Political blogger Imran Shah says that Muslims who dismiss the importance of schools banning children from fasting are inadvertently accepting discrimination and Islamophobia.
Last week we saw news break about a number of schools in East London sending a letter out to parents saying that their children would not be allowed to fast in school.
Opinion was split on the issue with some arguing that the school was rightfully looking out for children’s health and safety and had not completely banned all fasts. But other parents and some Muslims responded with dismay.
So why was it such a big deal? Lets start with the actual letter.
The fact that schools are implying that Muslim parents are jeopardising their children’s health and future for the sake of religion has been missed by those who say that this is a non-story.
Even the school pledging that “exceptions can be made” inherently implies that this is a mass problem, when the reality is that it is not.
The truth is that children often fast out of their own choice and are not forced by their parents because they are fully aware it is not compulsory for them. In fact, the vast majority of parents dissuade their children from fasting for a full day and only let them fast for half a day or a few hours at most.
Yet it’s the attitude of the school that’s the massive problem.
A much wiser position would have to enter into a dialogue with parents where fainting and concentration problems were real issues, rather than imposing a blanket ban.
The Prevent agenda
But there’s a much bigger problem that needs to be highlighted here.
Have you ever heard of any other public institution ever dictating to any faith group at any time about how they should practice their faith? No, me neither. So why is this happening?
This top-down approach by the school is more sinister than simple patronisation.
Prevent’s narrative falsely preaches that Islamic religiosity can be conflated with extremism.
This was born out of the narrative that “Islam is the problem,” despite all the evidence citing social issues and political grievances as core motivators behind radicalisation.
Whilst the school fasting issue is nothing to do with extremism per se, in a more broad sense it develops a mindset that Muslims must be managed and “moderated” as they and their faith are inherently backward.
Remember the former Communities Minister Eric Pickle’s letter to mosques asking them to prove how British they are?
Again, this has not happened to any other minority community. That special criteria of Muslims and their issues come straight from government and is becoming the institutional norm in society via the Prevent counter-terrorism agenda.
The Muslim community
But despite this government-sponsored social engineering, it isn’t entirely their fault. How we, as Muslims, respond is also to blame.
We have seen before when it comes to issues like this, the Muslim community is always split in its opinions.
Whilst diversity of opinion is good, over 13 years of increasing Islamophobia must surely teach us that we must appreciate the game that is being played against us. But instead of understanding the propaganda game being waged to make us look backward and savage, we always come from angles of theology and hoodwink ourselves.
Let me give you an example.
Niqab first became an issue in the middle of last decade. But when the UK press decided to cause fury over this piece of cloth, we saw diverse opinions from Muslims on this issue.
We had Muslims saying it was “Sunnah” or “Nafl.” We had Muslims say it was “Fardh” and some said it was not part of Islam at all.
Whilst we were bickering on theology, “the Islamophobia Industry” was setting down a narrative of “this needs to be moderated in our society as it’s an extreme and backward practice that isn’t compatible with our liberal society”.
Hence, over the years we have seen the narrative of niqab become a symbol of extremism, while we were paralysed by theological debates on the issue.
In addition, those who saw the niqab as Islamically-optional or unislamic were incapable or refused to appreciate how the issue was used an attack on someone’s liberty and as a means to paint Muslim identity as barbaric.
They failed to appreciate even less that it was equally an attack on them too.
So because of the above scenario playing out time and time again, we fail to set down our narrative and our story of increasing Islamophobia.
And we see the exact same scenario playing out with fasting in schools.
The Muslim split of opinion is again based on the theology. At the centre of it is the point that fasting is not “Fardh” for children and therefore it’s not a problem for the school to dictate things.
In doing so, those of such an opinion completely ignore the implication of the school’s diktats.
Muslims in the UK must appreciate that none of these issues were raised on theological grounds, but rather they were raised by a mindset that is inherently prejudicial and Islamophobic.
Practically moving forward when dealing with Muslim issues in schools, we should engage and help school heads and the wider community to understand where we are coming from.
The brainwashing of the media coupled with the statutory obligation to tackle “Islamic extremism” in schools has naturally created a top-down mindset of institutions telling Muslims “we know better than you.”
As a result, the condescending approach of dictating to Muslims about how they should practice their faith is becoming the norm.
Just like racism and sexism, history has shown us that good people in particular social conditions will act in a prejudicial, albeit well-intended, manner.
However, it is still prejudicial and we have to challenge it.
We need these institutions to be our allies. The vast majority of them are good people who do not want to see their society be at the mercy of this Tory government’s autocratic agenda.
They need us to engage with them effectively and get our story oacross. So then we have more voices of balance on our side. And if we do not, then the prejudicial mindset of Prevent will dominate our society without any challenge.
This is a soft approach to tackling Islamophobia and one that is needed for such occasions. However, no matter how soft, it must come from a clear demand that we must be treated equally.
And time and time again, we are not.
Imran Shah is writing here in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter @ImranShah884