We’ve heard it all before; Madrassahs are the perfect environment for cultivating extremist tendencies. But usually the finger is being pointed at Madrassahs in Pakistan or Afghanistan, where young boys and girls are seen to be indoctrinated into the Taliban’s ideology. But according to the BBC’s Panorama, aired tonight on British Television at 8:30 pm on BBC 1, more than 5000 pupils are being taught the official Saudi national curriculum at Saudi Students’ Schools and Clubs in the UK. The curriculum is seen to be anti-Semitic and negatively affecting the ability of young Muslims to integrate into British society.
I can only speak from personal experience, but my Madrassah was definitely not extreme in what it taught. Apart from being open, and questioning of established religious opinions, we had student-led current affairs lessons and rigorous and analytical history lessons. There was no shortage of healthy debate, and in fact, it was these lessons that inspired me to go to study Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at university and pursue a career in journalism.
While I’m not suggesting that all Madrassahs are the same as mine, and I’m sure there are Madrassahs out there that will have curriculums that most Muslims find distasteful at the very least, I don’t believe this to be the majority tendency. My fear is that Panorama’s exploration will simply add to the suspicion that every Islamic school is somehow a breeding ground for extremism.
The interesting thing is that as a result of this documentary, Ofsted is looking into possible regulation and inspection of out-of-hours clubs and schools. Personally, I’m stuck in two minds; I don’t think that all Madrassahs should have to be inspected simply because a few are perpetuating unsuitable and inaccurate content. But then again, as a Muslim, I fear the spread of this ideology just as much as any non-Muslim. Should I be imbibing the ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to lose’ mentality?