Islamic Education in the Western Context: Challenges & Opportunities

Dr. Mozammel Haque
One-day Conference on Islamic Education in the Western Context: Challenges & Opportunities was held by the NIDA TRUST in partnership with the Institute of Education, University of London at the Institute of Education, London, on Saturday, the 25th of May, 2013.

Keynote speech
Dr. Abdullah Sahin
In the morning session, three keynote speeches were delivered. Dr. Abdullah Sahin of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, University of Gloucestershire spoke about what is Islamic Education?: Rethinking Islamic Education within the secular context of Western Europe? His paper explored the impact of Islamic education on the identities and faith development of the learners and also focuses on the specific issues and challenges related to the organisation and delivery of Islamic education within the European Muslim diaspora. His paper argued the need to invest in the development of a much needed professional approach to Islamic educational practice and emphasized its significant role in helping diverse Muslim communities in the West to build educational/civic competence in order to engage meaningfully with the wider society.

Akram Khan Cheema
Second keynote speech was delivered by Akram Khan Cheema who spoke about How Islamic Education developed in the West, particularly in the UK. Akram Khan Cheema was very optimistic about the future of Islamic education in Britain and Europe. He said, the future of Islamic education in the UK and wider Europe looks very bright and positive from my experience, even though the irritation of the unreasonable ‘Islamophobia’ is frustrating. He also said that there is much to celebrate about the presence of ‘Islamic education’ in Britain and in Europe. Practical issues related to the organisation (getting better and better with time and effort) and delivery of Islamic education in formal and informal modes, i.e. delivery of Islamic education in part time Madrasah –attached to mosques and in homes, Islamic schools (state sector and community initiated), Muslim teacher training (AMSSCITT), the role of parents in Islamic education (Governors, PTAs, NGOs and Islamic Community and welfare agencies and charitable organisation) curriculum development (NC and RE, daily mainly and broadly Christian religious Assemblies, Citizenship etc), leadership in Islamic education sector as a whole and the role of Islamic education within state schools.

Professor Mark Halstead
The third keynote speech was delivered as a respondent by Professor Mark Halstead of the Huddersfield University. He defined Islamic Education as education that is (a) provided by Muslims; (b) provided for Muslims (c) based on Islamic principles

After defining Islamic Education, Professor Halstead explained what do Muslim parents want? *HIGH ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT: good exam results, preparation for a successful career and for full British citizenship. *CLEAR MORAL VALUES: a disciplined and caring environment where students develop high moral standards as a result of the example set by teachers and the values taught in the school. *A DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF THE FAITH: a school where faith is taken seriously and children can come to understand fully what it is to be a Muslim.

Then, Professor Halstead explained what Muslim schools can provide? *They remove barriers to Islamic religious observance. *They provide a spiritual and moral environment where children can learn sound values. *They enrich children’s understanding of and commitment to the faith. *They present religion as a normal way of life. *They counter the danger of cultural absorption by the dominant culture. *They provide an environment secure from Islamophobic bullying where children can fulfil their academic potential. *They respect children’s Muslim identity and develop their self-esteem. *They increase parental choice. *They demonstrate equity for Muslims in relation to other faith groups. *They symbolise equality of respect and recognition for Islam in the UK

Then Professor Halstead mentioned about the four challenges: number one challenge: overcoming prejudice against Islamic education: The MYTH; the challenge two: Developing a philosophy of Islamic education; the challenge three : providing effective values education for Muslim children and the challenge four is clarifying attitudes to Western values and Western education.

Professor Halstead raised some of the key questions for Islamic education, such as *1. What is the purpose of education in Islam? 2. What different types of education are there in Islam? 3. What is the relation between religious and secular knowledge? 4. Is education about the transmission of knowledge and beliefs, or about the capacity to think critically? 5. Should education permit the questioning of fundamental beliefs? 6. Is it the role of the student to listen, learn and repeat, or to become an autonomous individual? 7. How (or how far, or how well) does Islamic education prepare students for life in the modern world? 8. Should Islamic education exclude any subjects (or parts of subjects) from the curriculum?

Professor Halstead mentioned about the resources for exploring the principles of Islamic education which are as follows:
1. The Qur’an
2. The traditions of the Prophet
3. Classical Islamic writing on education
4. Contemporary writing on Islamic education
5. The Islamization of knowledge
6. Dialogue with other philosophies of education
7. The development of rational understanding and the process of conceptual clarification

Challenges developing Muslim Teacher
Training Programmes in Europe
In the second session on the Models of Islamic Education in Europe and Sharing Good Practice after the lunch, challenges facing Islamic education in Europe and the way forward, Amina Shaker, Director IRPA, Vienna, Austria discussed the situation of Islamic education in Austria. She said Muslims in Europe are on the way to establishing a new Islamic and pedagogical concept, which enables Islamic educational workers to share modern and context-sensitive Islamic principles and values with modern and contemporary pedagogic understanding, in a non-Islamic environment, with future generations.

Amina Shaker wrote a book entitled Austria-Islam: Fragments of 800 years of common history, published by New Academic Press, Vienna 2013. In this book, Amina Shaker dealt with Muslim Teachers Training College in Austria. She mentioned, “In 1998, the establishment of the IRPA (Muslim Teachers Training College) for the unique education of future religious education teachers. In this year, she mentioned, “The teaching of Islamic theological and pedagogical courses in cooperation with the Azhar University and the Vienna Pedagogic College began. Students had to manage both German and Arabic language.”

Amina Shaker said, “The Muslim Teachers Training  had been improved over time as well as the whole education of Muslims in Austria. Students completed their study with an officially recognized Diploma Degree and were allowed to keep the title  “Diplom-Pädagoge”. They can start with Master Studies afterward.”

This was the situation in 1998 but by 2007, the situation changed. Ms. Shaker said, “IRPA, now independently, offers all courses (Islamic Theology and Human Sciences) with it’s own staff. The cooperation with the Azhar University and the Vienna Pedagogic College was finished, because all courses now have to be in German language (according to ministerial directions) and the Professors for human sciences came to the IRPA to train the teacher there.”

Ms. Shaker gave a picture of the latest situation. She wrote in her book Austria-Islam: Fragments of 800 years of common history, “By 2013, IRPA has 300 students and 40 lecturers; New amendments of the Academy-Law are a challenge; enhances pedagogic academies and therefore allows for a Masters Degree to be offered. Exchange with Catholic Teachers Training College has been increased, as well as with Islamic Universities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bosnia, Turkey and inshaAllah with MIHE (Leicester). A Common study course is in future plans, which aims to combine religious education with subjects such as Mathematics, German, PE etc.”

As a result of the improvements of European Muslims in the field of scientific and Islamic education, there can be a model perceived off establishing a European-Islamic identity, which takes into consideration that, on the one hand, Muslims are at home in Europe and therefore have the right and are even required to find their own solutions to questions regarding to their context and their life. She said Muslims in Europe are on the way to establishing a new Islamic and pedagogical concept, which enables Islamic educational workers to share modern and context-sensitive Islamic principles and values with modern and contemporary pedagogic understanding, in a non-Islamic environment, with future generation.

Madrasah of the Khoja Shia-Asheri community
Naushad Mehrall, Head of the Madrasah centre of Excellence UK (Khoja Shia Ithna Asheri Community) spoke about the challenges faced by the Madrasah were highlighted and possible solutions were debated. He mentioned the history of Madrasah for children in the Khoja Shia Ithna-Asheri community which has its roots in Gujerat, India and goes back about 150 years. As the community has spread out to East Africa, Europe and North America, the madrasah has always been an integral part of it. In February 2011, the parent body of the community held a 3-day retreat in which madaris from different parts of the world were represented. The theme was “Shaping the Institution of Madrasah to deliver knowledge, spirituality and morality to our future generations.” The challenges faced by the Madrasah were highlighted and possible solutions were debated. A global structure (Madrasah Centre of Excellence) was set up to provide focus and become a central place for Madaris to seek help and support in the running of their institutions. It would realise the vision by coordinating the four work streams.

The Curriculum Development work stream would provide a global curriculum framework that can be tailored to individual Madrasah needs. It would lead to standardisation because all Madrasah would use the framework of the same broad curriculum. The Teacher Training work stream would facilitate the provision of training to meet the training needs of the madrasah teachers. It would also create a body that represents Madrasah teachers globally, providing support and a forum for teachers to interact, share valuable experiences and learn. The Learning Resources work stream would provide a comprehensive resource centre for teachers, parents and students where resources can be shared globally encouraging development of new ideas and innovation. The Continuous Assessment & Evaluation work stream would create a learning environment for all where the students, teachers and institutions are assessed with a view to continually improve.

IRE in Swedish Muslim Schools
Dr. Jenny Berglund, PhD of the Department of Study of Religions, Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden, after giving a brief introduction about the Muslim population in Sweden, spoke about the Muslim school which is part of the “free-school system”. There are 54 Christian, 9 Muslim and 5 Jewish compulsory and 6 Christian Upper Secondary schools. In Sweden, Islamic Religious Education (IRE) is only taught at Muslim schools, within the compulsory school sector. There is no national syllabus for the subject, but instead all schools write their own syllabi. Since the Muslim schools, like all other schools in Sweden are state funded, they have to abide to the rules stated in the Educational Act. Despite these rules, Muslim schools and IRE in Sweden shows a wide variety in terms of organisation, content and outlook. In her short presentation, she presented an overview of how Swedish Muslim schools are organised and what distinguishes the different forms of IRE that is taught within them.

Dr. Jenny Berglund mentioned that Swedish Muslim Schools are fully governmental funding; they have to represent and impart “fundamental values”; have to follow the National Curriculum. They are also non-confessional RE; National Agency of Education controls; Possible to add Islam as extra curricular subject (IRE) and Islam as school ethos

While mentioning about the National Curriculum and “Fundamental Values”, Dr. Berglund said, values that all schools should represent and impart: The inviolability of human life; Individual freedom and integrity; The equal value of all people; Equality between women and men and Solidarity with the weak and vulnerable.

She also mentioned about the School Ethos which are: Morning gatherings; Celebration of Holidays; Dress-code and Halal-food. She also mentioned that there is Co-Education. No tradition of girls/boys schools in Sweden.

Islamic schooling in Austria and Germany
Elif Medeni of Halit Akpinar, University of Vienna, made her presentation on Islamic schooling in Austria/Germany. This paper of Elif Medeni gave a brief overview of Islamic schooling in Austria in the light of a pilot study undertaken in the wider context of a Ph.D. research. During the piloting phase of eight month, classroom observations, document analysis and semi-structured interviews with teachers and parents have been undertaken.

Islam was recognised as a religion in Austria in 1912. The Islam Law acknowledges the IGGiO as an umbrella organisation and representative of the Muslims and moreover guarantees Muslims to establish Islamic schools as well as to maintain Islamic Religious Education (IRE) in public state schools. Islamic Religious Education was introduced as a regular subject in 1982. Thus, Austria has the longest experience and tradition in Islamic Education in the public sphere among European countries. Despite this unique situation and long tradition of Islamic instruction in public schools, Muslim parents search for alternatives such as private schooling.

In contrast to other European countries Islamic schooling is at the very beginning in Austria. Currently, there are six Islamic private schools among the state-funded denominational schools. Although their reputation is discussed controversially in public, the few existing Islamic private schools are often preferred to public schools by some Muslim parents.

Islamic schools were ‘condemned’ to promote parallel societies; allegation of poor  conditions, lack of trained teachers and a general lack of quality were raised, although Islamic teaching and denominational aspects in state-funded Islamic private schools are supervised by specialist inspectors of the Islamic Religious Community in Austria (IGGiO). Until now, there is no research undertaken on Islamic schooling.

Reflections on the experience of
Shakhsiyah schools in the UK
In this presentation Farah Ahmed looked at the experience of Shakhsiyah schools in developing alternative educational provision for Muslim children through briefly examining some “Principles of Shakhsiyah Education” and their organic growth and realization in Shakhsiyah schools. The principles are: Niyyah, Shakhsiyah, Qadwa, Halaqa, Minhaj al Diraasiyah, Balagha and Taqdeer.

Religious Education in Turkey:
recent policy developments
Professor Dr. Muhiddin Okumular made a presentation which focussed on the recent debate about the growing role of religious education in the Turkish educational system. Turkey has a rich experience in this regard. The different options in the religious education are tested as a compulsory, elective and not given. From 1982 to the present day religious culture and ethics courses are taught in schools as a compulsory. In 2012, the Government has realized major reforms of education systems and compulsory education has been turned into 12 years and formulated in the form of 4+4+4.

Two of the most important innovations by these reforms are the opening of Imam Hatip Middle schools (religious schools) and the increasing number of elective religious courses within the mainstream system. New elective courses are Quran, the Life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Basic Religious Knowledge.  Within these new developments there is a strong possibility that minority religions such as Christianity and Judaism will also be taught. Professor Okumular critically examined these recent significant developments in the field of religious education in Turkey.

Parallel Workshops
The session Three was Parallel Workshops on Educational Leadership by Edris Khamissa; Islamic Curriculum and Educational Leadership by Basma. Elshayyal; Towards a Transformative Model of Islamic Educational Leadership by Imran H Khan Suddahaza and Teaching and Learning linked to Qur’an by Dr.Bill Gent

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