Teacher Sarah Hussain tells the story of how a Sixth Form College in East London got involved in a dispute with its students about a prayer room and then called in the Quilliam Foundation’s Usama Hasan to sort it out.
Given that I’m a teacher and that I have a 17 year old sister currently doing her A-levels, it came as a surprise to me to see people from The London Academy of Excellence in East London on the list of guests to The Quilliam Foundation’s summer gala, as 5Pillars recently reported.
This led onto an interesting conversation with my sister (not a pupil of LAE) and her peers who do attend the Sixth Form College. I asked them if they were familiar with the controversial organisation, knowing full well that there’s a large intake of Muslim students at LAE and Quilliam aren’t exactly wildly popular among the Muslim community.
It was soon brought to my attention that during the summer term there had been a huge controversy at the school after students were refused a place to pray Jumaah prayers.
Apparently LAE had outright refused to cater to the needs of the Muslim students who wanted to pray Jumaah every Friday – citing “lack of space” as a reason.
This struck me as strange because I’ve personally visited the Academy and had an extensive tour of all departments, and although there may be restricted access for pupils suitable arrangements could surely be made for weekly prayers.
But the school is an Academy – and therefore not subject to the same Local Authority control as other schools – and Academies are notorious for making up rules as they go along, with little or no accountability.
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Anyway, there had been a huge stand-off for a number of weeks between staff and over a dozen pupils who refused to remain on the Academy premises on Friday afternoons and who prayed at the local mosque as an alternative.
Several weeks later – as a result of the pressure from pupils – LAE held a school assembly and announced that it would come to a compromise on the issue and would provide pupils an area to pray Jumaah, despite claiming “spacing issues” in the first instance.
But although an area to pray was eventually provided, members of staff were allocated to “sit in” during the khutbah which obviously made pupils feel they were being spied upon.
A Muslim pupil from LAE (who wished to remain anonymous) told me: “It feels like we’re being watched, as if they don’t trust what we’ll say in our khutbahs and we’ll run off to Syria and are extreme – just because we wanted to pray and stood up for our right to do so.”
Shortly afterwards a small group of Muslim pupils who were involved in the stand-off were informed that a guest speaker would be visiting to speak to them regarding the Jumaah controversy – and it was none other than the notorious “anti-extremist” crusader Dr Usama Hasan from the Quilliam Foundation, who’s known for taking theological positions contrary to orthodox Islam.
Anyway, the pupils were apparently informed by Hasan that it was not obligatory for them to read Jumaah prayers, and that he was authorised to say so as an imam for Leyton Mosque in East London – the very mosque he had been expelled from 5 years ago after he seemed to have lost the confidence of parts of his congregation.
In addition, when answering questions regarding spacing issues and segregation for prayers he stated that “men and women pray together in Mecca.”
As the Muslim community well knows by now, the current government is implementing a counter-terrorism agenda which targets and stigmatises the community as a whole under the guise of fighting extremism. And this agenda is being aggressively implemented in the public sector by charlatans with little understanding of the factors behind radicalisation or the adverse impact the agenda is having on the community.
In schools, this Prevent document published earlier this year is being used as so-called guidance in recognising “extreme behaviour” or identifying young people who are deemed to be vulnerable to “radical ideology” or “grooming.”
The opposition the school put up to pupils who simply wanted to pray at LAE and the calling in of the discredited Usama Hasan to provide “spiritual guidance” is a prime example of how Muslim pupils are being targeted in schools and how this is making them feel ostracised.
The London Academy of Excellence prides itself on having an intake of high calibre students who will move onto Russell Group Universities. And I know that academic excellence is its top priority.
But perhaps if it hadn’t have been so consumed with opposing pupils’ right to pray and creating a culture of suspicion – and had put the same kind of effort into simply catering for their legitimate spiritual needs – those same students would be far more likely to excel at their education.
The author did approach LAE to respond to the issues in this article but they were unavailable for comment.