Review of the Year June 2015: PREVENT targets Muslims in schools

June 2015, which coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, saw the first high-profile cases of how the government’s PREVENT policy was adversely impacting Muslims in the education system.

There was outrage as a primary school in East London banned fasting during Ramadan. Barclay Primary School made the announcement in a letter to parents, although a paragraph at the end of the letter hinted that there may be exceptions to the rule.

After announcing that the school appreciated that this is a “very significant and special time of year for our Muslim community” and saying that the school would be celebrating what Ramadan means in an assembly, the acting head Aaron Wright then proceeded to prohibit fasting during school hours.

He said: “We have sought guidance and are reliably informed that in Islamic Law children are not required to fast during Ramadan, only being required to do so when they become adults. Although we accept the age of adulthood is disputed … in Islamic law the health of an individual is the first priority. Previously we have had a number of children who became ill and children who have fainted or been unable to fully access the school curriculum in their attempts to fast.

“Therefore, since the school policy and Islamic law have the same purpose i.e to safeguard the health and education of the child, the policy of both Barclay Primary School and all the schools within the Lion Academy Trust does not allow any children attending the schools to fast.

“However, if you are considering your child fasting during the school week, you will need to meet with me individually to discuss how we ensure the safety and well being of your child whilst still ensuring that they are part of the Ramadan celebration.”

Writing in 5Pillars political blogger Imran Shah said that Muslims who dismiss the importance of schools banning children from fasting were inadvertently accepting discrimination and Islamophobia.

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He wrote: “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.”

NewVic suspensions

Meanwhile, it emerged in June that final year students Tahyba Ahmed, Sumayyah Ashraf and Humayra Tasnim were suspended from NewVic college in East London on May 22 after being accused of “misusing the college communication system.”

The trio had sent an e-mail to all students and staff protesting a college decision to cancel an event about PREVENT, the government’s counter-terrorism policy which is now being implemented in British schools.

They also expressed disquiet that the senior management were dismissing the concerns of Muslim students about PREVENT.

The row erupted after an event about PREVENT featuring journalist Dilly Hussain, NUS black students’ officer Malia Bouattia and councillor Unmesh Desai was cancelled over unspecified concerns about “one of the speakers.”

Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic)
Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic)

In the letter sent to students and staff, Ahmed, Ashraf and Tasnim also accused the college principal, Eddie Playfair, of championing PREVENT, of dismissing concerns that students had about it being implemented in the college, and of denying that a lack of trust exists between students and staff.

In response to the allegations NewVic issued a statement today saying the students had been suspended following an “unauthorised and inappropriate use of college communications,” and had so far not responded to requests to meet.

The statement continued: “These students have been temporarily suspended for an alleged misuse of the college’s communication system, not because of raising issues of Islamophobia. NewVic is very committed to fighting all forms of discrimination including Islamophobia. We recently held an event, organised with students, to discuss concerns about anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain today and a list of recommendations was produced which we hope to build on. We are always prepared to listen to students’ views which we take very seriously.

“The college is a diverse and respectful learning community where we value open debate and freedom of speech . We will continue to listen to any concerns or complaints students have and to address them sensitively and appropriately.”

“Anti-extremism” curriculum

Also in June, Tahir ul-Qadri, prominent sufi Pakistani cleric, launched a “counter-terrorism” curriculum in London to counter the message of groups such as ISIS and stop young Muslims becoming radicalised and travelling to fight in Syria.

Qadri said he wanted his 900-page curriculum, containing theological and ideological arguments to undermine extremists, to be taught not just at mosques and Islamic institutions but at schools across Britain.

Tahir ul Qadri
Tahir ul Qadri

“We want to make clear that all activities being carried out by ISIS or any other terroristic and extremistic organisations either in the name of God or religion or establishing any kind of Islamic state by acts of violence … are totally in violation of the Koran and Islam,” he told Reuters.

The launch of the curriculum, which is privately funded, comes after Prime Minister David Cameron called on Muslim communities to do more to stop young people being radicalised by groups such as ISIS, saying some Muslims were quietly condoning extremist views.

Cameron’s comments came after a 17-year-old from northern England blew himself up in Iraq in an ISIS suicide attack and three sisters are believed to have travelled to Syria with their nine children. About 700 Britons are estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq, many to join ISIS.

But critics within the Muslim community say that Qadri lacks credibility with those who may actually be prone to radicalisation. They have also criticised the initiative for placing the emphasis on the Muslim community to clean up its act whilst downplaying factors behind radicalisation such as British foreign policy and Islamophobia and racism.

Others have objected to the proposal to effectively teach counter-terrorism in schools, thus institutionalising discrimination by targeting Muslims.

“Shorter” fasting hours

Meanwhile, Dr Usama Hasan of the Quilliam Foundation issued a controversial fatwa calling for the long fasting hours in the UK to be shortened.

Hasan, whose views are often promoted by the mainstream media, said that Islam is a religion which does not wish to place difficulty on its adherents so those who cannot manage the up to 20 hour fasts should reduce the hours from 12-16.

His views shocked many, including the vast majority of Muslim scholars, who follow the mainstream Islamic view that fasting has set hours (from dawn to sunset) – as outlined by the Quran.

Dr Usama Hasan of The Quilliam Foundation
Dr Usama Hasan of The Quilliam Foundation

In his fatwa Hasan said: “A number of people have asked me since last year about the excessive length of fasting during UK summer months. This has included those new to the practice of fasting, elderly and middle-aged people, who wish to fast but simply cannot manage the very long days. Since last year, I’ve heard reports of such people in hospital, as well as of children falling seriously ill, due to fasting more than 18 hours per day.

“The day length in London during a midsummer Ramadan is almost 17 hours *sunrise-sunset*. Since there is no agreed beginning of dawn, the dawn-sunset timings vary from 19 to 20.5 hours. The day length increases as we go further north, especially in Scotland and Northern Ireland…

“The spirit of fasting is clearly ‘from morning until evening’ and to focus on its inner aspects, without hair-splitting about external matters. The famous Qur’anic passage about fasting 2:183-7 begins and ends with taqwa (God-consciousness), and includes the memorable wisdom, ‘God wishes ease for you, not hardship … that you complete the course, magnify God for guiding you, and that you give thanks.’

Dr Hasan’s fatwa was greeted with scepticism as The Quilliam Foundation has been ostracised by many in the Muslim community due to its constant demonisation of Muslim activists and its attempts to promote a government-sponsored “western Islam.”

Tunisia massacre

On the international scene, thousands of British holidaymakers fled Tunisia in the aftermath of the beach resort massacre that left dozens of tourists dead.

Tour companies hurriedly arranged coaches and flights to get them home, with most wanting to get out of the country as quickly as possible.

hqdefault15More than 20,000 Britons were on holiday in the country at the time of the attack, in which a gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire on holidaymakers sunbathing on a beach.

According to Sky News, Tui Group, which runs Thomson and First Choice, said it had 6,400 customers in Tunisia and 1,000 tourists have so far been repatriated.

The company said a total of 2,500 are expected to return today, with the rest of the holidaymakers who want to return due back by the end of tomorrow.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack in Port el Kantaoui on the outskirts of Sousse, which left at least 38 dead.

At least eight of the victims were British, and Prime Minister David Cameron warned that the public needs to be prepared for the fact that “many of those killed” in the “savage” shooting were British.

Dilly Hussain v Usama Hasan

And finally deputy editor of 5Pillars, Dilly Hussain, appeared on the BBC Sunday Morning Live Show with historian and lecturer Kate Williams and James Dellingpole (Editor of Breitbart, London) to discuss whether British history is something to be proud or ashamed of.

Dilly then went head to head with Dr Usama Hasan of Quilliam Foundation on whether the hours of fasting should be shortened.

Take a look at the confrontation here.

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