Birmingham’s Green Lane Mosque calls for “greater tolerance” over school LGBT row

Pupils with their parents protesting outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham.

Birmingham’s Green Lane Mosque has called for “greater tolerance” in an editorial addressing the ongoing dispute over same-sex relations and pro-LGBT lessons being taught at a primary school. 

Tolerance, and the teaching of tolerance, is something that every free and just society claims to promote. No rational person will claim to be intolerant, nor accept intolerance towards others. However the issue of tolerance itself is being ignored in the discussion regarding the ‘no outsiders’ programme between the school teaching establishment and the parents at the Birmingham schools.

Things seems to have escalated this week, with many people now jumping into the argument regarding the teaching of relationships and sex education to young children. As the discussion is now played out on national media, we see everyone from TV presenters, journalists, faith advocates and even the former head of Ofsted aggressively voicing their personal views.

Inflammatory language like ‘this isn’t Islamabad’ being directed at Muslims, by mainstream media personalities such as Piers Morgan on popular shows like Good Morning Britain, are highly inflammatory and will be considered blatantly racist to many of the UK ethnic population. This type of rhetoric only further inflames the situation and causes further division and harm.

As can be seen from the emotions on both sides of the divide, the issue runs deep. So much so that people now fail to listen to each other as barriers come up and each group digs in their heels. As you watch interviews, you can see individuals being deaf to the other side’s views.

This itself is the epitome of intolerance.

The irony is that the no outsiders programme to promote inclusion and diversity is itself being challenged by parents for its lack of inclusion and consultation. According to parents, their opinions are being pushed away and ignored…and they themselves have now become the outsiders.

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People who adhere to any particular religion will always be at odds with those who hold other opinions. Nevertheless, does that mean that communities should only consist of people of the same ilk? Should those with different views be side-lined, marginalised and ridiculed? How do people with such diverse opinions live together?

The answer is simple; it is about showing tolerance on both sides. In this case, religious groups living in a multi-cultural society are required to respect the rights of people to live diverse lifestyles and conversely, others should understand and respect the religious views of faith communities.

Many people of faith are now feeling that they are being labelled as intolerant unless they change their religious views. It’s this constant pressure on faith communities to ‘conform’ and ‘change’ that some now feel the need to speak up.

However accepting another person’s right to be different does not require you to change your religious or theological views. The question is whether those differences make us intolerable and unable to coexist with each other.

Religions will always have rules and regulations for the practitioners of the faith so there will always be differences with others. However, in the same way that alcohol or gambling is forbidden for some faiths, it does not mean that these communities have a phobia or fear of people who drink or gamble and are unable to relate to these people. Neither does it mean that they show intolerance towards them.

From our community, many parents have come to the mosque to express their views, seeking support for their concerns about RSE. In relation to this particular issue, as a mosque, it is important for us to emphasise the need for tolerance on both sides. However, we need to be clear that this is not a Muslim issue but one that strikes a chord with many practising Jewish, Christian and other faith communities.

What lies at the heart of the argument is the concern of parents that their religious rights are being infringed upon. And as the primary educators, they are no longer in control of what is being taught to their children.

Article two of the 1998 Human Rights Act clearly states:

“The state shall respect the right of parents to ensure that such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.”

Whilst the schools are there to educate, no one can disagree that the parents are the primary educators. And in accordance with the Human Rights Act, children must therefore be taught consistently in line with the religious and philosophical beliefs of the parents. Doing otherwise will only create confusion in the minds of the children. Therefore, consulting the parents in the development and roll out of any major programme is necessary.

Section 76 of the Education Act 1944 reiterates the point that “pupils are to be educated with the wishes of their parents”. Parents at the Birmingham schools claim that this hasn’t been the case with the Outsiders programme. And in some cases, parents feel that it’s not necessarily about ‘what’ is being taught but rather ‘how’ it is being taught.

Everyone holds a particular view when it comes to RSE so it is difficult for anyone to teach the subject whilst remaining impartial to his or her own feelings – and this can be worrying for some parents.

In a discussion that is embroiled in the concept of tolerance, it is very worrying for faith communities to be witnessing an increasing intolerance to their religious views. As we embark on another topic embroiling the Muslim community, we must be careful that this does not become another proverbial stick with which to beat the Muslim community, further inciting the Islamophobic rhetoric and racism that Muslims suffer from every day.

Home Office statistics show that hate crimes have increased by 40%. Horrifyingly, 50% of those hate incidents are now directed towards the Muslim community. Whilst the Muslim community making a mere 5% of the population, this is a scarily disproportionate number.

As a mosque in Small Heath, we are all too familiar with the anti-Muslim hatred that is already out there. In 2013, whilst walking home from Green Lane Mosque, 82-year-old pensioner Mohammed Saleem was stabbed and murdered by far right extremist and racist Pavlo Lapshyn.

Since those dark days, we have only seen an increase in the demonising of the Muslim community by less scrupulous parts of the media and an increase in far right extremism as it spreads across North America and Western Europe, with it becoming all too real with the recent terrorist attacks in New Zealand.

So we urge the community and all parties to talk and listen to each other in order to come to an understanding. Respectful dialogue away from the media spotlight and away from those who wish to cause division is the right way forward.

We advise everyone with the words of the Qur’an:

“Push back (against aggression) with that which is better (with compassion and love) then he (who is showing aggression), between you and whom there was enmity, will become like a close friend.”

Intolerance is certainly a concern for those who wish to adhere to the tenets of their faith whilst living in a multicultural society. As we urge each other towards tolerance, it is important to ensure that we do not become more intolerant ourselves.

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