Hardline Muslims and conservative Christians: so much in common

Hardline Muslims and conservative Christians: so much in common March 4, 2015

Until now, I’ve given Accelerated Christian Education a tough time on this blog, but I’ve remained mostly silent about the UK’s other network of private evangelical schools, the Christian Schools Trust. But with my discovery earlier this week that a former CST teacher had been promoting creationist ideas in science lessons at Durham Free School, it’s time to give the CST a closer look. Let’s start with their affiliations with supporters of radical Islam.

CST schools are not inspected by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate for England. To get out of Ofsted’s oversight, they formed their own inspectorate, the BSI. The BSI is an alliance between the CST and Association of Muslim Schools UK. The claimed idea is that, where possible, Muslims inspect the CST schools and Christians inspect the Muslim schools. This, says the BSI, means there is no conflict of interests and demonstrates that the BSI is in fact a model of interfaith collaboration and tolerance, which all sounds lovely.

I think it’s more like a cynical you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours arrangement, allowing both groups to dodge external oversight. At the very least, it’s concerning that the inspectorate is not independent of the schools it inspects. It’s also unfair that the inspectors are selected for being sympathetic to the schools’ faith ethos, when that ethos is precisely what’s controversial about the schools.

What Does Islam Say? by Ibrahim Hewitt.
What Does Islam Say? by Ibrahim Hewitt.

At least some of the Muslims involved in the BSI and Association of Muslim Schools (AMS) hold extreme views. One BSI inspector is Ibrahim Hewitt, AMS development officer and author of What Does Islam Say? This book advocates the creation of an Islamic state under Sharia law. In this state, according to Hewitt, there would be capital punishment for apostasy and adultery. In the section on homosexuality, he suggests that the death penalty would be reasonable in this instance too:

Muslim jurists have held differing opinions concerning the punishment for this abominable practice, some slating the punishment for fornication, while some stating the death penalty for both the active and passive participants. It is important to mention that these rulings are not given in an anarchic sense where a Muslim takes the law into his own hands. Rather for these punishments to be implemented, due legal process needs to be carried out, which can only be done under a state implementing Islamic Law. While such punishments may seem cruel, they have been suggested to maintain the purity of the society and to keep it clean of perverted elements, allowing for the spiritual development of its members in an ideal environment. 

So it’s either the death penalty or “the punishment for fornication”. What’s that, you ask? Well…

The punishments for fornication and adultery fall within prescribed limits, which cannot be changed and should be enforced according to Islâmic law in an Islâmic society, (see also CAPITAL PUNISHMENT). The punishment for fornication and sodomy is one hundred lashes. Married men and women found guilty of adultery are to be stoned to death. A rapist incurs the same punishment as a married adulterer.

Why on earth would the Christian Schools Trust prefer to collaborate with this man than Ofsted?

Another man who has performed BSI inspections is Tahir Alam, former chair of governors at Park View School, the centre of the alleged Trojan Horse plot (International readers who don’t know: in 2014, reports surfaced in the UK that Muslim extremists had plotted to take over a number of English state schools, which became known as Operation Trojan Horse).

I want to sound a note of caution here: Much coverage of the Trojan Horse affair was sensationalised, and I don’t want to contribute to anti-Muslim bigotry in general. At the same time, the Park View whistleblowers did raise genuine concerns that were important. In the hysteria over a possible ‘Jihadist plot’ and insinuations about terrorism, I think these got missed. The British Humanist Association’s comprehensive rundown of concerns is here. It includes barring children from access to sex education, children being told that wives could not say no to their husbands, a culture in which extremist and homophobic views went unchallenged, gender segregated assemblies and lessons (although, to be fair, there are gender-segregated PE lessons in many mainstream schools which usually go unchallenged),  creationism, and religious intolerance. In July 2014, the BHA produced a detailed blog post discussing which of these concerns had been confirmed. Most had.

Tahir Alam is the author of “A guide to supporting Muslim children in schools“, which has a nice sounding title but whose content is somewhat more controversial. You can read a slightly hysterical summary of the contents by the Torygraph here. He says “girls should be covered except for their hands and faces, a concept known as ‘hijab’”, in Hurry Up Harry’s words “implying that ‘no true Muslim’ would choose to dress otherwise”. He also advocates that schools should not conduct “School balls, discos and fashion shows that might inadvertently exclude pupils from the Islamic faith background”. There is no suggestion that tolerance might be a two-way street, with people who don’t like discos allowing them for those who do.

A Google search for Tahir Alam also brings up a document from the Muslim Council of Britain bearing his name, which advises:

I would caution against advocating that [school] desegregation should be  “actively pursued”. This in the main may not be possible nor desirable by minority communities or by indigenous majorities communities.

The Telegraph summary of Alam’s booklet continues:

Mr Alam’s document says that aspects of the National Curriculum, such as dance, should be ignored as “not consistent with the Islamic requirements for modesty”. It adds that “dance performances before a mixed-gender audience may be objectionable”.

Schools should “try to avoid scheduling swimming lessons during Ramadan”, the document says, to avoid Muslim pupils accidentally swallowing water and breaking their fast.

People familiar with Christian schools might be starting to see where the Christian Schools Trust is finding common ground with Islam now. Blocking sex education? Preventing mixed sports? Banning dancing? This could be any Baptist school in Texas.

As someone who went to a Christian school (though mine was not a CST school, at the time I was in an ACE, a number of other ACE schools were affiliated with the CST), I find it bizarre that evangelical Christians would form an alliance with Muslims. Evangelicals hate Islam. But maybe what I should be finding weird is the hatred. After all, they’re so alike! If they met at a party, they could talk for hours about the joys of oppressing women, gay people, atheists, and children.

Last September, it was widely reported that Islamic State has banned all references to evolution in its classrooms. At what point do the Christianists take a hard look in the mirror and realise just how much they have in common with Islamic extremism?

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