‘Religious Education and Muslims in England: Developments and Principles’

by John M Hull


Muslim Education Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 4, 1998, pp. 10-23




It is estimated that there are about 450,000 Muslim children in the schools of England and Wales.1  All school children are required by law to receive regular religious education, unless their parents withdraw them, and Muslim children are no exception.  Moreover, all children are required by law to attend and take part in a daily act of collective worship, unless their parents withdraw them.  The religious education syllabuses, produced by the Local Education Authorities, are generally based upon a world religions approach, and usually include the study of Islam amongst other religions, particularly Christianity.


These arrrangements worked quite well until the early 1990s, when problems began to arise.  In 1988, the Conservative government of Mrs. Thatcher had created important new educational legislation.  The Education Reform Act (1988) not only initiated the National Curriculum but considerably strengthened the position of religious education and collective worship.  For the first time, the content of the agreed syllabuses, although continuing to be constructed at the local level, was required to conform to a legal prescription, namely that they should 'reflect the fact that the principle religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principle religions represented in Great Britain' (ERA 1988 Section 8.3).  Similarly, collective worship, previously undefined, was now to be 'wholly or mainly of a  broadly Christian character' (Section 7).2


At first, the Muslim community tended to approve of the new legislation but as the implications became clearer, there were signs of discontent.3  This article will outline two of the many incidents which have taken place in recent months and years, and will comment upon the significance of these developments, both for the participation of Muslims in religious education, and for the character and rationale of the religious education enterprise as a whole in England.

I choose these two incidents, not because they are necessarily typical, but because they give rise to interesting questions.  I could have described other cases where Muslims have worked very happily with the agreed syllabus arrangements.  This article is not a comprehensive review of Muslims in British religious education.


The Kirklees incident: withdrawal


The first of these incidents took place in an administrative area of Yorkshire in Northern England known as Kirklees.  This western part of Yorkshire includes such towns as Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley.  It is an area with a significant Muslim population, people from the Indian sub-continent having been attracted here in earlier decades because of the  textile industry for which Yorkshire was famous.


Late in 1995 hundreds of Muslim children were withdrawn from both the primary and the secondary schools in Kirklees.4  This withdrawal was not uniform over the area, Batley being the most seriously affected.  To some extent, the level of withdrawal seemed to depend upon the attitudes of the leaders of the local mosques.  The main issue was the contents of the new agreed syllabus which had just been published.5  It contained a good deal of teaching about Islam, having been prepared in consultation with representatives of the Muslim community.6  Nevertheless, the impact of the withdrawals was significant.  In one of the most affected secondary schools, about one third of all the children in years 7, 8 and 9 (aged 11-13) were withdrawn.  In practice, this means that for purposes of their religious education class the children in these year groups are divided into three classes, two of which receive the normal agreed syllabus education while the third consists of  Muslim children who have been withdrawn. These children do not receive religious education at all, but are given work in various other subjects.  In the primary schools which feed this particular secondary school, about half of the children are Muslim and there is a similar, perhaps even more pronounced pattern of withdrawal. 


However, in years 10 and 11 (children aged approximately 14-15) students may opt for a short G.C.S.E course of public examination in religious studies, with a syllabus comprising the study of Islam and Christianity.7  Far from being depleted through withdrawal, these courses are over subscribed by Muslim students.  The teachers in the religious education department of the school are concerned that a tradition is being created wherein it is taken for granted that Muslim pupils entering upon their secondary education at this school do not take part in the religious education classes until the G.S.C.E years, when the study yields them a significant qualification, and in any case they are older and ready for this kind of study.  Late in 1997, Kirkless published its Agreed Syllabus Handbook for Religious Education.  Very little additional information or assistance in the teaching of the Islamic sections of the Agreed Syllabus was provided.


The Birmingham incident: adaptation


The second situation arose in one of the primary schools in the inner ring area of Birmingham.  In May of 1993 a dispute broke out on the governing body of the school.  Some of the more militant Muslims demanded that their children should receive separate collective worship.  Their objection was not to the actual content of the existing acts of collective worship but to the fact that in law their children were regarded as participating in worship which was 'wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character' (ERA sect.7).  The 1988 legislation provides for local schools to make applcation to the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE) of their Local Education Authority in cases where such collective worship is deemed to be unsuitable for some or all of the children.  At first, the governing body and the head teacher were reluctant to apply for such a determination, on the grounds that the school would be divided along religious lines.  However, later in 1993 an application was made to the L.E.A and was accepted.  This meant that there were two kinds of collective worship taking place in the school everyday.  One was for most of the Muslim children, while the other one continued to be wholly or mainly of a broadly Chrisitian character.  At this time, about 70% of the children in attendance at the school were Muslims, but not all the Muslim children attended the Muslim collective worship.  Some remained in the general act of collective worship, which in spite of its legal status as being broadly Christian, was in fact carried out on a multi cultural principle, seeking to draw upon all the spiritual traditions represented in the school. 


This being settled, attention then turned to the arrangements for religious education in the classroom.  It was decided that the parents would not withdraw their children from the agreed syllabus, as had taken place in Kirklees, but that Muslim children would be gathered together from their various classes and taught the agreed syllabus by a teacher especially appointed for that task, who is himself a Muslim.  This appointment took place in September 1994.  The situation then was that two forms of the local agreed syllabus were being taught.  One was the Islamic form taught by the Muslim teacher, to most of the Muslim children, and the other was the ordinary form of the same syllabus, taught by the normal class teacher to the remining children, who came from various religious traditions, and included a few Muslim children whose parents did not wish them to take part in the Muslim classes.8


These arrangements proved to be very popular with the Muslim community and the percentage of Muslim children has steadily increased from 70% in 1994 to 96% in early 1998.  The result of this increase is that almost all the children in the school take part in the special Muslim teaching of the agreed syllabus, while in each classroom there are perhaps  two or three children who are taught by the regular class teacher from the same agreed syllabus but not from a specifically Muslim point of view.  Rather than saying that this arrangement has divided the school along religious lines, it would be more correct to say that the special needs of the small numbers of children who are not Muslims are being catered for.9  We will now discuss the significance of these incidents.



Muslim withdrawal from religious education classes


What the Muslim parents did in Kirklees was perfectly legal.  The law offers to parents the right to withdraw their children from religious education, and even allows alternative religious education in accordance with the wishes of the parents to be available on the school premises provided no additonal cost falls upon the school.  The right to withdraw, however, has not been widely exercised in recent years.  Parents who withdraw their children are usually members of Christian movements such as the Jehovahs Witnesses and the Exclusive Brethren, groups for whom such withdrawal is part of a general policy of social separation.  Children from religions other than Chrsitianity have not often been withdrawn from religious education classes, and the Kirklees incident was significant not only in that Muslims were involved but that a substantial group of parents and not just one or two decided to withdraw their children.


The action of the parents of the Muslim children was not only legal; it was understandable.  Although the Christian right wing had claimed in 1988 that Muslims were happy to accept the proposed legislation, in spite of the special position which this gave to Christianity and to Christian worship,10 it soon became clear to the Muslim communities that the law had created a situation which was going to marginalise the teaching of Islam in schools, and which would inevitably compromise the position of Muslim children in collective worship11.  In the classroom, Muslim children would apparently have to accept a religious education which emphasised a faith not their own, and even more seriously would be faced with the choice of participating in a worship of which they could not approve, or becoming separated from the mainstream of the school, either through withdrawal or through the appeals procedure described above.  Protests and criticisms from Muslim educators became quite frequent.12  Other religious communities expressed similar fears. 


The pity of it is that the 1988 legislation was really quite flexible, much more so than the spin given to it by the press indicated.  Section 8.3  requires new agreed syllabuses to 'reflect the fact that the principle religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of other principle religions represented in Great Britain'.  The advice offered to the then Department for Education by its own legal branch in 1990 emphasised the vagueness of this form of words and that it would be compatible with a wide range of syllabuses.13  Soon after the passing of the Bill, it was pointed out that in schools where the majority of pupils were Muslim it would be appropriate to have a religious education curriculum which was weighted in favour of  the teaching of Islam.  The fact that the principle religious traditions in Great Britain remain Christian would be reflected by the fact that even in a mainly Muslim school Christianity would occupy a significant but subsidiary place.14  The legislation does not claim that the Christian traditions are always and everywhere the principle ones in Great Britain, but only that this is so ' in the main '.  The legislation implies that there will be parts of the country where Christian faith is not the main religion, and the legislation is tolerant towards such situations.  These also must be reflected in an appropriate agreed syllabus.  Clearly, every new agreed syllabus must include Islam under the requirement of the latter part of the famous clause, since Islam is undoubtedly one of the principle religions represented in Great Britain and hence its teachings and practices must be taught.


It is clear then that the legislation does not require that Muslims should always receive a religious education which is predominantly Christian, but permits variations from one region and area to another.  Moreover, it would be consistent with the English tradition that a local agreed syllabus should be adapted for the needs of each particular school, and there is no reason why in a school where a majority of pupils were Muslim, the local agreed syllabus which contains materials about Islam anyway, should not be emphasised.


Although religious educators emphasised this point again and again, little or no support for this broad and more flexible interpretation of the law was received from the then Government or the press.  These continued to give the public the impression that the legislation would establish England on a more firmly Christian basis through insisting upon a religious education which would be mainly or predominantly Christian15.  The spokespeople for the government during those years and the people in the press and media who supported them were responsible for the misunderstandings about the legislation, which in many cases they deliberately encouraged, and they are thus responsible for the deterioration in relationships between the Muslim community and schools which followed.  The Kirklees incident is an example of this deterioration.  The Muslim parents were understandably responding to propaganda which was, however, misleading in the first place.16


It is interesting to note that the Parental Alliance  for Choice in Education (PACE) one of the right wing bodies which had insisted that the Act required religious education to be predominantly Christian, changed its tune.  They now began to attack the legislation from the other side, claiming that since it was a multi faith requirement, the Muslims were fully justified in withdrawing their children from it.  The right-wing Christians want religious communities to be separated from each other, particularly in school.  They tried to achieve this first through exaggerating the Christian aspects of the legislation17 in the hope of influencing the agreed syllabuses and making them as Christian as possible.  When this failed, because the vagueness and flexibilty of the legislation became undeniable, they started to attack the legislation for being mutli-faith.  They then supported and commended religious groups who wanted to escape the consequences of the Act by opting out or taking forms of separation.18


Some Muslims, like some Christians, would like to have their children educated  separately from the faiths of others.  Just as it was in the interests of the conservative Christians to exaggerate the Christian character of the Act, so it was in the interests of the conservative Muslims to agree with them.  Some conservative Muslims were happy to use the opportunities provided by the Act to strengthen their own position as advocates of a pure and uncompromising Islam. 


In assessing the significance of the Kirklees incident, we must distinguish not only between what is legal and what is understandable, we must also ask what is justifiable and what is desirable.  We have seen that the action of the Muslim parents was legal.  We have also seen that it was rather understandable, in view of the misunderstanding of the legislation which the then Government and the media encouraged.  However, whether the withdrawal was a justifiable action is less clear.  As already pointed out, the legislation does permit agreed syllabus teaching to be substantially Islamic in areas where this would be appropriate, and these aspects of the syllabus could be further emphasised in particular schools where necessary .  In order to determine whether a mass withdrawal of their children by parents was justifiable or not, one would need to examine the Kirklees agreed syllabus, and to find out whether the flexibility of the law had been fully explained to the local Muslim community.  We would also need to find out whether the Local Education Authority had emphasised the freedom available to each school in considering the needs of its particular population.


However, objections to the agreed syllabus were only part of the reasons which led some Muslim parents to withdraw.  Some Muslim parents did not want their children to receive information and understanding about other religions19.  Although the legislation permits an agreed syllabus or the adaptation of it by particular schools so as to emphasise Islam, the legislation would not permit any agreed syllabus or any school to teach nothing but Islam.  In the same way, it would not be possible to teach nothing but Christianity.  No pupil educated under the requirements of the 1988 Act can receive only his or her own religion.  That is one of the features which makes it an education Act rather than a religious nurture Act.  This brings us to the point where we must discuss the purposes of religious education in Britain.



The purposes of religious education


At this point, we come to a principle of fundamental importance for religious education.  The purpose of religious education as it is understood in Britain is to educate pupils concerning religion so as to enable them to understand both religion and the various religions, and thus to be encouraged in their general educational development, particularly their spiritual, moral and cultural development.  This has implications for the method of teaching and for the content of the syllabuses.  As far as the method goes, religious education must be taught so as to stimulate a thoughtful response to religion.  Religious education can never be taught in a merely instructional manner.  Moreover, we must distinguish the educational task of the county school from the faith-nurturing task of the mosque and church.  These two functions are compatible, but not identical.  This does not imply that the faith-nurturing process in mosque and church should not also promote thoughful criticism.  This may take place; perhaps it ought to take place.  In the county school, however, the critical approach is essential. 


Moreover, the implication of being an educated person in the area of religion and religions is that one has some persepective beyond the confines of ones own tradition.  Is such a wider perspective damaging to the faith of children?  Some claim that it is damaging, but there is little or no evidence in support of this.20  No doubt there is good historical precedent for the claim that studying more than one religion is confusing to children.  Christians can hardly blame Muslims for believing that young children should be securely grounded in their own faith before learning about other religions, since Christians have themselves been making this claim for many years.21


As to pupils confused by the study of several religions, the research team that worked in the University of Birmingham between 1985 and 1990 on the 'Gift to the child' material found that when children encountered material from a religion other than their own, it tended to deepen their own sense of religious identity rather than diluting or confusing it.22  Similarly, the work done by Professor Robert Jackson and his colleagues in the University of Warwick has found that if anything confuses children, it is not the many worlds in which they live but the confusing questions of teachers, insisting that they must belong to one of the main religious traditions when in fact they may belong to a religious group which does not acknowledge differences between Sikh and Hindu.23  After all, even infant children are well aware of the fact that not everyone goes to mosques or churches, and that not all adults believe or behave in the same way.  It seems likely that the fear of confusion is as much a reflection of their own conception of religious identity as it is a forecast of what will happen to the identity of their children.  There are both inclusive and exclusive forms of religious identity.  The exclusive type of religious identity will always be fearful of contact with other religions because of its insipiant tribalism.  Education, on the other hand, must seek to strengthen inclusive religious identity. 



We have been discussing whether it is understandable that some Muslim parents have withdrawn their children from religious education classes.  We must now consider whether such  withdrawal is desirable. 


There can be no question that such withdrawal is undesirable.  The parents in Kirklees came to their decision after long reflection and with reluctance.  British religious education is founded upon the belief that it is in the best interests of all children that they should receive a religious education which will be appropriate for the moral, cultural and spiritual development of all children, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack of it, and which may be taught by well trained and competent teachers with sensitivity and an awareness of religions, regardless of their own faith or lack of it.  That is the professional basis for the inclusion of religious education in the required curriculum, and without this basis it would be quite impossible to maintain it.  This general outlook has received support from leading figures in all of the main religions in Britain.  Moreover, it is the almost unanimous view of the teaching profession, and of most parents, including those of Humanist outlook.  However, in view of the Muslim reaction in Kirklees and elsewhere, some of the major features of this approach to religious education do  require fresh consideration.



Religious Education and the local religious communities


Although the religious communities have a legitimate interest in what is being taught in the schools, this interest must be qualified.  The views of the local religious communities are but one factor amongst the several which must be considered when creating a religious education curriculum.


Next, the local religious communities are not necessarily typical of the world-wide religion.  It is sometimes pointed out by Muslim scholars that Islam in the British religious education school syllabus is too much influenced by Muslims from the Indian-subcontinent, and that Islam is a world-wide movement and is not confined to the Indian sub-continent.  This leads us to the point that the religions do not belong to the local religious communities in Britain; the reverse is the case - the communities belong to the religion.  The religion is wider and larger than the local community.  Every great modern religion has within it a univeral self understanding.  It would be a loss if this universal vision were to become not much more than an expression of the self-interest and the self-image of their communities in Britain.  In other words, Islam is not merely for Muslim children.  Islam is for everyone.  All children have something to learn from the spirituality of Islam. 


When the religious communities are encouraged to believe that they are the sponsors of religious education in schools, the purpose of religious education is made more narrow.  Its major concern then becomes the accuracy of the representation to the pupil of the self- understanding of the religious community.24  Important though it is, accuracy is not enough.  Religious education must contribute to the personal, moral and spiritual development of the pupil, and cannot be satisfied merely with accurate understanding.  The accurate information must be conveyed in a way which is relevant to the developing needs of the child.  This is the heart of the educational task.  This is why it is called religious education and not merely religious studies.


The local religious community tends to think of itself as the unique expression of religion, indeed, this tends to be more true locally than it is in the international circles representing the religious leadership of the faith.  At the higher level, collaboration between religions is becoming more significant.25  This means that when religious education gets absorbed into the problems of an accurate representation of the local religious community, the study of religion itself tends to be diminished.  Religion then becomes a series of religions,26 and the dialogical model of religious education gives way to the communitarian model.  It then becomes more difficult for religious education to be the leader of the spiritual and moral development of the entire school.


Religious education for all


If children from religious homes are to be withdrawn from the common religious education, the vast majority of children who are from secular homes, will be left high and dry.  The same thing would happen if the agreed syllabus of religious education were thought of as comprising nothing but studies of the self-understanding of the local religious communities who were represented on the syllabus making body.  No doubt such religious education has a lot to offer children who belong to the local religious communities,  but what has it to offer to the majority of children, who do not belong to any religion?  The religious communities cannot assume that study of themselves is intrinsically fascinating to children and young people.  If that were the case, the statistics of affiliation to the religious communities in Britain today would be a bit more encouraging.  Religious education has a responsibility not only to the whole child, but to all children.  Religious and secular children need each other. 


Religious Education as Dialogue


The arrangements for the creation of local agreed syllabuses do not anticipate that the children will be divided into separate religious groups.  This is why we have a religious education which concerns more than a single religion, to be received by children all together in one classroom, representing more than one religious and secular outlook.  We may describe this as the common or inclusive aspect of British religious education. 


In many countries, the religious education tradition is more denominational, even sectarian.  Children from each religious tradition may be separated from each other and are taught about their own faith by representatives of the faith.  This may be described as parallel instruction.  There is no evidence that parallel instruction is any more effective in nurturing children in the faith of their family background, and it certainly can offer no hope of success as a rationale for a modern approach to religious education.  The religious groups who have tried this separate instructional approach in some of the Australian states  have generally found it to be unsatisfactory.27  The British tradition of a common religious education for all is worth preserving. 


The implications for religious education of the situation in the Birmingham primary school


As we have seen, the problem was resolved in a different way in this particular Birmingham school.  Here, the children continued to receive the agreed syllabus for the City of Birmingham, but from a Muslim perspective.  Thus, we have the situation of the same syllabus being presented in two different ways.  This presents a more complex problem than the relatively straightforward issue of whether to withdraw or not. 


The first issue is whether it is appropriate and legal to teach children the agreed syllabus  in groups according to their religious background.  While the law does not expressly forbid this, it is certainly against the spirit and intention of the law.  Religious education, is to be given "in accordance" (ERA 1988, Sect.2 (1)(a)) with an agreed syllabus, not in accordance with the religion or family background of the children.  The children are to receive the religious education as part of their general education and because they are registered in attendance at the school. Whether they are also registered as being in attendance at a place of worship outside the school, or as belonging to a certain religious group, is nowhere anticipated in the law, and the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) does not keep religious statistics for pupils.  Calling pupils out of various classes to receive instruction in accordance with their religious background is certainly an innovation in British religious education. 


Moreover, it is contrary to the professional character of the status of the teacher of religious education that the religous faith of the teacher should be a matter of enquiry.  Clearly, in primary schools, where religious education is taught by the ordinary class teacher, to impose a religious test would involve the entire primary school teaching profession, and would be vigorously resisted by the teachers' unions, and rightly so.  In the secondary school, where religious education is mainly taught by specialist teachers, such a religious test might be plausable at first sight, but it is equally contrary to the professional character of the secondary school teacher.  Teachers of religious education in the secondary schools of England and Wales are not appointed because of their personal religious faith but because of their professional training, experience and qualities as teachers.  In short, the arrangement at this Birmingham primary school threatens to turn religious education into an activity which is from faith to faith, instead of being an educational activity justified on educational grounds provided by all and to all.


These objections would have carried some weight if the situation in this Birmingham school had remained as it was when the new arrangements were created.  However, so attractive have the arrangements been to Muslim parents that the percentage of Muslims in the school has increased to the point where only a handful of children are not Muslims.  To speak of dividing the school along religious lines seems hardly realistic.  The statistics have overwhelmed the argument. 


Nevertheless, an important issue remains.  Is it legitimate to present an agreed syllabus of religious education from a particular religious point of view, even when almost all the pupils share that point of view? 


This possibility throws into doubt the whole process during which, over more than 30 years, religious educators have sought to create an educational rationale which would secure a place for the subject alongside other subjects in the mandatory curriculum.  The work of religious education thinkers such as Colin Alves, Terence Copley, Edwin Cox, Raymond Holley, Jean Holm, Donald Horder, John Greer, Michael Crimmitt, Robert Jackson, Harold Loukes, Ninian Smart, W.D.Smith and many others has been dedicated to the task of discovering an educational approach to religious education which did not presuppose a faith commitment.   It is on this basis that religious education has sought a foundation in phenomenology, existentialism and ethnography, in order to create a discipline based upon the social sciences.  The recent efforts of conservative Christians such as Trevor Cooling have been devoted to the attempt to justify and also criticise these developments from a Christian point of view, but do not propose a return to what in British religious education theory is generally known as a confessional approach.28


This is not the place to enter into the details of this rationale, but it may be pointed out that if religious education is to abandon such a rationale and to return to a confessional approach, it is inevitable that the inclusive character of the subject will collapse.  If there is a Muslim confessional approach, then there must be a confessional approach for Hindu chilldren, Jewish children, and especially (because of their significant numbers) Christian children.  Not only does this raise the urgent question about the children who do not come from religious backgrounds, as discussed above, it would lead to questions about such religious instruction taking place at the public cost.  Politicians, always quick to snatch at any economy, would quickly yield to the claim that such instruction should not be paid for by the taxpayer.  Muslims and Christians have their mosques and churches.  Let them pursue the interests of their faith and the faith of their children in those proper places.


It is not too much to say that the future of British religious education depends upon the Birmingham experiment not being widely adopted elsewhere.  One school, the one in Birmingham, has chosen this way, and there are more than 30,000 schools in England and Wales.  Nothing in this argument suggests that this approach was not the best one which could be found to solve the problems of that particular Birmingham school, but it would not be in the best interests of the children of this country should that approach become more wide-spread.  After all, the truly interesting thing about other religions is not to see them in the light of your own religion but to see them as they see themselves, and in the light of this, to gain that insight and perspective which is one of the essential features of education.


What should be done?

1. Provide a more flexible interpretation of the 1988 requirement for the agreed syllabuses

The wording of the 1988 Education Reform Act Section 8.3, which requires agreed syllabuses to 'reflect the fact that the principle religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principle religions represented in Great Britain' is not particularly sensitive and it would have been better if the agreed syllabuses were simply required to 'reflect the teaching and practices of the principle religions represented in Great Britain'.  The reference to the Christian traditions has made it possible for the cultural conservatives to exaggerate Christianity at the expense of the other principle religions.  This exaggeration was authorised by the notorious Departmental Circular 1/94, which is still in force even a year after the change of Governemnt.  A new Department Circular offering a more flexible interpretation would be of great advantage in helping various religious and ethnic communities to realise that they are welcomed by the legislation and that religious education is genuinely intended for all children. 


2. Changing collective worship

The problem with collective worship goes deeper than the Departmental Circular 1/94, although there is no doubt that the circular made the situation worse.  However, the root of the problem does not lie in the interpretation but in the wording of the Act itself (Section 7).  The only real solution to the problem lies in the repeal of this section.  It would be possible to restore collective worship to its rightful place in school life as a centre for the moral and spiritual development of pupils by strengthening the wording in the previous Section 6.  This requires collective worship but does not impose a theological definition.  This section could be strengthened by requiring pupils to attend a daily or frequent assembly, the main purpose of which would be to contribute to the spiritual and moral development of the pupils through collective worship or otherwise.  Such wording would not prevent collective worship from taking place, and its character would be determined at the local level.  At the same time, it would be recognised that collective worship is only one of the ways through which an effective school assembly may contribute to the moral and spiritual development of pupils.  There is no reason why Muslims should not participate in such assemblies alongside other members of the school and the community.29


3. There remains the problem of the general level of confidence which the Muslim communities have towards schools and religious education.  Afterall, there was considerable unease on the part of Muslims, long before the 1988 law and its narrow interpretation made things worse.29  We need more Muslim teachers in schools, not only to teach religious education, but to teach the National Curriculum, and so bring a Muslim presence and a Muslim model before young people.  It is also necessary to increase the general awareness of teachers concerning the special needs of their Muslim pupils, and to improve the ways in which Islam is taught within religious education.  There remains the problem of whether Muslims can offer an Islamic rationale for an educational religious education.  The Islamic tradition certainly contains elements of self-criticism and there seems no reason why an Islamic theology of a world religions approach to religious education should not emerge.  Many Muslim educationalists have already developed such an educational philosophy,30 and this may be more widely accepted amongst Muslims in Britain when a more generous tolerance in British society at large has assured Muslims that their traditions are respected and that they have a place within the British heritage.







1.         No reliable figures are available.  The quoted figure is an estimate based upon the ethnic origin question in the 1991 Census as calculated by C.T.R. Hewer "The Education of Muslims in Birmingham"  Éducation et religion dans les îles Britanniques: dieu à l'école, dieu et l'école Vol.13, No,2, 1996 pp 109-123 [University of Nice].


2.         John M Hull The Art Unpacked: The Meaning of the 1988 Education Reform Act for Religous Education Isleworth, Middlesex, CEM, 1989, ISBN: 1 85100 060 7, Edwin Cox and Josephine Cairns Reforming Religious Education: the religious clauses of the 1988 Education Reform Act London, Kogan Page, 1989, ISBN: 1 85091 898 8.


3.         Abdul Mabud "A Muslim Response to the Education Reform Act 1988" British Journal of Religious Education Vol.14, No.2, (Spring 1992), pp 88-98.


4.         First reported in the press on 22 January in The Times "Muslims removed from RE lessons" and "Muslims boycott religious lessons" The Guardian 22 January 1996, p7.


5.         1995-2000 Kirklees Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education Kirlees Metropolitan Council [September 1995].


6.         Kirlees Agreed Syllabus pp 77-96.


7.         G.C.S.E. RE Short Courses [Input 6], Derby, CEM [April 1996].


8.         "State School Agrees Separate RE for Muslim Children" The Times, 5 February 1996.


9.         The school wishes to avoid further publicity and has asked me not to mention it by name.  My knowledge of the situation is based partly on my own observations and partly on discussions with the headteacher, and others.  For a description and a defence of the situation in this school by an informal participant see Muhammed Mukadam "Religious Education and the Muslim Children at State Schools" in National Muslim Education Council of UK Religious Education - A Muslim Perspective London, 1997, pp13-19.


10.       Baroness Cox in the House of Lords on 3 May 1988. Hansard, col.504.  For the background prior to 1988 see J.M.Halstead and A.Khan-Cheema "Muslims and worship in the maintained school" Muslim Education Quarterly, Vol.7, No.2, pp197-213.


11.       National Muslim Education Council of U.K. "Religious Education - A Muslim Perspective" London, 1997, ISBN: 0 95307 770 5.  See especially the resolutions pp.558.


12.       12 June 1990 Paragraph 9 Section 5.


13.       "Crescent may oust the Cross" Times Educational Supplement September 20 1991, p.12.


14.       Typical examples are the articles: "Schools told to put emphasis on Christianity" The Times March 22, 1991 and " More Christianity to be taught" The Guardian October 12,1993, p.22.


15.       For a survey of the propaganda see: Robert Jackson "The Misrepresentation of Religious Education" in M.Leicester and  M.Taylor (eds) Ethics, Ethnicity and Education London, Logan Page, 1992, pp. 100-113.


16.       Colin Hart and John Burn The Crisis in Religious Education Harrow, Middlesex, Educational Research Trust, 1988, Colin Hart Religious Education: From Acts to Action Newcastle-upon-Tyne, CATS Trust, 1991 and RE: Changing the agenda Newcastle-upon-Tyne, The Christian Institute, 1994.


17.       "State School agrees separate RE for Muslim Children" The Times, February 5 1996.  For an example of the jumble of Conservative ideas which the Kirklees and the Birmingham incidents stimulated, see The Times editorial "Christians respect other faiths by strengthening their own" February 23, 1996 and for an analysis of the Conservative Christian world view together with its Islamaphobic roots see John M Hull "A Critique of Christian Religionism in Recent British Education" in Jeff Astley and Leslie J.Francis (eds) Christian Theology and Religious Education: Connections and Contradictions London, SPCK, 1996, ISBN: 0 28104 853 3.


18.       For example, Mohanned Amin of the Muslim Association of Batley as reported in "Muslims boycott religious lessons" The Guardian January 22, 1996, p. 7.


19.       Yaqub Zaki "The Teaching of Islam in Schools: A Muslim Viewpoint" BJRE Vol.5, No.1 (Autumn 1982), p.35.


20.       John M Hull "A Gift  to the Child: A New Pedagogy for Teaching Religion to Young Children" Religious Education Vol.91, No.2 (Spring 1996), pp. 172-188, and "How Can We Make Children Sensitive to the Values of Other Religious Through Religious Education",  in Johannes Lahnemann (ed) Das Projekt Weltethos in der Erziehung (Proceedings of the 5th Nuremberg Forum on Religious Education, 28th Sept-1st Oct 1994) Hamburg, E.B.Verlag, 1995, pp. 301-314, ISBN: 3 92300 286 6.


21.       Robert Jackson Religious Education: an interpretive approach, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1997, ISBN: 0 34068 870 X and Robert Jackson and Eleanor Nesbitt Hindu Children in Britain Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham Books, 1993, ISBN: 0 94808 073 6.


22.       Michael Grimmitt, "The Use of Religions Phenomena in Schools: Some Theoretical and practical connderations", BJRE, Vol.13, No.2 (Spring 1991), pp.77-88.


23.       Hans King and Karl-Josef Kuschel (eds) "A Global Ethic: The Declaration of the Parliament of the World's Religions" London, S.C.M. Press, 1993, ISBN: 334 02561 3.


24.       John M Hull "Religion as a Series of Religions: A Comment on the SCAA Model Syllabuses" in Vida Barnett et al (eds) From Syllabuses to Schemes [World Religions in Education], London, The Sharp Working Party, 1995, pp.11-16 and Robert Jackson RE: An Interpretive Approach.


25.       John G. Howells "Religious Education in Victoria Today" Learning for Living Vol.17, No.3, 1978, pp.118-122 and Alan H.Ninnes "Religious Education in South Australia: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back" Learning for Living Vol.17, No.4, 1978, pp.145-148.


26.       Trevor Cooling A Christian Vision for State Education London, S.P.C.K., 1994, ISBN: 0 28104 758 8.


27.       In the most recent review of opinion, 23 out of 28 organisations and religious bodies consulted have agreed that the present situation is unsatisfactory, and are generally moving towards the solution advocated here.  Collective Worship Reviewed: Report of the 1997 Consultation Albingdon, Oxon, Culham College Institute, 1998, ISBN: 0 90795 752 8.


28.       I must emphasize again that this article does not deal with the general picture but only with two specific cases.  For a recent discussion of the range of Muslim educational concerns, see Muslim Educational Trust Issues in Islamic Education London, 1996, ISBN: 0 90726 129 9.


29.       Beyza Bilgin "The Understanding of Religious Education in a Country where there is Separation of Religion and State: the Example of Turkey" BJRE Vol.15, No.2 (Spring 1993), pp.36-43, Muhammad Ibrahim "Multicultural Education: an Islamic Perspective Issues in Islamic Education pp.66-71 and Abdullah Sahin Faith development and its educational implications: an Islamic perspective unpublished M.Ed. dissertation, University of Birmingham, 1996.