April 2, 2014
97 per cent of the 265 pupils schooled in the Lancastrian city are from Muslim families. The head teacher, Julian Rogers, believes that the word of God should be spoken and Christian values and morals upheld at the school no matter what background the children are from. Indeed, during assemblies, his biblical stories hold his audience – of excited, intrigued and sometimes confused-looking pupils – captive.
Most are second- or third-generation British Asians, whose parents/grandparents emigrated here from India and Pakistan from the 1960s onwards. But there are also children with families from countries such as Iran, Palestine, Turkey and Nigeria. So: a melting pot of cultures, languages and identities. Some have only just arrived with their families from the turmoil of their home country, and have found being taught about Christianity in English somewhat unexpected.
Maryam Pathan, who was born in India but has lived in England for 10 years and whose daughter is in the reception class. “We think it’s great that they are learning about other religions.” Mr Rogers says that the children are more receptive to the Christian teachings because they already come from a background of belief.
Overall, the school has had great success in maintaining religious and social harmony among the pupils, but there are unlikely to be any Muslim converts to Christianity any time soon. As one Muslim mother, Amina Patel, points out: “It’s good that our kids learn about Christianity, but it’s not going to change their religious faith or the way we teach them at home.”
The Muslim children at St Matthew’s also attend local Islamic schools from 4.30pm to 7pm every day, with a short break at home in between for tea and homework. A large number of them go to the Islamic Educational Society for their additional schooling. This consists of an impressive-looking mosque called Masjide Noorul Islam (place of worship) and the Madressa Noorul Islam in a basic brick building opposite where the children sit in classrooms to learn about Islam.
“Most of these kids were born in Britain and have adapted to the culture here, but it is important they learn about and identify with the religious beliefs of their forefathers” says the school’s leader Mufti Ashraf Sidat. Recitation of the Koran is a vital part of their education, along with learning about Islamic law, history, manners, etiquette, citizenship, languages and spiritual training.