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A week in the life of Jacob Huckle

A week in the life of Jacob Huckle

Issue 74 November 2010

Jacob Huckle is a Religious Studies teacher. He read the famous ‘ink of a scholar’ saying by Prophet Muhammad and was inspired to teach his students about Islam.


It is Friday afternoon; fifteen minutes until the end of the lesson. It has been a long week of meetings, parents’ evenings and fear-filled observations by senior teachers. The paper strewn across the floor testifies to the chaos that has been my Friday; there was also a lost memory stick, the almost unbearable heat, and the bickering children. A silent but desperate prayer that they will just behave, or at least misbehave quietly, for fifteen more minutes circulates in my head. Then we can all go home. But a hand shoots up. “Sir, are all terrorists Muslims?” Now I am alert “Now,” I tell the class before responding, “real learning will begin.”
I feel that a major duty and privilege I have as a Religious Studies teacher is to tackle discrimination, including Islamophobia through education. In fact, it is one of the main reasons I decided to train as a teacher two years ago. Experiences like the one described were pretty regular at one of my training schools – a rural school consisting of very few, if any, Muslim teachers or students. Here, I quickly realised that many students’ impressions of Muslims were caricatures at best, and offensive stereotypes at worst. They consised of crude concoctions of media generalisations, fears of difference and uninformed opinions inherited from family members. It is a dangerous mix. I arrived at the sudden realisation that the only opportunity many young people get to encounter a positive and authentic vision of Islam is in school.
 Last year, the day before starting my current job, I was pinning a sign above my classroom door. It is a quote that encapsulates my approach to teaching. “Let your vision be world-embracing.” I try to encourage this in my students, enabling them to step outside of themselves to grow in empathy and respect. This is the world-changing power of education.
Often, teaching about Islam tends to focus on learning a set of beliefs, like the five pillars. Whilst this is important, I do not think it is enough. I want my students to engage with the real and diverse lives of Muslims, with all the suffering, joy and beauty these lives might entail.
So, I plan lessons to give students insight into the Islam that is different from the vision portrayed in much of the media. In an average week, on Monday we will explore why Muslims might donate to charity; on Wednesday we will consider how Muhammad inspires people today in the fields of social justice and women’s rights; and on Friday we will reflect upon what it might be like for a Muslim suffering discrimination after 9/11. It is most definitely a fascinating week in a job I love.
In fact, most Mondays to Fridays are spent preparing and delivering lessons that reflect religions in all their messy, fuzzy and authentic diversity. When teaching about Islam I refuse to settle for simple, easy and contrite generalisations about a billion or so people, and try to foster an open and positive attitude amongst students. The beauty of Religious Studies is that students are able to learn from religions, as well as about them. There is a great deal they can learn from the rich, ancient traditions of Islam.
I want to educate students so they become the best people they can, developing the skills to respect and empathise with others regardless of culture or religion. I take seriously a quote I have always loved from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Learning about religions, encouraging students to climb into others’ skin and walk around, or maybe even dance, can successfully prevent arrogant judgemental attitudes.
But this is not easy. Generally, my weeks consist of free-fall stumbling between lessons and piles upon piles of marking. My weekdays are usually spent balanced precariously on the precipice of mayhem. But I am deeply inspired by Prophet Muhammad’s teaching that “the ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr” and hope that my teaching can, in some small way, contribute to the struggle against discrimination; liberating students from the shackles of prejudice. It might not quite be the ‘ink of the scholar’, but it is the ‘chalk of the teacher’, and I believe it is very powerful. l


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4 Nov 10, 14:58

this is chaima tunisian moslim girl thanks for your tolerance and your respect for islam^^

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A H.

29 Oct 10, 12:26

Mashallah. if there were more people in the world with
such religious tolerance the dream of world peace
would be achievable. I apllaud your efforts Mr. Jacob
Huckle and wish you the best of luck in your

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