Madrassas call for more engagement and less stigmatisation

Madrassas are being marginalised and misrepresented by the Government, according to Islamic school representatives.

To tackle extremism, the Islamic school representatives told 5Pillars that Muslim organisations and Government need to mutually engage with each other.

The comments came after the Government issued orders to investigate madrassas as part of their strategy to tackle extremism.  Government inspectors are to be sent into Britain’s 2,000 madrassas to crack down on “child abuse and Islamic radicalisation.”

In his recent speech to the Tory party conference, Prime Minister David Cameron accused some madrassas of preaching hate for other religions. He said “in some madrassas, we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people.”

He added that “if you are teaching intolerance, we will shut you down.”

But madrassa representatives have raised concerns about the vagueness of Government policy and the further marginalization of British Muslims. They said that the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy has led to misrepresentation of “all” madrassas as being suspected of preaching hate.

Professor Awadalla Youssef, rector of The Open School for Arabic & Islamic Studies (OSAIS) in Manchester, said: “The danger here is that Government has given vague guidelines for officials (police, school-teachers, doctors etc) to follow and they may end up making mistakes. Also, they have given the wrong message to the Muslim youth that Islam is not welcome. The youth are being seen as criminals until proven that they are not.”

And Hafiz Aziz, the principal of Masjid Ibrahim and Education Centre in Thornbury, believes that Government is marginalising madrassas without much justification and proof.

He said: “There is no justification why a prime minister should say such a thing without any proof. He should have researched it, he should have gone to madrassas himself. Many madrassas would be happy to welcome him.

“Do not ask us! Ask the students what they are being taught? David Cameron’s comments have made the general public very suspicious of what is being taught at madrassas. Due to this suspicion, people think that what the PM says happens in every madrassa. Our good work has been maligned by these accusations as if we are hate preachers.”

Constructive engagement

Both men said that “mutual and constructive engagement” between madrassas and local authorities was the long-term solution.

Professor Awadalla Youssef said: “We are continuously in contact with the local police and with the local authority. We have a good level of friendship and understanding with them. They are invited to come anytime and check the material we teach at our school.”

He said madrassas should not wait for local police to come to them. Instead, they should go to the police and ask if they need anything from the madrassa.

And Hafiz Aziz encouraged Muslims to politically engage with what is happening in the world and what is being said in the media.

He recalled a conference which took place in Bradford on coping with radicalization.“One of the Government representatives was telling us to check for the signs of extremism; we questioned their approach and asked them what these signs were? They gave very vague answers like ‘the behaviour of an individual could have changed.’

“Then we asked what if they were non-religious and then had become religious, does that count to extremism? They couldn’t answer that question. So through our engagement, the whole theme of the conference changed from understanding radicalization to questioning the notion of radicalization.”

However, both representatives felt that constructive engagement is a two-side approach. If madrassas take the initiative to engage with the Government, then they expect the Government to engage with them in a collaborative and trustworthy manner rather than policing them.

They added that the Government needs to make the effort to acknowledge the contribution of madrassas and imams rather than marginalising them as everyone is on the same side.

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