’ experiences as a result of a complex interplay of individual, familial, educational, ethnic and religious factors.  The seminar will recognize the agency of young girls in the process of their own socialization, and will suggest that, despite variations in their experiences, the girls are involved actively in creating and recreating their identities and in negotiating, choosing or abandoning what they perceive as ‘cultural’ rather than ‘religious’.  This finding challenges the dominant discourses that regard Muslim girls as ‘oppressed’ in the perceived patriarchal systems and that consider them as a homogenous category. The seminar aims to inform the contested debates around the socialization, identity and integration of young Muslims, which have largely ignored their voices and aspirations.

Sadaf Rizvi is a Research Officer at the Institute of Education. Her specific areas of interest are anthropology of education, childhood ethnography and education and social cohesion. Prior to working at the IoE, Sadaf worked at Brunel University, London and the Aga Khan University – Institute for Educational Development in Pakistan. She also taught at the Open University, UK on ‘Islam in the West’ and ‘Childhood’ courses. Her recently edited book, Multidisciplinary approaches to educational research: Case studies from Europe and the developing world’ compares the use diverse educational approaches in undertaking research with children and young people in diverse settings.

A few days ago I had the good fortune of attending a talk at the Institute of Education by Dr Sadaf Rizvi. The audience consisted of a number of educators and head teachers from Muslim schools, some of whom where also doing a PhD in Islamic Education at the institute. What I found interesting was the nature of the questions that arose at the end. I felt, with the growing demands and unpredictable nature of the information age, there was a need for dialogue for British Muslims on how their faith can rise to meet the needs and challenges of our time. This also reinforced for me the need for a blogs such as this. It seemed Muslim faith schools wanted to do more but were often pinned down with issues such as funding or using much of their time and resources to meet the ‘standards’. While some may ask if Muslim students are better of in a state school or to what extent Muslim schools cultivate spiritual principles a curriculum such as Steiner or Montessori may offer, I felt there was also a recognition, on some level, of the fact that schooling/education itself is going through a period of transformation from one rooted in the industrial age to one of the information age and Muslim schools would have to also face and be a part of that change. The challenge of producing children for a world tomorrow, a world experts can’t predict, is at the heart of education and one the Islamic tradition, I feel, has much to offer. To give an example, nowadays  more collaborative and discussion based approaches are encouraged over authoritarian forms of teaching in the classroom. Yet this isn’t necessarily something new. In the Islamic tradition, Imam Abu Hanifah used a discussion based pedagogy in his circles by setting up hypothetical situations and inviting students to debate. This was contrary to Imam Malek’s approach who would only discuss matters that had occurred. I would like to also add may be we not only need to go back to our tradition but also go ahead with it through ‘a reconstruction of religious thought’  (as Iqbal called it) for our times while being fully consistent with the Qur’anic principles. The late Islamic scholar Dr Israr Ahmad spoke of it as reading the Qur’an of today. One of things needed would be a shift from people trained as teachers to those who are educators in the deeper sense of that word as Thomas Moore suggests (please see post ‘from Teachers to Educators ). This was also pointed out much earlier by Allama Muhammed Iqbal (1877-1938) in his message to Aftab Khan, Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, who sought his advice on introducing a new faculty of Islamic studies:

“Our first and foremost object should be to create Ulema of proper qualities who could fulfill the spiritual needs of the community. Please note that along with the change in the outlook of the people their spiritual requirements also undergo a change. the change in the status of the individual, his freedom of thought and expression, and the unimaginable advancement made by the physical science, have completely revolutionised modern life. As a result, the kind of ilm-i-Kalam and the theological understanding which was considered sufficient to satisfy the heart of a Muslim of the Middle Ages, does not satisfy him any more. This is not being stated with the intention to injure the spirit of religion. But in order to re-discover the depths of creative and original thinking (Ijtihad), and the emphasize that it is essential to reconstruct our religious thought.”

One of the questions asked by a member of the audience at the end of the talk was ‘How do we know Allah exists, or Jesus exists etc..’ i.e. isn’t this all a form of conditioning? I think it’s a fundamental question and goes back to how do we intend to teach our children religion and awaken in them the higher cognitive faculties the Qur’an mentions?

There is much to be discussed here. Please feel free to share your views, insights, agreements and disagreements through the comments box below.

  1. Thank you Saqib for attending this meeting and sharing the findings with us. It’s a very interesting subject indeed. It’s interesting to note how much the girls enjoy attending a school where they can feel secure in a solid sense of self and identity. The two years that I spent in madrasa, admittidly, were the best two years of my life. I felt vey happy and secure. It was upon leaving the madrasa (school shut down to funding reasons) that my world was rocked and it was a very turbulent time because I didn’t understand how to function in a society totally alien to me. As nice and beautiful being in a madrasa is, I think it ultimately created a sense of superiority over non-muslims. It creates a ‘them and us’ mentality which ultimately is unhealthy and fails to recognize the fact that we human beings are one and equal. I send my kids to public school and I did so out of choice. First, I wanted them to understand their identity in the context of the spectrum of British Society. And Secondly, I wanted to control what Islamic values were taught to them. I certainly couldn’t entust that to any one else, mainly because of the point in which you raise – that our Islamic educators need to raise their game and present our Islamic teachings in light of what exist in the modern world (culture, technology, bioethics, etc)

  2. I don’t normally comment but I gotta tell thanks for the post on this special one : D.

  3. An amazing article, thanks for the writing.

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