Saturday, 21 February 2009

Muslim schools ban chess and Harry Potter?

According to The Daily Express, fundamentalist Muslim religious schools in Britain are banning Harry Potter novels, chess, cricket and anything else deemed sinful. Under the headline MUSLIM SCHOOLS BAN OUR CULTURE, the Express reports
Youngsters are discouraged from playing cricket and board games, listening to western music and even reading Shakespeare plays or Harry Potter books by fanatics targeting classrooms, the research says.

Some children are even being told to shun “the evil system of western culture” and encouraged to live in “ghettos”.

The vile diktats to Muslim pupils, some of primary school age, appear on school websites or on other internet sites linked directly to school sites and operated by fund amentalist groups. Critics last night called for strict vetting of Muslim education to root out extremist influence. Moderate Muslim groups welcomed the findings and called for the attempts by extremists to target children to be stamped out.

The propaganda is highlighted in a report called Music, Chess and Other Sins from the Westminster-based think tank Civitas. (1)
The report referred to is published by the rightwing thinktank, Civitas (they've got form). It is titled Music, Chess And Other Sins [pdf] (2).

First of all, let's establish one thing. The number of students involved here is tiny. The authors try to make it sound like a growing danger, implying that the problem is growing:
This has a frightening logic: as more Muslim children attend Muslim schools (especially schools of an anti‐integrationist character), each new generation will demand greater and greater exclusion from mainstream society. (3)
They don't put forward any evidence to support this suggestion, however, that I have found in the report so far. There is no good evidence that the number of children being educated at exclusive muslim schools is growing. The authors try to get around this by referencing a poll that indicated a substantial number of Muslim parents expressed a wish to send their children to exclusively Muslim schools - 45% in favour, opposed to 45% against (4) - but finally have to admit the numbers who actually attend these schools in miniscule:
In 2005, a census of schools revealed that only 1,770 of these children attended maintained Muslims schools. The vast majority—about 96 per cent—were and are in non‐religious state schools. (5)
So that is less than 200o students, across the whole of Britain. The difference between the 45% who would like to and the 4% who do suggests the wish was only an ideal, not something they would take practical steps to realise. I suspect that a similar number of people with any strain of religious faith would ideally like to see their children educated at a school that held the same convictions, but I also suspect the number actually attending such schools would be equally low.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of differnet religious groups attended schools specific to their faith. Is 4% a high or low number, comparatively? Are Muslims, in fact, less likely to attend faith schools than - say -Roman Catholics or Jews?

The main failing of the report isn't statistical, however, but methodological. Its evidence is entirely based on online research. The authors visited websites - school websites and websites accessible through them. They did not try to visit schools, interview students or teachers or get a feel for what is actually being taught. In fact, they admit some of the websites may not have been not directly connected, or even accessible through the schools at all:
School websites were, as often as not, our starting‐points, alongside the websites of the mosques by which or in which schools were run, or the trusts who ran them. (11)
Get that - the material they present was, 'as often as not,' not connected with the school, might be a dusty link on the discussion forum of a local mosque. But it is all piled up, with minimal descrimination, as evidence of an agenda to promote isolationism and intolerance.

Why is this methodology shoddy? Here's why. I've put a link to Kiwiblog on this site, among others. Follow that link, and you'll find all manner of rightwingery and nonsense - particularly if you fail to distingush between what Farrar posts and the comments added by others. Just because I've got a link to that website doesn't mean I agree with it, just that I think it might be of interest.

There is no attempt at balance in the report. Links to websites that appear to promote Islamic fundamentalism and narrow-minded dogmatism are given, but no mention of links to other websites, Islamic or non-Islamic. This might mean, I suppose, that they found no such links what-so-ever, but this seems unlikely. And given that they are reported the allegedly promote cultural isolation, anything promoting or encouraging engagement with the outside world, be it just a link to the BBC website, should have been noted. Their failure to do this suggests that the authors had decided, beforehand, that the problem they describe existed, and focused on finding evidence to support this.

As for the evidence itself, it is pretty flimsy stuff. The claim that the schools are banning cricket and Harry Potter - the 'vile Diktats' the Express described - these are backed up with just one example of each (here and here (6)). The websites they draw these examples from aren't school websites, but external websites associated with a crackpot mufti in South Africa (This chap, to be precise (7)). The decree that chess is unIslamic (8) is, once again, a single item on a linked website. It isn't shown that the school is teaching this nonsense, or that students are accessing it through the school, or even that the websites are accessible through the schools - remember, 'as often as not,' the authors made use of 'the websites of the mosques by which or in which schools were run, or the trusts who ran them.'
1 - "Muslim Schools Ban Our Culture,' by Macer Hall, published in The Daily Express, 20th of February, 2009. (
2 - 'Music, Chess And Other Sins,' by Denis MacEoin, with the assistance of
Dominic Whiteman, published by Civitas, February, 2009. (
3 -
ibid, summary, page xiii.
4 - ibid, summary, page xii.
5 -
ibid, page 6.
6 - The banning of cricket is a response given on an external website, posed by an unidentified questioner. The report includes screenshots, and the one regards cricket can be viewed here: Nate that the term 'Cricket' is highlighted, suggesting it was found through a googleblast - way to research. The one relating to Harry Potter - again, posed by an anonymous questioner from an undisclosed location - can be viewed here:
7 - Wikipedia biography of Mufti Ebrahim Desai, viwed on the 20th of February, 2009:
8 - MacEoin,
op. cit., page 31.


IftikharA said...


Less than 5% of Muslim children attend Musslim schools while 96% attend state schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. They are exposed to racism in all walks of life by the fellow students as well as by the chicken racist teachers. The National Curriculum does not satisfy their needs and demands. They grow up to beecome angry, frustrated and extremist.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school.

Muslim schools performed best overall, although they constitute only a fraction of the country's 7000 schools. Muslim schools do well because of their Islamic ethos and a focus on traditional discipline and teaching methods. They teach children what is right and what is wrong, because young children need structural guidance. No one paid any attention to the fact that none of the alleged attackers went to Muslim schools. They had not been brought up in religious families at all. They had gone to state schools, and had fully integrated and tasted and lived the 'British way of life' in many ways. They had only come to religion relatively late. The attackers were used as an excuse to target and demonise Muslim schools with no valid reason. This is the main reason why non-Muslims are hell bent upon eleminating Muslim

There are hundreds of state and Church schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion all such schools may be designated a sMuslim Community schools.
Iftikhar Ahmad

lurgee said...

I am assuming the above is a standard response, posted anywhere the Express article is linked. Unfortunately, the interweb being what it is, I suppose the Express article and the Civitas report will be seized on by the gibbering hordes.

My attempt to expose the report's shortcomings is not motivated by any fondness of Islam. As an athiest socialist, I don't have much time for faith schools of any persuasion, but I appreciate they will exist as long as there is a market for them. I do think there is a deliberate attempt to foment and exploit anti-Islamic sentiment by institutions like Civitas, and this is taken up by the likes of the Mail and the Express. SO I often find myself - oddly - defending something I don't like or believe in (a religion) against soemthing I despise (the cynical provokation of bigotry.

Some of the comments you made about the educational and religious backgrounds of the 7/7 murderers is of interest.