MCB Recommendations to UK Schools
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) have published a document: Towards Greater Understanding - Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools: Information & Guidance for Schools. I agree with many of its recommendations, but it’s politely didactic tone and its implicit assumption that British schools should seek to accommodate the needs of Muslim pupils so comprehensively is evidence, yet again, that the MCB appears to advocate for British Muslims in a locked and darkened room, without any sense of the current political or media climate. Remember the letter in which MCB et al told Tony his foreign policy was making Britain a terrorist target? Did it achieve anything more than invoke the wrath of politicians and Islamophobic media pundits? What is achieved by such posturing?
Okay, perhaps the issue is - should Muslim leaders speak truth to power or should they take a more low-key, pragmatic approach to seeking justice for the our community? As the MCB appear to plumped for the former, we now have another ‘provocative’ document published, and the right wing press have put the boot in (surprise surprise), and the government have dismissed it (surprise surprise). And all power to those bloggers who have robustly defended it against such an inexcusable tirade of hatred and contempt: Islamophobia Watch, Rolled Up Trousers, Indigo Jo and Five Chinese Crackers. It deserves defending, but as an educational document, not as an adjunct of Muslim identity politics. If we respond to the exploitation of legitimate criticism by bigotted little twerps like Harry’s Place by declaring such criticism either erroneous or irrelevant, we might as well just throw this document in the bin and forget it. Reports like this need to be debated and discussed or they are worthless.
Much of what the MCB report suggests is emminently sensible. My main objection is that it does not give due regard for Muslim diversity, not just in terms of adherance, but also in terms of sectarianism. The objections to dance, for example, are appropriate for Deobandi Muslims but not all Muslim groups object to dance. Similarly, some Shi’a Muslims have a lively tradition of depicting the Prophet Muhammad (aws). This is not a problem unique to the MCB. As Daniel Varisco points out in his excellent Islam Obscured, many Muslims fail to even acknowledge the diversity of what he and and other anthropologists prefer to call islams.
Probably the best introduction to Sunni Muslim diversity in the UK is Ron Geaves’ (1996) Sectarian Influences Within Islam in Britain (Leeds: University of Leeds). Personally, I think the issues raised by the MCB document would have been better taken up on a school-by-school basis. There are already individual British schools who have gone a long way to accomodating Muslims - Warwick Road in Batley is an excellent example, where many pupils are Deobandi Muslims. But they succeeded because of Muslims sitting on the board of governors, which is precisely what the Association of Muslim Governors is all about.
I know the MCB mean well and they do get a lot of unfair flack. But why does this report include a link to Harun Yahya’s site? The man has been utterly and completely trashed by the press in his own country. Several of his former devotees have alleged he now claims to be the Mahdi who exploits his charismatic authority to have sex with this followers' wives! And the drums that I hear a beating tell me these stories have sufficient substance to finally discredit him, as if reading his dreadful, pseudo-scientific polemic wasn't ever enough!