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Posted by on Dec 3, 2007 in faith schools, Ibrahim Lawson, Is religion dangerous | 23 comments

Letter from Ibrahim Lawson, head of Islamia School

Here is an email from Ibrahim Lawson, head of an Islamic school, whom I quoted below in Is Religion Dangerous?

I am v. grateful to Mr Lawson for permission to post the letter here for discussion. Seems to me Ibrahim Lawson is right – this is exactly the sort of discussion we should now all be having with each other: Muslims, those of other faiths, atheists, etc.

Sadly, such discussions don’t happen very often, so this is a real opportunity.

Contributors will, I’m sure, respond temperately and graciously. I hope we get a range of views.

Mr Lawson writes…

Dear Stephen, I came across this today:

If you’re not worried about what’s going on in some religious schools, you should be. Here’s a brief excerpt from a Radio 4 interview with Ibrahim Lawson, head of an Islamic school:

IL: [t]he essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.
ER: You use the word “inculcate”: dies that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…
ER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?
IL: That’s right…

One of the key safeguards religious schools need to have in place is a critical culture. My own view is schools like Ibrahim Lawson’s should no longer be tolerated, let alone be state funded.

I don’t usually respond to items in the media about Islam and Islamic schools because it doesn’t seem that there is any room for reasonable dialogue in that context – people have made their minds up already and are not really there for the purposes of any genuine communication. However, I see that you are a philosopher and that therefore perhaps not as bigoted as your remarks about not tolerating my school any longer might suggest. So I thought I would email you (as your blog invites me to do) to see if I am really as much of a threat to society as you imply.

I remember this interview quite well because at the time I really couldn’t see what the big objection was to what I experienced every day at my school. I was living in a Pakistani community and knew everyone quite well. No one I knew was what might be called extremist in the ordinary sense of the word. It was simply that, as Muslims, they wanted to bring their children up as Muslims and they wanted there to be a school where, in addition to the normal national curriculum, their children would learn about Islam. Moreover, they wanted there to be an ‘Islamic ethos’, meaning that it would be a place where people spoke positively about Islam throughout the day, the prayers were done, the Qur’an recited, etc. In that way, the school would resemble the rest of the children’s lives – at home and at the mosque and out in the community.

In fact, the school was a very friendly place: the teachers and pupils were often related through their extended families or through networks of friendship; it was very much a community school, like being a part of a big family if you like. Can you see why people would want their children to go to a school like that? Why would anyone object to a community who had shared values, history and culture having their ‘own’ school?

Were we building a dodgy nuclear power station?

Frankly, I really don’t see that. None of the children or parents would have considered themselves for a minute to be the enemies of British society or any of its other members. All had normal British aspirations for their children – to get good exam results, go to university, get a good job and a mortgage etc. They just wanted to be Muslims, and their children, as well. And I think that is where the real objection lies.

It is slightly absurd to imagine what approach we should have taken to teaching about Islam to these Muslim children if the objection is to us telling them that Islam is true. The reason we offer to Muslim children for accepting the truth of Islam is that this is what Allah wants us to believe, what he has written in the Qur’an, and also what the prophet Muhammad wants us to believe – him being the messenger of Allah. Are we really supposed to then say, “But you shouldn’t believe that just because we say so; you should make your own minds up”? That is not what Islam teaches. In Islam, there is no question about the existence of god, the validity of the Qur’an or the veracity of the prophet. Nor, given that, is there a sensible choice about being Muslim. It would be self-contradictory to teach Islam to children as a matter of choice based on personal opinion.

Given that this would be ridiculous in practice, I suppose you would prefer that we did not have Islamic schools. Then the children would be being told at home and at the mosque that Islam was true – objectively – but, at school, that the truth of Islam was merely a matter of opinion. However, Muslim parents, believing Islam to be true, do not want their children being told this; they believe that it is essential for the spiritual health of their children that they know Islam to be true without any possibility of doubt – because that is what Islam teaches.

So I think your real objection is to Islam itself. It is not just schools like mine that should no longer be tolerated, but beliefs like mine.

Do you think that Islam is a danger in principle to British society? Either way, this is perhaps where the discussion should focus, if that would be of any interest to you.


Ibrahim Lawson