An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Islamic Education as Holistic Education By Jeremy HT

In Education on August 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

splash-photo-sp-granada1(An extract from the report Contextualising Islam in Britain (phase 2) published in 2012 by the Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, compiled by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas. The extract is based largely on the presentation by Jeremy to participants in the project on Islamic Education as Holistic Education)

Participants discussed ways in which Islamic education can legitimately be said to converge with the broad rationale of holistic education emphasising the balanced development of human faculties. A comprehensive and integrated concept of Islamic education based on the worldview of Divine Unity (tawhid) ideally encompasses not only the instruction and training of the mind and the transmission of knowledge (talim), but also the nurture of the whole being (tarbiya),moral discipline (tadib), and learning from one another in the spirit of critical openness and respect for diversity (taaruf). The teacher is therefore not only a muallim, a transmitter of knowledge, but also a murabbi, a nurturer of souls and developer of character. The Islamic educational system has never divorced the training of the mind from that of the soul.i

It is worth noting that the Islamic concept of education as tarbiya, ‘nurturing, rearing’, is consistent with Latin educere, to ‘lead or draw out’ (English ‘educe’) and with the underlying meaning of the English word ‘development’, to ‘unwrap’. This concept of drawing out latent potential points to an educational process which includes remembering, activating, awakening, eliciting or bringing to light innate capacities. These capacities reflect the essential nature or primordial disposition (fitra) with which the human being has been imprinted by God, endowing him or her with the potential to become His representative or steward (khalifa) on earth. The origin of the English word for ‘character’ is from a Greek word meaning a ‘stamp’, ‘impression’ or ‘engraving’, from which the sense of ‘character’ as a scribal mark is derived. Authentic human character is engraved or etched on the soul, having been created by God ‘in the best of moulds’.ii The development of character is thus the unfolding of the divine imprint.

It was suggested that any description of Islamic education should include the dimension of tazkiya, which encompasses knowledge and practices directed to the purification of the soul, or the cleansing of the heart, from vices such as egotism, pride, envy, greed and heedlessness. The source of such spiritual education and transformation is firmly rooted in the Qur’an,iii and in the injunction of the Prophet Muhammad that the greater struggle (al-jihad al-akbar) is the struggle to conquer the lower self. The Prophet prayed to God not only to increase him in knowledge but also to improve his character.

In Islamic terms, over-emphasis on talim at the expense of tarbiya can compromise the integrity of the educational experience, producing a system of schooling or instruction characterised by a top-down, teacher-centred Transmission of Information model of learning. It is important to realise that many critiques of instructional or schooling regimes are directed not only at authoritarian approaches to education in Muslim schools but also at the utilitarian priorities of the secular education system in the West.

A comprehensive view of Islamic education converges in many ways with the stated goals of the National Curriculum, which is supposed to encompass not only the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also personal, social, moral and spiritual development.

Participants discussed the misleading dichotomy which has arisen from regarding Islamic education as a faith-based alternative to the secular conception of education based on the humanist ideals of Western modernity. Islamic education is not confined to religious education, but is an overarching concept referring to the totality of teaching and learning activities that take place in the family, the school and the mosque. There is a pressing need for a radical realignment of the one-sided and polarised mentalities underlying much entrenched thinking within contemporary Islam and the secular humanism of late modernity, so that they can interact more intelligently. Promising signs that this process is underway can be observed in the way the West has begun to question the supremacist assumptions within its rhetoric of ‘rational enlightenment’ and the corresponding way in which the Muslim world is gradually reconsidering and recontextualising the meaning of being faithful to Islam in the light of contemporary needs.iv

Participants discussed the educational philosophy and practice of certain school systems in the Muslim world which have adopted more holistic approaches, going beyond the dichotomy between secular and religious education.vIn some of these schools, while a certain percentage of the curriculum is devoted to religious studies, there is a parallel programme offering a broad and balanced education. Although many of the children may aspire to become Imams and spend many hours learning how to recite the Qur’an, they also follow a curriculum centred on science and social studies. Other models follow a more integrated modern curriculum.

A common thread in many of these alternative models is a strong emphasis on inter-cultural studies, which may include the study of other faiths, so as to foster dialogue, tolerance, peaceful coexistence and integration within wider society. These schools do not seek to subvert modern secular states but promote an inclusive ideal that encourages practising Muslims to embrace modernity and the opportunities it affords. The holistic nature of such an educational vision is also implemented in the emphasis placed on extra-curricular activities, ethical values, character building, and service to the common good.

Opportunities and Challenges within School and Family

Critical Thinking

There was strong agreement amongst participants that the revival of critical thinking was a pressing priority in the education of Muslims.

A strongly open educational approach, embracing critical thinking (al-tafkir al-naqdi) and dynamic interpretation in relation to primary sources was pivotal in building a fully-fledged jurisprudential system in the early period of Islam. The process of scrutinising evidence, examining assumptions and making deductions was a living tradition that pervaded the legal field during the early days of Islamic jurisprudence. The necessary component of independent thinking and interpretation recognised by the tradition as ijtihad has important pedagogic implications.viWhile there is increasing recognition of the need to reinstate critical thinking in contemporary Islamic legal thought, there is also a pressing need for its application to scholarship and education.

Much of the Qur’an is in the form of arguments which recognise the need and capacity of the human mind to reason and consider explanations as a means of coming to valid conclusions and heeding advice and guidance.vii The Qur’an is not only sanctioned by divine authority but also appeals to, and is verified by, human reasoning. It also recognises the practical reality that human life is subject to change and adaptation, and emphasises developmental processes active in both physical and psycho-spiritual dimensions of human nature.

Participants discussed thepotential of even very young children for critical thinking. This is fostered in those schools that follow programmes such as ‘Philosophy for Children’, a movement that aims to teach children reasoning and debating skills.viiiThe experience of many philosophers and teachers working with young children supports the view that children benefit from philosophical enquiry even in early primary school. Furthermore, there is empirical evidence that teaching children reasoning skills early in life greatly improves other cognitive and academic skills and greatly assists learning in general.

Values Education within a Community of Enquiry

The best thinking skills programmes go beyond the sharpening of a narrow set of abstract intellectual skills, and create a community of enquiry committed to developing a range of ethical values essential to participation in a society in which there exists a plurality of values.

These values include respect for others, taking all ideas seriously, caring for the procedures that govern collaborative enquiry, and willingness to engage with broader perspectives and listen to alternative viewpoints. The philosophical exploration of concepts such as good, bad, fairness, rules, rights, duty, and loyalty also facilitates intelligent enquiry into ethical questions.

The fear is sometimes expressed that if children are encouraged to explore ethical questions and make up their own minds about ethical values, there will be little agreement about core values. Instead, it is assumed that children will adopt a relativist outlook, according to which ‘anything goes’, and in which all choices for action are equally valid and immune from criticism. Such moral relativism is typically associated with modern secular society by some Muslims, as it is by some followers of other faith traditions and ethical systems. However, the rigorous nature of the enquiry in such programmes as ‘Philosophy for Children’ and the emphasis on assessing reasons for positions means that, in practice, a community is very unlikely to come to the conclusion that ‘anything goes’. In fact, experience shows that students in such a community of enquiry typically recreate for themselves a stable set of core ethical values which have withstood the test of careful evaluation.

The integration of philosophical and ethical dimensions in programmes which foster a community of enquiry is entirely consistent with the comprehensive description of human faculties enshrined in an authentic vision of Islamic education. The Qur’an upholds reason as a praiseworthy means of validating truth, advising that people of insight (and those graced with divine guidance) are those who listen closely to all that is said, and follow the best of it.ix

Rote-learning vs Comprehension

During the discussion amongst participants about the prevailing pedagogy in madrasa education, the claim was made that it was simplistic and misleading to set up a dichotomy between a traditional teacher-directed pedagogy based on rote-learning of texts and a progressive pedagogy which favours critical thinking, discussion and interpretation.

It is simply not the case that the former methodology is practiced exclusively or even disproportionately within all Muslim educational settings, any more than education in thinking skills forms the bedrock of practice in mainstream schools. In fact, mainstream educational practice is itself largely characterised by a top-down, teacher-directed transmission of information model of teaching and learning which does not generally give prominence to a culture of critical or creative thinking.

There is a common misconception that memorisation is somehow opposed to thinking and comprehension. On the contrary, the memorisation of complex verbal material is a vital tool in developing higher-order cognitive faculties. Memorisation makes complex material accessible to the brain for subsequent processing and lifelong reflection. It also provides a store of knowledge on which new knowledge can be built and gives substance and credibility to arguments and opinions.

Some critiques of mainstream education uphold that it needs to reclaim a largely lost culture of memorisation in those areas where it enhances deep learning. Learning poetry, for example, like learning music for performance, has transferable benefits, because this kind of memorisation develops potent cognitive strategies for utilising a variety of patterns and cues. These include word order, metrical and rhyming patterns, and various poetic devices such as alliteration and assonance which build memorable connections between words and are a common feature of epic poetry and sacred text. Such skills were well developed in societies rich in oral tradition, and of course encompassed not only skill in memorising but also the expressive skills required for inspiring recitation.

Participants emphasised, however, the importance of ensuring that memorisation, imitation, dictation and factual ‘right-answer’ recall are not over-extended as learning strategies. All educational institutions, whether mainstream or otherwise, need to show that they have developed a methodology of teaching and learning in all subject areas (including religious education) that promotes deep comprehension through critical and creative thinking skills, discussion, research and recourse to personal experience. The memorisation of sacred texts can undoubtedly contribute to such a rich educational experience and should not be denigrated.

Creative and Expressive Arts

Fears and suspicions about the role of the arts, especially music, in encouraging undesirable traits of character and even destabilising whole communities and societies have been common to various religions (including Judaism, Christianity and Islam) and philosophical and ethical traditions.

Amongst some Muslims, the place of the creative and expressive arts, whether in the school curriculum or in daily life, is a matter of considerable controversy. Most forms of artistic expression may be regarded by them as a threat to Islamic values. Since Islam emphasises restraint and modesty, the arts may be seen as dangerous in promoting self-indulgence, sensuality and licentiousness.

Debates continue about whether stringent Muslim reservations about the arts are justified by primary scriptural sources. Many uphold that there is nothing in the Qur’an which explicitly prohibits forms of artistic expression and that the sayings of the Prophet which may often be cited as doing so are of dubious authenticity. In the case of visual arts, it is a common misconception that all forms of figurative or representational art are forbidden in Islam. In fact, the pre-eminence of calligraphic, abstract and geometric forms in Islamic art is not a consequence of any such ‘prohibition’ but simply reflects the preference of the Islamic artist “to leave the outer forms of nature and the material world, and concentrate on the abstract, inner reality of things.” x

That said, those Muslims with strong reservations may often adhere to the cautious view that in the case of ‘doubt’, it is always best to play safe and avoid the possibility of error.

Such proscriptive arguments, however, appear very marginal when it is realised that Muslims in general enjoy a rich artistic experience. The younger generation of Muslims in particular has positive attitudes to the arts and enjoys them with few qualms.xi It has been strongly asserted that to thrive within Europe, Muslims must make room for the arts in their lives, and that “it is not possible to think of a Muslim presence without nourishing and encouraging an artistic and cultural expression which is an alternative to a popular culture that does not often care about ethics or dignity”.xii

Participants acknowledged that there needs to be an open debate amongst Muslim educationalists about the role of the arts in education. Such a debate needs to be informed not only by authentic Islamic principles and the realities of living in contemporary society, but also by the findings of contemporary research to re-evaluate the place of visual arts, music, dance, drama and other forms of artistic expression.

Introspection, Reflection and Contemplation

Introspection and reflection are essential for the development of moral and ethical values because they teach young people to examine themselves, to understand their own motives and the consequences of their actions. Intelligent and purposeful struggle with the lower self is dependent on those qualities of self-awareness and self-knowledge which arise from self-examination. The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: He who knows his own self, knows his Lord.

The Qur’an is insistent in its call for people to think deeply and reflect on the visible ‘signs’ (ayat) accessible to human perception as evidence of the existence of God and the hidden dimension of the ‘Unseen’ (Ghayb). The development of higher faculties of perception (albab), or ‘seeing with the heart’, is linked to higher cognitive faculties such as tadabbur (pondering), tafakkur (deep thinking, reflection, and contemplation), and tawassum (observation and understanding of the signs of nature).xiii In Islam, as in all faith traditions, the contemplative faculties go deeper than critical thinking in having their prime orientation in the development of mindfulness or consciousness of God (taqwa). As such, they combine cognitive, ethical and spiritual dimensions.

Islam affirms the centrality of higher faculties in the education of the fully human being. Participants agreed that Muslim educators therefore have much to offer from their spiritual tradition for the restoration of opportunities for deep thinking, extended reflection, contemplation and the cultivation of self-knowledge, whether at school or within the wider educational context of the family.

Observation, Perception and Direct Experience

There are a number of verses in the Qur’an which exhort men and women to make good use of the faculties of “hearing, sight and hearts” with which they have been endowed by God.xiv Using the senses and learning by direct observation and experience is therefore a fundamental dimension of an Islamic vision of education. It also reflects the deeper wisdom in Islamic spirituality that knowledge gained by direct experience, or ‘tasting’ (dhawq), is the way to spiritual certitude (yaqin). The connection of wisdom to the faculties of direct perception is clearly shown in the derivation of the English word ‘sapience’ (wisdom) from Latin sapere (‘to taste’), which also gives the word ‘savour’. Direct perception operates on various levels, from the physical senses to the activation of the primordial capacity for intuitive perception of the truth. Faith (iman) is not a matter of blind belief, but is continually verified and strengthened by direct observation and awareness of the imprint of the divine attributes in creation, evident to those who have ‘eyes to see’ and ‘ears to hear’.xv

Given the enormous contribution of Islam to the development of empiricism and the scientific method in the West, it might be expected that Muslim educators would be in the forefront of reviving a culture of observation and experimentation which is in decline in British schools.xvi Given also the central importance of geometry in Islamic civilization, a Muslim vision of education might also be expected to defend the place of geometry in the curriculum, both as a key element of mathematics and as the very foundation of Islamic art, architecture and aesthetics.

Education in the Humanities

The progressive marginalisation of the arts and humanities has been identified by the Cambridge Primary Review as a serious issue in the curriculum of mainstream schools.xvii In the curriculum of some Muslim schools, the neglect of these subjects may be even more evident. Only the bare minimum required may be offered, and even then may be poorly delivered. Such imbalance in the curriculum may be partly attributable to the traditional preference within Muslim communities for certain professional pathways such as law, medicine, engineering and computer science, but it can also be the consequence of negative attitudes towards subjects such as literature.

It was pointed out that it appears that no proper provision is made in madrasas to introduce students to the subjects within the classical Islamic humanities (the adab genre) and almost no contemporary Western liberal arts subjects are studied. Without proper familiarity with the humanities it is difficult to expect that students will develop the interpretive and communicative skills necessary for engaging with the rich Muslim cultural heritage and developing a more appropriate and effective language for articulating Islam in contemporary British society. Education in the humanities is also crucial in developing a more synthetic, integrated and complementary approach to the curriculum.

The study of history and geography is not only integral to the human need for orientation in time and space but also has a moral purpose in fostering understanding of the factors involved in the rise and fall of human civilisations. The achievements of early Muslim geographers and historians attest to the importance of these subjects in advancing the spirit of enquiry and the open interest in the diversity of human experience at the heart of Islamic civilisation. This splendid legacy is an opportunity to motivate Muslim educators and parents to play an important part in reviving a culture of geographical and historical literacy.

Given the fact that many Muslim children grow up speaking more than one language, Muslims can also play an important role in increasing public understanding of the benefits of multilingualism, and not least amongst teachers, many of whom mistakenly believe that bilingualism and multilingualism among their pupils is a problem rather than an asset. Research clearly shows that children who speak at least two languages do better at school than those who speak only one.xviii

Nature and Environmental Education

Given the repeated call in the Qur’an for reflection on the beauty and majesty of nature, the study of the natural world and environmental issues ought to be a key element in Islamic education. This is an important challenge for Britain’s predominantly urban Muslim communities.

It was agreed by many participants that it is vital for children to capture a balanced, healing and beneficent vision of the natural world, and that people in every community need to explore how they can provide opportunities, supported by school or family, for experiential learning in natural settings. These may include adventure programs, often praised as a means of developing not only physical fitness, but also problem-solving abilities, leadership skills, social skills and independence. Those who have participated in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme enthusiastically attest to that.xix Programmes may also include real-world projects which give children a taste of country life or involve them in gardening or environmental conservation.xx

Above all, young people benefit enormously from simple immersion in the spaciousness and tranquillity of nature. The Qur’an states that the servants of the All-Merciful are those who tread lightly on the earth.xxi This is an important message for a culture which may pay undue homage to the adrenalin rushes provided by extreme sports supported by hi-tech equipment, or the quest for personal triumphs in the conquest of nature.

Community Service and Stewardship

Charitable work in the service of the wider community is a mark of excellence in holistic education and, given the importance of charitable deeds in Islam, is surely integral to the ethos and practice of authentic Islamic education.

The Qur’an calls people of faith to be true to their ‘covenants’, which include the covenants between God and man, between man and his own soul, and between the individual and his fellow-men, thus embracing the entire area of man’s moral and social responsibilities.xxii The embodiment of philanthropic principles is not therefore a matter of convenience, calculation or expediency, but an absolute sacred trust (amana). This imposes on Muslims the duty of stewardship (khilafa), which demands a proactive sense of care, social responsibility charitable deeds, and good works (salihat).

One of the most effective ways to engage the whole being of anyone is to involve them in service to others. Involvement in active charitable work or community service which brings together different communities, including faith communities, and the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’, is immensely enriching to all. The poor, deprived or needy may be materially enriched, but the givers also benefit immeasurably because of what they learn about the human spirit, the joy of selfless giving without hope of reward, the development of compassion and empathy, direct insight into the way of life and beliefs of others, and an understanding of the roots of true happiness. Young people are hungering for involvement of this kind, because it is part of their innate humanity, and both educational institutions and families can clearly play an important role in providing them with a practical context for its expression.

The Crucial Role of the Family

The role of the family is absolutely central in implementing a range of opportunities for the education of the whole child. The family is, in fact, the very foundation of a truly holistic education.

Participants discussed the theological status of the family in relation to the nurturing process of tarbiya, and how it contributes to the education of the whole personality. The issue of home-schooling was also raised. It was claimed that, whilst the pedagogic process within the Qur’an is one which respects the autonomous learner, the role of the family can nevertheless often be stagnant in being largely compliant with authority figures.

It is obvious that moral and spiritual development in schools builds on the child’s experience in the home, but it is also important to realise that the family can provide various opportunities for many of the dimensions of wider holistic education. The role of the family and the home environment goes far beyond that of parental cooperation with the school in keeping homework diaries, attending parents’ evenings and the like. It extends to providing many opportunities for extra-curricular activities, such as engagement in the creative arts, cultural and sporting activities, nature activities and community service.

Real concerns about the quality of education in schools is also driving a marked increase in the number of parents opting out of the system altogether and choosing homeschooling for their children. Motives for doing so vary greatly, including justifiable concerns about poor discipline in schools, lack of moral and spiritual education, bullying, excessive testing and lack of stimulation for able and gifted children.

The quality of discourse and relationships within family and social life also initiates and reinforces the acquisition of the knowledge and skills which characterise a genuine community of enquiry committed to lifelong learning. Holistic education in its deepest sense is fostered within a family circle centred on vibrant conversation, discussion, respect for alternative views, and the open exploration of ideas, as well as on the transmission of traditional wisdom and values. A talking culture within families is also an essential aspect of the reclamation of a culture of personal care, which can provide children with emotional resilience and a sense of personal responsibility.

A constellation of virtues is transmitted from generation to generation through proper education, upbringing and, above all, through inspiring examples set by elders and role models. These paragons may be ancestors, parents, teachers, mentors or other exemplary characters either from the past or in the present. If someone does not receive this quality from family, environment and education, it is very difficult to acquire it by personal effort alone. Given the demographic reality that more than half of British Muslims are under 25 years of age (the most youthful profile of any faith community), it can hardly be emphasised enough that the proper nurture of young British Muslims and the welfare of future generations depend crucially on quality of leadership and guidance within family and community. The same applies, of course, to all young people within all communities in Britain today.

i See Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Traditional Islam in the Modern World, London: Kegan Paul International, 1987, p. 123.

ii Qur’an 95:4.

iiiQur’an 91:9.

iv See Abdullah Sahin, 2010, op. cit., p. 166.

v The discussion centred on three Turkish-based approaches: Said Nursi, the Imam-Khatib schools, and schools inspired by the Gülen movement

vi See Sayed Sikander Shah and Mek Wok Mahmud, “Critical Thinking and its Implications for Contemporary Itjihad”, American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Vol. 27, No. 4, 2010, pp. 45-67.

viiSee Abdullah Sahin, 2010, op. cit., p. 177.

viiiPhilosophy for Children is an international educational programme developed more than twenty years ago by Dr. Matthew Lipman and represented in some thirty countries around the world.

ixQur’an39:17-18. Razi notes these verses as expressing “a praise and commendation of following the evidence supplied by one’s reason (hujjat al-‘aql), and of reaching one’s conclusions in accordance with critical examination (nazar) and logical inference (istidlal).” According to Muhammad Asad, they describe people who “examine every religious proposition (in the widest sense of this term) in the light of their own reason, accepting that which their mind finds to be valid or possible, and rejecting all that does not measure up to the test of reason.” (The Message of the Qur’an, op. cit.)

x See Fatimah Ali, Worldview, Metaphysics, and Islamic Art, in Knowledge is Light : Essays in Honor of Seyyed Hossein Nasr, edited by Zailan Morris, ABC International Group, Inc., 1999.

xi Robert Bunting, “Islamic Arts in the Curriculum”, op. cit., p. 121.

xii Tariq Ramadan, To be a European Muslim, Leicester: Islamic Foundation, 1999.

xiii See Malik Badri, Contemplation: An Islamic Psychospiritual Study, Herndon: IIIT, 2000.

xiv E.g. Qur’an 16:78, 46:26, 67:23. Muhammad Asad explains in his notes to two of these verses that the noun fu’ad (pl. ‘af‘idah). encompasses both intellect and feeling, and he himself gives various translations of the term in different verses as ‘minds’, ‘hearts’ and ‘[knowledgeable] hearts’. In the same way, Yusuf Ali translates the term as ‘intelligence and affections’, ‘feeling and understanding’ or ‘heart and intellect’.

xv Note also verses in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible: The hearing ear and the seeing eye, the Lord has made both of them (Proverbs 20:12); If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9,23; 7:16; Luke 8:8; 14:35).

xvi See the report on science teaching at GCSE level drawn up by Dr. Ian Gibson, Chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Times Educational Supplement, 12 July 2002. See also Warwick Mansell, “Attack on science ‘by numbers’”, reporting Jonathan Osborne, Professor of Science Education at King’s College London, Times Educational Supplement, 2 January 2004.

xvii See http://www.primaryreview.org.uk/ The Cambridge Primary Review is directed by Robin Alexander, a Fellow of Wolfson College at the University of Cambridge, Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Warwick, and President, British Association for International and Comparative Education (BAICE) 2008-9.

xviii Research by the University of London Institute of Education, which brought together a number of studies on bilingual and trilingual children, reported in The Independent, 9 October 2003.

xx One farmer who runs such a project has described how children love the contact with the land and the animals, and above all they thrive in an environment in which they feel useful and where there is communal effort in which everyone’s contribution is valued (BBC Radio 4, 2 December 2001).

xxi Qur’an 25:63.

xxii This is the gist of Muhammad Asad’s explanation of the term ‘aqd (covenant) in his note to Qur’an 5:1. 

  1. Dear Jeremy,

    Many thanks. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. This document could serve as a basis for a curriculum development project and if successful, can lead to a Saturday school – but it will need a ‘creative minority’, a kernel of creative minds and hearts who can drive such a project.

    There are two other points i’ll like to add to the discussion – 1. presence/mindfulness. 2.identity

    The first point is that of presence/mindfulness as an integral part of the school curriculum is vital. Without this, any education initiative can easily remain at the level of conditioning and beliefs. The Maharashi School in Lancashire have what they call ‘relaxed alertness’ as the children practice TM meditation in the morning. Short video on their website http://www.maharishischool.com/lancashire.html

    There is another issue that I think is vital to this discussion for British Muslims in particular- that of identity. As Salma Yaqoob pointed out in her talk at the global peace and unity event,( http://youtu.be/EAHIcRhh_pI) how are youngsters work out their identity in a society which is increasingly becoming polarised. This I feel is especially after the Woolwich and Boston tragedies this year. One only need to follow discussions on twitter to see how much hatred is directed towards her (received death threats) or others in the media such as Mehdi Hassan who interviewed Dawkins a few months ago (Dawkins recently came under scrutiny for dressing up bigotry as aethiesm. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/not-in-our-name-dawkins-dresses-up-bigotry-as-nonbelief–he-cannot-be-left-to-represent-atheists-8754183.html )

    There are more debates then ever before on ‘is Islam a religion of peace’ (youtube) and the media has demonised Islam as either too backward for Western standards or violent in nature. Saying that, Ch4 has done a wonderful job this Ramadan with their Ramadanseries programme. Some Muslims teenagers, in my experience in working with them, turn to religion for a stable identity and that’s what Islam means to them. That’s where they find acceptance. I feel this is especially true for first/second/third.. generation British Muslims who are like a blessed olive tree are neither of the East nor completely of the West; they live in a society which is very quick to label them on the basis of ethnicity with immigrants from the same ethnic origin. Maybe what they need to grapple with is, as Tariq Ramadan suggested, having multiple identities.

    Eid Mubarak,
    Saqib

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