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how Conservative politicians opposed funding for Muslim schools in England

Writer : Helen Carr, Lecturer in Secondary Historical past Training, College of Birmingham

When Yusuf Islam – the artist previously often called Cat Stevens – had his first youngster, he wrote her a track. Her identify was Hasanah and the track was a form of ABC of the Muslim religion:

A is for Allah, nothing however Allah … Ka is for kalima, a phrase we’re taught to show us what is sweet and what’s not.

It turned a success throughout the Muslim world. However, because the artist defined in a 2015 interview, he wanted to go additional than that.

I all of a sudden thought ‘Grasp on, what college am I going to ship her to?’ … I had a job to show my youngster not solely to be academically profitable, however tips on how to dwell.

Hasanah was born in 1980, by which level England had a substantial Muslim inhabitants. Stevens, who had transformed to Islam in 1977 and adopted his new identify in 1978, was an more and more distinguished determine in London’s Muslim group. Alongside along with his spouse, Fauzia Mubarak Ali, and a bunch of buddies, in 1983 he arrange a small major college in a home in Brondesbury Park, within the north-west of the town. It was to be run by the Islamic Circle Organisation. And in line with the minutes of a June 1985 assembly between Yusuf Islam and Brent council’s training committee, the admissions coverage was that “dad and mom of a kid must be devoted to Islam and Islamic training”.

The Islamia major college was not the one Muslim non-public college in England. Nor was it the one Muslim college contemplating an software for state funding within the 1980s. There have been different faculties in Batley, Bradford, and within the London borough of Newham.

For my PhD analysis, I’ve extensively consulted information from the Division of Training and Science (DES) in England, because the Division for Training was recognized between 1964 and 1992. The paperwork I’ve studied are held within the Nationwide Archives and in native authorities information in archives round England.

What set Islamia aside was the truth that it was based by non-immigrant converts who had the information and the clout to successfully navigate the British training system. Regardless of this, and even earlier than the varsity’s software was submitted, my analysis reveals that the UK authorities determined that Muslim faculties mustn’t obtain state funding – despite the fact that they had been arguably legally entitled to it.

I discovered that in 1988 the DES engineered a brand new criterion by which to guage whether or not faculties ought to obtain state funding. The appliance was subsequently turned down with out the DES having to interact on deeper questions concerning the place of Muslims in British society.

It’s arduous to not interpret this as Islamophobic discrimination by the state. This interpretation is bolstered by analysis. In a 1995 comparative examine of Islamic faculties in England and the Netherlands, students Claire Dwyer and Astrid Meyer discovered that Muslims had been handled “in isolation from the precept of non secular state-funded education in different denominations”.

To place this in context, in 1985, there have been roughly 8,000 voluntary faculties in England (each aided and managed, a distinction which refers back to the relative stage of autonomy and the extent of the state funding.) The overwhelming majority of those voluntary faculties had been related to a Christian basis – both Anglican or Catholic – and a small minority had been Jewish faculties.


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Within the wake of the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, Iran’s supreme chief, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa towards the creator Salman Rushdie. Analysising how the British authorities responded to British Muslims following the Rushdie affair, Dwyer and Meyer argued that, “Muslims are constructed as outsiders who want to grasp the British lifestyle and their British citizenship is seen as conditional on their recognition of their obligations to the British state.”

Researchers have proven that such anti-Muslim sentiment stems from the persistent and – because the fallout from the 2014 Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham demonstrates – dangerous concept that Islam is in opposition to western values.

In Birmingham in 2014, an nameless letter despatched to the town council alleged a plot by fundamentalist Muslims, dubbed Operation Trojan Horse, to wrest management of native faculties. Quite a few subsequent investigations discovered no proof to assist this declare, however the scandal continues nonetheless to adversely impression Muslim communities within the metropolis.

Young boys wearing prayer caps read and write at low wooden desks while seated on a carpeted floor.
Youngsters examine the Qu’ran at a mosque in Forest Fields, Nottingham in 1985.
John Birdsall / Alamy Inventory Photograph

Islamia major college’s battle to broaden

When the Islamia college first opened in 1983, it was a nursery catering for a mere 13 youngsters. It shortly outgrew the home by which it was positioned and, in line with its personal historical past, was considerably oversubscribed: the demand was there for extra locations.

To be eligible for funding, as a major college, it wanted to have the ability to cater for no less than 175 pupils. Created by the 1944 Training Act, voluntary-aided standing utilized to non secular faculties which met sure standards and submitted to state monitoring. If profitable of their functions, faculties obtained a considerable proportion of capital prices and 100% of operating prices.

Amid discussions with the council about changing into voluntary-aided, the varsity’s first job was to safe appropriate premises which might enable it to broaden.

Having the native authority on board was essential on this course of, however negotiating with Brent Council within the 1980s was not a straightforward factor to do. In his e-book, Stepping on White Corns, former Brent councillor and social historian James Moher explores the historical past of Brent within the 1980s and 1990s. He quotes native journalist Invoice Montgomery, who, in an article within the Willesden and Brent Chronicle dated July 12, 1985, described the council chamber on the time as “a cross between a bullfight and visiting an establishment for the criminally insane”.

Archival data present that the council was initially considerably immune to supporting Islamia. It took the varsity to job on topics of race, Darwininsm within the curriculum, how girls are handled in Islam and the {qualifications} of educating workers.

Minutes from a gathering on June 3, 1985, between Yusuf Islam and Brent Council’s training committee – held within the Brent native archives – report that Islam said that the prophet Mohammed stated that it was “incumbent on all Muslims, women and men, to hunt information” and that the blending of sexes was allowed earlier than puberty in Islam. Although the data don’t specify to what precisely this was in response to, the assembly minutes record Yusuf Islam’s assertion underneath the heading “Equal Alternatives”, suggesting that this level was raised in response to questions on Brent Council’s equal alternatives insurance policies. Yusuf Islam additionally said that the varsity’s curriculum supposed to fulfill DES necessities; that three quarters of lecturers on the college already had the requisite {qualifications}; and that the remaining lecturers would observe swimsuit.

After a number of conferences, in April 1986, the council’s training committee lastly agreed to lend the varsity its assist in its bid to broaden and apply for voluntary-aided standing. This means that at native authority stage, the varsity was deemed to have met the academic threshold for state funding.

Yusuf Islam was reportedly overjoyed. In a 1987 concern of Inquiry journal, he was quoted as saying:

We hope that Brent will set the pattern for different multireligious, multicultural boroughs within the nation. Brent Council is proving that it intends to dwell as much as its declared coverage of equal remedy for all.

Difficulties at strategy planning stage

That pleasure was to be shortlived. The training committee might need been on board, however the principle battle, at council stage, was about planning functions. Whereas Islamia first submitted its software in August 1986, it was solely thought of months later, in January 1987.

In a non-bylined article entitled “Anti Muslim declare as Brent drags its heels” within the Willesden and Brent Chronicle, dated November 21, 1986, the Islamic Circle Organisation was quoted as saying:

That is broadly regarded inside Brent’s 15,000 robust Muslim group as open discrimination by a Labour-controlled borough pledged to struggle racism and blatant proof that segments of the native Labour occasion appear decided to hinder the varsity’s progress as a lot as attainable.

A black and white shot of people standing in a field holding a very long piece of paper.
Brent council within the 1980s was going through down a number of points, together with a housing record (pictured right here) that numbered upwards of 14,000 names.
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Inventory Photograph

The varsity’s software to broaden was initially refused. The council reasoned that having a bigger college in a residential space can be noisy and obtrusive for neighbouring properties. It will result in a lack of outlook and privateness and in addition convey additional visitors. The truth that the varsity was a Muslim college didn’t come up explicitly.

It will maybe be remiss to not think about this refusal within the gentle of wider considerations amongst Brent Council’s ranks about Islamia. The choice to disclaim the varsity permission to broaden was taken inside the wider context of discussions concerning the college’s software for state funding. This software is talked about within the minutes of the planning division (formally, the Improvement Management Sub-Committee).

These concerned with the varsity had been duly sceptical concerning the growth sub-committee’s motives. Within the Willesden and Brent Chronicle, Yusuf Islam commented that the 19 Christian and Jewish denominational faculties within the space had been partly supported by charges and taxes paid by Muslims:

That is grossly unfair. The choice to refuse planning permission for a brand new extension to Islamia major college for worry of additional visitors and noise goes towards all human logic and is clearly an act of discrimination.

Software for voluntary-aided standing

The varsity continued in its bid to broaden. By mid-1989, the council had lastly granted it permission to maneuver to new premises in Queens Park, that might home the requisite 175 pupils. The varsity’s software for state funding, nonetheless, was no much less fraught a course of.

School pupils compete in a three-legged race in a Church of England school summer fête.
Church of England college fete: state funding for faith-based faculties was negotiated with Christian and Jewish group leaders.
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Inventory Photograph

In outlining the necessities for faculties to acquire voluntary-aided standing, the 1944 Training Act didn’t specify religions or denominations. Theoretically all, together with Muslims, had been eligible. Nonetheless, the negotiations over state-funded religion faculties, which led to the creation of the voluntary-aided class of faculties within the 1944 act, had been held between the Board of Training and leaders of Christian and Jewish communities in England. Muslim group leaders weren’t consulted.

In 1988, the Yesodey Hatorah college, a Charedi orthodox Jewish college in Hackney, London, utilized to be voluntary-aided. Archival supplies present there was concern on the Faculties Department II (the department of the DES that oversaw the academic wants of youngsters from ethnic minorities) that approving Yesodey Hatorah’s software might set off functions from different minority non secular communities. The identical supplies talked about the upcoming Islamia software, earlier than commenting that “the Secretary of State will want to think about whether or not such a sign can be acceptable”.

This sentiment was repeated in assembly minutes dated February 3, 1988. These advised that approval of the Yesodey Hatorah software can be a “sign that narrowly non secular faculties might be given a spot within the maintained sector”, earlier than mentioning – but once more – Islamia. The minutes then went on to state that “lots of the different 17 Muslim unbiased faculties would think about following swimsuit” and that if “Yesodey Hatorah is accepted there would arguably be a case for ‘come one, come all’”. Ministers ought to pay attention to the implications, the notice cautioned.

The excess-places criterion

When the Islamia college utilized, it did certainly face opposition. The appliance was twice denied – first in Could 1990 after which on attraction, in 1993. In each situations, the explanation given was that there have been surplus college locations within the borough and, consequently, no case for establishing a brand new college.

My analysis reveals that this surplus-places criterion was in truth launched, within the spring of 1988, in response, exactly, to Islamia’s ambitions. Particularly, held within the Nationwide Archives is a sequence of drafts and redrafts of a 1988 DES briefing paper, in addition to in depth notes and correspondence concerning the query of state-funded non secular education. Collectively, these paperwork reveal that the requirement for there to be no surplus college locations in an space to ensure that a brand new college to be granted funding, was added solely after the DES had decided that it was unlikely to have the ability to refuse Islamia on present standards (relating to curriculum, premises and admissions).

Teenagers in uniform pose for an indoor group photograph with a man in a suit.
The training secretary, Kenneth Baker, meets with college pupils on the Division of Training and Science in London, in 1988.
Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Inventory Photograph

On Could 20, 1988, a gathering came about between the secretary of state for training, Kenneth Baker, and the house secretary, Douglas Hurd. The minutes of this assembly are held within the Faculties Department II file within the Nationwide Archives referring to the Yesodey Hatorah Faculty.

Baker questioned whether or not it was proper for the federal government to offer help for faculties which, as he put it, “particularly got down to train youngsters a special lifestyle from the nation at giant”. He talked about “the strict Muslim educating with regard to the function of ladies”. This chimes with different considerations voiced within the media and amongst politicians on the time.

Authorities worry of ‘excessive sects’

The DES minutes of the assembly state that the house secretary’s view was that the secretary of state for training ought to refuse functions for voluntary-aided faculties by “excessive sects” the place he had grounds for considering that they might “emphasise separateness”.

As authorities experiences, together with the 1985 Swann report, present, the worry on the time was that if so-called separate faculties grew in numbers, it could result in “de facto racial segregation”, to cite a 1990 report entitled Faculties of religion: non secular faculties in a multicultural society (a duplicate of which is within the British Library).

The primary draft of the briefing paper, written by Faculties Department II, outlined Baker’s views. In it, the secretary of state for training argues that had been he to approve the Yesodey Hatorah proposal, “I might not discover it simple thereafter to withstand the calls for, notably of the Moslem [sic] group, for separate faculties”.

Baker then says that he shall not have the ability to rely on discovering instructional causes for rejecting such proposals. “The proposers will typically have the ability to make a persuasive case that they are going to have the ability to adjust to my necessities for aided standing and their functions could have appreciable instructional strengths, as certainly has that of Yesodey Hatorah. The introduction of the nationwide curriculum within the maintained sector will present a surer base on which to guage whether or not candidates are placing ahead sound proposals, however it could be unwise to contemplate that they are going to show unwilling or unable to take action.”

A subsequent redraft of the paper then states, “there’ll must be not solely a denominational want for brand spanking new college locations however an total want for such locations within the space of the native training authority (LEA).”

Throughout a dialogue within the spring of 1988 relating to the drafting and redrafting of this briefing paper, as recorded within the DES file within the Nationwide Archives, the query was raised as as to if faculties ought to display that they had been already educating an appropriate curriculum – consistent with the nationwide curriculum – or whether or not they need to present that they might accomplish that as soon as they obtained the funding. BM Norbury, a member of Faculties Department II, famous that, “to this layman, Islamia major college in Brent would possibly qualify even underneath this criterion”.

It’s clear then that at each native authority and governmental ranges, the Islamia college had been discovered possible to have the ability to meet the said necessities for receiving voluntary-aided standing. The DES had successfully determined not that it ought to approve state funding for Islamia, however that it ought to search different justifications for refusing it. The excess-places criterion offered this.

Tellingly, and in contrast, subsequent archival paperwork reveal that that very same surplus-places criterion was not utilized to Yesodey Hatorah or to different Jewish faculties, which had been permitted within the early 1990s on the idea of denominational, however not total, want.

A DES inner notice, dated July 1988 and held within the Nationwide Archives, explicitly said that “the actual fact that there have been surplus locations in voluntary and county faculties within the space shouldn’t be a cloth think about figuring out the Yesodey Hatorah software.” These surplus locations, the notice specified, had been the Inside London Training Authority’s duty: “They might not be stuffed by the kids who attended the Yesodey Hatorah faculties.” In different phrases, the exception made for the kids of this Jewish faith-based college was not prolonged to these from Islamia, a Muslim faith-based college.

A rabbi in a black coat and hat speaks to a classful of small boys in yarmulkes.
A rabbi speaks to a category of younger boys in North London’s orthodox Jewish Yesodey Hatorah college.
Unbiased | Alamy Inventory Photograph

Muslims in Britain

By the point the Islamia college had submitted its software for state funding, the Rushdie affair was in full swing. The Occasions Instructional Complement couched these governmental selections in what it known as “a jittery non secular and political local weather”, amid the expansion of Islamic fundamentalism.

A debate concerning the place of Muslims in Britain was unfolding within the press. In Could 1989, a Occasions newspaper chief column opposed state-funded Muslim faculties, asserting that “Islam isn’t a European religion, and certainly defines itself as a separate and complete civilisation at odds with many key European cultural and political values”.

That very same yr, the house workplace minister, Tim Renton, gave a speech (the textual content of which is held within the Nationwide Archives) to the Coventry Conservative Anglo-Asians, by which he argued towards state-funded Muslim faculties. “On this nation,” he stated, “our custom favours the equal remedy of ladies – affording ladies the identical instructional and profession probabilities as boys.”

Protesters hold up images of Ayatollah Khomeini in a field in the rain.
The Salman Rushdie affair prompted protests and a debate concerning the place of Muslims in British society.
Garry Clarkson | Alamy Inventory Photograph

But, as I’ve discovered, the one place that dialogue was not taking part in out was between the state and Muslim faculties. The federal government merely refused to elucidate why it didn’t wish to fund them.

When John Greenway, Conservative MP for Ryedale, enquired on behalf of a constituent on January 11, 1989, the DES replied (in correspondence discovered within the Nationwide Archives) that he ought to assert the suitable of any non secular group to use for voluntary-aided education. Every college, the division’s response said, can be thought of in line with its particular person deserves.

The archive reveals that others enquiring about Muslim education at this level obtained comparable responses. One other inner DES memo (held within the Nationwide Archives) refers to this response as “the usual line in explaining how the secretary of state will think about all functions for voluntary-aided standing. It doesn’t enter into debate on the case for and towards Muslim faculties”.

Paddy Ashdown, then chief of the Liberal Democrats, in line with the Muslim Information in August 1991, put it bluntly:

The current authorities is certainly working double requirements over the granting of voluntary-aided standing to Muslim faculties.

This solely confirmed what some folks in Muslim communities had lengthy suspected. As Islamia co-founder Ibrahim Hewitt stated, in an article within the Occasions Instructional Complement from November 1, 1991, the approval of funding for Jewish faculties at the moment confirmed “that there’s one regulation for one group and one other regulation for one more group”.

When Islamia college’s software for state funding was refused, for a second time in 1993, Yusuf Islam reportedly expressed frustration at this double normal. He famous that round 4,000 Christian and Jewish faculties had been recipients of presidency funding. “We have now seen all of it earlier than,” he stated. “We at the moment are in peril of closing due to the shortage of funds.”

A mother in a salwar kameez stands on a chair on the pavement with children playing around her.
Muslim communities in England weren’t explicitly included in discussions about state funding for faith-based faculties.
Homer Sykes | Alamy Inventory Photograph

And when it emerged, in August 1994, that the Jewish Hasmonean major college, a close-by institution within the London Borough of Barnet, had been permitted for voluntary-aided standing shortly after Islamia’s second refusal, these emotions of rejection among the many Muslim communities had been solely amplified.

The Hasmonean choice had been saved secret for a number of months. Ahmed Versi, editor of the Muslim Information, known as the federal government out. In a Occasions Training Complement article, dated August 5, 1994, he stated:

That is discriminatory. Sadly, Muslims should not protected as a result of there is no such thing as a particular regulation of non secular discrimination, so we can not take the federal government to courtroom.

The primary state-funded Muslim college

The Islamia college didn’t see itself as a separate college. From the outset it constantly aimed to work with the state training system. That is evidenced as early as 1986, within the introduction to the varsity’s proposal for brand spanking new premises:

We have now been attempting to acquire voluntary-aided standing, wanting –- as we do –- to “opt-in” to the LEA –- as a result of we worth the enter that the LEA gives.

An identical sentiment was expressed in an oral submission the Islamia Faculty Belief made to Brent Council’s working occasion on post-primary reorganisation in 1988.

The belief wished to be concerned within the training system of the authority. It wished to dispel the sensation of the varsity being a ghetto establishment exterior the norms. As well as, the varsity wished to have the ability to profit from the advisory and assist companies which the authority was capable of provide.

And in 1994, whilst he accused the federal government of discrimination and worry of Islam, precept Azam Baig reiterated the varsity’s goal: “We don’t wish to be a Saudi college or a Libyan college or a Pakistani college,” he informed the Washington Submit. “No, we wish to be a British college.”

The Prince of Wales is seated at a school table with smiling little girls in white headscarves and teaching staff
Yusuf Islam stated the prince of Wales’s go to to the Islamia college was an indication that Muslims had been accepted within the UK.
PA Photographs/Alamy Inventory Photograph

When requested, in a 2015 interview, how he got here to arrange the Islamia college within the first place, Yusuf Islam commented that as a proactive particular person, he didn’t depend on others to do what he wanted to do. “We didn’t know the way profitable it could be,” he stated, “the intention was to easily present for my youngster.”

His dedication to seeing it by way of was full. He was there each morning, serving to out with PE and admin. Because the headmaster put it as soon as within the college’s early years, “Yusuf is completely devoted and that is his mission”. The Washington Submit characteristic of 1994 famous that, regardless of tuition charges and personal donations, he personally remained the varsity’s major benefactor.

That dedication paid off. Lastly, in 1998, the Islamia college was ultimately granted state funding.

Together with the Al Furqan Faculty in Birmingham, Islamia was the primary Muslim college within the UK to attain this. It had taken over a decade of, as Yusuf Islam’s web site places it, “ceaseless campaigning”.

Reporting on the choice, the Occasions Training Complement commented that, “for the Muslims, the choice marks a milestone. One of many principal religions in Britain, it’s the just one to have been constantly rejected for public funding for its faculties”. An additional remark piece within the paper argued that Muslim faculties had felt largely ignored by the academic institution and had appeared considerably remoted and defensive.

It’s a sentiment for which, as I’ve proven, there have been plain grounds. It’s also a sentiment borne out by the remedy of Muslims within the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham, most just lately aired within the eponymous New York Occasions and Serial investigative collaboration, The Trojan Horse Affair podcast. That scandal has solid a shadow as long as to, within the phrases of extremism scholar Chris Allen, have the potential to stigmatise a complete technology of Muslims.

Smiling school pupils in grey and red surround a woman in a white headscarf.
The Al-Furqan Muslim college in Sparkhill, Birmingham made historical past alongside Islamia when it was granted state-funding in 1998.
PA Photographs / Alamy Inventory Photograph

In 2010, NBC journalist Jennifer Carlile famous that the Islamia major college now counted 3,500 youngsters on its ready record and Prince Charles and Muhammed Ali amongst its buddies. “It units the requirements,” Carlile wrote,“ for budding non-Christian state-funded faculties.”

If that reads like a victory of types, there is no such thing as a query that it was hard-earned. The Islamophobic suspicion at governmental stage that lengthy plagued Islamia – regardless of its evident success as an academic establishment – continued properly into the 21st century.


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