By Amina Lone
Women and equality rights campaigners nervously await the High Court judgement in the gender segregation case: Ofsted v the Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham. Firmly opening up Parveen’s (Pandora’s) faith and education box again, I predict these types of cases will increase. Educational environments, primary right through to university campuses, are a key battleground for Islamist propaganda.
Conversations revert back and forth, in the hope of the faith and faithless finding common ground. The most obvious manifestation of dysfunctionality — complete gender segregation — masked multiple levels of educational and social failings, resulting in the school being taken over by Ofsted, vis-à-vis an academy chain; the equivalent of product recall in the education sector.
I wrote and coordinated a letter, co-signed by brilliant women of Muslim heritage, marking our objections to an increasing malignant influence of religious doctrine in education. Young minds are fertile soil and architects of terror want to turn cerebral green belt into polluted brown fields. We received the inevitable backlash. The usual platitudes of, “It is an attack on Muslims” to, “You are making things up” and even, “You are vilifying us (Muslims) all”.
I am sure some would like to bring disciplinary proceedings against us for bringing the faith into disrepute. However, activists being called Islamophobes from other Muslims is dangerous and must be challenged. The intention is to delegitimise and expose us as ‘Not Muslim Enough’ therefore fair game for possible violent reprisals. It borders on incitement to harm and should be treated as such. Similar to the Salman Rushdie persecution, laying the foundation is just as important as the final religious edict.
I understand the fear even if I do not like its outcome. I detest violence and there is no justification for the levels of intimidation some knowing use.
In uncertain times, certainty is like manna from heaven. Reasonable people cling to it like precious bounty. The more hostile the external environment, perceived or real, the more potency feeling secure has. It soothes, provides answers and protects. It becomes a loved one, family and community. It becomes the Ummah and must be defended at all times.
Debate or dissent is not allowed, for that means one has to listen, reflect and perhaps rethink one’s own views and beliefs. It would entail questioning those in leadership positions as not having all the answers. It means accepting religious leaders as human and fallible.
Muslims think of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and many feel we are living in such times. Behaviours such as drinking, sex before marriage and free-mixing are rejected by most. I know of very few Muslims who will openly accept their children having boyfriend/girlfriend relationships. To err on the path of temptation is haram, to be stopped at all costs and must start at a young age.
Instead of promoting a strength-based education system where young people are taught empowerment, high self-esteem and a solution-based approach to life, the answer is the blunt instrument of segregation; keep males and females separate and women covered up.
People retreat into rituals. The spirit of Bilal (the first, Black Muslim) is lost in the sands of time. Prophets and practices of yesteryear are held up as Gods. Men becomes immortal even as their flesh has decayed. Much better to be saved like the Prophet Lut (Lot in the Old Testament) than his wife who pays for her sinful ways.
Connected but disconnected. Evidence is ignored and basic understanding of a modern technological world is lacking. These insecurities lie at the heart of much I witness within Muslim communities.
There is little understanding of the crises to come. The scandals that have challenged Christian traditions in the last hundred years will be replicated in Islam. Not because everybody is out to get Muslims, but because human progression and endeavor cannot be stopped. Cultures adapt, reforms take place and everybody moves on.
Systematic child sexual exploitation within mosques and by religious leaders will come out. Homosexuality is not accepted; I know of only one Muslim family that openly accept their gay son. I know many more who hide their sexuality for the cost of coming out is often to be completely ostracised from friends, family and the community. The thorny issue of leaving the faith is still so taboo it is unfathomable as an open choice.
As a mother, I share many fears about the world our children inhabit. Unlike gender or race, faith is a personal choice. The collective has a responsibility to create a society that is tolerant, inclusive and safe. Schools are one of the few spaces for children to be open, explore and be exposed to wider learning. Morality should not be seen only through the prism of faith.
The sanctity of education should be protected at all costs. Liberals shout loud when challenging the vanilla two-tier education system of grammars v state schools. Their voices peter out when Muslim women challenge the second-class education being created for Muslim children. This deafening silence will cost us all. History shows extremism is not a colour-by-numbers activity. The hate seeps out. The silent majority needs to find its voice. Our collective future depends on it and time is running out.
Amina Lone is a trustee of the Henna Foundation and co-director of the Social Action and Research Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter.