|Many will have watched Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary last night, “Lessons in hate and violence”, presented by Tazeen Ahmad. |
Last night’s documentary raised a number of disturbing issues uncovered by the Dispatches team in two schools – the Darul Uloom Islamic High School in Birmingham and the Markazi Jamia Mosque in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
At the Darul Uloom High School, the programme highlighted a boy ‘no older than 17 or 18’ making highly derogatory remarks on Hindus and their religious beliefs while addressing younger pupils at the school.
The Daily Mail today reports that teachers at the Birmingham school have reported this to be an isolated incident and have provided a letter “which shows that he was expelled for his views last August – five months before the school was made aware of the tapes by producers [of the documentary].”
The programme also highlighted the comments of a guest speaker at the school, who is captured on film as saying: “Allah (SWT) described the disbelievers as the worst of all people. However we see madrassa students who want to imitate them.”
The same cleric goes on to say:
“One of the Deobandi scholars has mentioned that a person with less than a fistful of beard then you should stay away from him the same way you should stay away from a serpent or snake.”
The views expressed by these particular individuals are contrasted by those advanced by Mufti Barkatullah who explains, ‘there is not one thing called the Deobandi ideology.’ He argues that there exists a spectrum of beliefs within Deobandism ranging from moderate to extreme.
Mufti Barkatullah told Dispatches that the views espoused by those recorded by the documentary-makers have “no association with Deobandi scholarship”. When asked whether he recognised the sorts of teachings that were reported to be from the Deobandi movement, he said:
“I fight it all the time. Their attitude, their issues and their way of teaching is such an extreme that it is abhorrent to me.”
The programme also captured disturbing secret footage taken during Islamic classes at the Markazi Jamia Mosque in Keighley, in which a teacher is shown to repeatedly hit some of the children, without provocation or purpose. The footage included scenes of older pupils ganging up on younger ones, bullying and assaulting them.
Reports emerged yesterday that police have arrested a man in connection with alleged incidents of assault, while the Daily Mail reported that the Darul Uloom High School had been forced to shut early amid fears that youngsters “could be targeted by the far-right."
The DM article includes criticisms of the documentary by John Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley, who called it “irresponsible.”
“If Channel 4 thinks this is a school where racism and intolerance is accepted in any way, they have got their facts seriously wrong.”
“They have already had hate mail and now they are having to close for the safety of their pupils.
“This kind of documentary is ideal fodder for the EDL [English Defence League].
“Channel 4 is putting the safety of children at risk by criticising a school which is doing its job properly.'”
The DM further reports the reactions of the school itself:
“The school's head of curriculum Mujahid Aziz said the decision had been to bring forward the school's half-term by a week after meetings with police.”
“‘They filmed for six months and managed to collect a handful of comments which promote intolerance,’ said Mr Aziz.
'We were aware of the views of this 17-year-old student and we dealt with him by exclusion straight away - before we even knew that we were being filmed.
'What people will see in that clip is completely contrary to what we teach at the school about harmony and awareness of different faiths.
'Our concern now is for the safety of children and people coming to the mosque because we are worried that some people will get completely the wrong impression once they have watched this programme.’”
The disgraceful comments made by individuals in the programme, of both junior and senior standing, are an affront to followers of other religions and Muslims should have no truck with those who insult other religious traditions or rituals. Surah Ma’idah teaches Muslims:
"To each among you have we prescribed a law and an open way; If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah. It is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which ye dispute." (Qur'an, 5:48)
It is however, worth reminding that the views of those captured on film by Dispatches do not reflect the views espoused by the wider Muslim community any more than the fact that views expressed by say, Pastor Terry Jones are indicative of majority Christian opinion of Muslims. Or indeed the views of Revd. Dr Peter Mullen, Chaplain at the London Stock Exchange, who in a blog article in 2008 wrote:
“[Muslims] certainly lend themselves to ridicule: sticking their arses in the air five times a day. How about a few little choruses, ‘Randy Muslims when they die/Find 70 virgins in the sky’?”
All communities have their extreme elements and individuals who stray from the mainstream and hold or utter despicable views.
As for the uncovering of incidents of bullying and the physical abuse of children, both schools and parents must tackle the practice and offer no succour to those who abuse positions of trust. But it is important to address the wider context of bullying and the different arenas in which it is practised. A zero-tolerance policy of bullying in madrassas is as important as the zero-tolerance approach adopted by schools and other institutions entrusted with the care of children.
Investigative journalism plays a crucial role in a liberal democracy. Think of the Telegraph’s publication of MPs expenses which led to dramatic reform of the parliamentary expenses system; or of the Guardian’s disclosure of MI5’s complicity in torture abroad, or of the Independent’s bringing to light the intimidation and harassment experienced by young British Muslims being pressured by MI5 to engage in secret surveillance of their community.
Investigative journalism at its best uncovers issues that should warrant further scrutiny or remedial action and presents the media as fourth estate to best effect.
But it’s difficult not to detect in the purported investigative journalism uncovering issues in the Muslim community some degree of tacit social engineering. And last night’s Dispatches programme, like the preceding one on “Undercover Mosque” or the various panorama programmes fronted by John Ware (“A Question of Leadership” or the more recent “British Schools, Islamic Rules”), was no different.
The programme’s presentation of Dr Taj Hargey and the Muslim Educational Centre in Oxford (MECO) as the model Muslim school for teaching Muslim schoolchildren about other faiths and life in Britain is not without the obvious questions:
Did the programme producers not find in the “two thousand madrassas” operating in the UK any examples other than MECO of schools equipping Muslim children with the skills and knowledge necessary for life in a pluralist society?
There are certainly good examples to choose from – Noor ul Islam primary school in Leyton or the Taheedul Islam Girls’ school in Blackburn and Madni Jamia mosque in Bradford are just a few.
Were the programme producers unaware of the establishment in 2007 of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Body (MINAB); a body established with the explicit intent of overseeing quality assurance on imam training and teaching in this informal sector? Why was no representative of the body approached for an interview?
The two schools featured in the programme are located in Birmingham and Keighley, on the outskirts of Bradford, and yet no member of the Birmingham Council of Mosques or the Bradford Council of Mosques featured in the programme? Why not? And might not these institutions be asked to answer questions on their role as Councils and what sort of regulatory practice, if any, they implement to stamp out stray preachers?
The promotion of Dr Hargey and MECO is instructive of the observation noted in the inquiry report by the communities and local government select committee on Prevent. The report noted:
“Government has sought to engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model.”
It would seem from last night’s Dispatches programme, and the many that have gone before it, that government is not alone in engaging in this sort of social engineering.
No Muslim parent should wish his/her child to be taught Islam in a manner that betrays the fundamental teachings of the faith; devotion to Allah, emulation of His prophet and respect for those that follow other religious traditions or none.
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