Islamic Vs Mainstream Schools – My First Televised Verbal Skirmish

My first televised skirmish did not end in my ‘opponents’ calling me ‘kaafir’ or I they. We were very polite and gentlemanly with our disagreements but for the very first time, my loyalty to Islamic scholarship was challenged and I was , perhaps a little (and I do mean a little!) disapprovingly, called a ‘modernist’.

I was fortunate enough to called for a third time to be on the ‘Questions’ programme on British Muslim TV. It was a programme I never had the pleasure of watching myself but through which I met some rather interesting people, one of whom was the writer of ‘Little Mosque on The Prairie’, Zarqa Nawaz. The topics were always controversial enough to stir up some debate (like ‘gender segregated prayer spaces’ and ‘can differences of opinion be acceptable’) but sadly, I guess the panellists were always so polite that a spirited debate never took really took place. We were simply too agreeable!

Today’s event had perhaps a lot more stake – the future of Muslim children. Is it better for them to have a secular, state sponsored education rather than go to faith-based Islamic schools? There were four guests, a Revert who has had decades of experience with Islamic schools, a Shi’ite educationist, a young man who was a representative of a group calling for an egalitarian education system (i.e. no faith-based schools) and of course, myself. Please note that I am using terms ‘revert’ and ‘shi’ite cleric’ simply because I have no other means to identify them short of using their names which I will n ot do without their permission. These are not judgemental terms in the least.

I had not got off to a good start even before the show began when I greeted the Revert with a ‘hallo there’ in my usual ‘tally ho wot wot’ accent and was given a rather cold ‘salamu alaikum’ in return! In my defence, this was not done on purpose as I did not want to presume that he was Muslim which would then be another awkward situation if I had got that wrong! This further augments my hypothesis that Islam is in reality, a race and the Revert was not readily identified as a Muslim due to his race.

The show got off to a good start with all of us agreeing that Muslim children need to be exposed to children of other faiths and traditions. However, the Revert chap and the Shi’ite scholar were more supportive of the need of faith schools. Certainly it was due to the fact that Muslim children would be more ‘comfortable’ in an educational space with similar values as their homes. I disagreed with this (and the advocacy rep did as well, of course). I personally felt that a secular education ensures that Muslim children would encounter opinions different than their own and thus be more understanding of others. They need to be pushed out of their comfort zone. There should ,however, be a caveat – that the secularity comes in the form of a space rather than an ideology. This is what is called ‘procedural’ rather than ‘ideological’ secularism (thanks to Tehmina Kazi of British Muslims for Secular Democracy for teaching me this!).

Things started to heat up when the Revert mentioned his reservations against ‘integrationist’ policies which to him sounded like assimilationist in nature. I then voiced my reservations against his reservations – that while I appreciated distinguishing identities (identities which makes one distinct in whatever way), I could not support dissociative identities (identities which makes one totally separate from other identities in a given polity). In other words, please wear your hijab if you wish but please do not judge people who believe in other forms of modesty.

The Revert chap was not happy about this – he insinuated that I was a relativist which is perhaps half true. I did believe in absolute truth but the only one privileged to that truth was Allah himself. He then threw the proverbial ‘Islamic scholarship’ book at me, which was quite standard, but me being a Quranist was rendered rather ineffective. Islamic scholars had a right to their view but I had a right to disagree and I did. Thus endeth the first skirmish but a greater one was yet to come…

The subject then finally moved on to radicalization in schools and I voiced my usual ‘radicalization is not an isolated process’ rant. I firmly believe that, given the current teaching methods in Islamic schools, that radicalization would inevitably happen. The reason can be as fundamental as simply considering other children as ‘kaafirs’. After all, people like the so-called ‘Islamic state’ are at war with ‘kaafirs’. This is simply the same Tradition producing varying levels of Islamofascism.

Quite unsurprisingly, I was challenged. Both the White Revert and Shi’ite Cleric were aghast that I would deny calling non-Muslims ‘kaafirs’. That was exactly right though – I could not accept calling people of other faiths or ideologies as ‘kaafirs’. They had their own experience (read: signs) and may be believers in their own way. We Muslims have no monopoly on truth and the Quran attests to truth’s multiplicity anyway. This obviously led to an impasse. Despite the quick burst of intensity though, this second skirmish ended amicably, not least because our hostess was very adept at handling disagreement.

I did give my salams to my erstwhile opponents and hoped they wouldn’t take my disagreement to heart. I am, after all, simply voicing my opinion based on what I feel was the intent of Allah in the Quran. Disagreements and even arguments are all part of human existence.

About Farouk A. Peru
I am a human being in the world, blogging my existence. My thought systems may be found in my website:

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