Conservative Party set to create boom in Islamic schools

Scores of religious state schools could be set up in Yorkshire by parents, local communities or religious groups under a Tory government with “formidable checks” in place to stop the spread of extremism. The Conservatives want to make it easier for parents, charities and trusts to set up their own new schools to meet the needs of local communities.

Shadow Schools’ Secretary Michael Gove told the Yorkshire Post his party would welcome the creation of new religious schools and accepted that the policy could lead to an increase in Islamic state schools being funded in areas of West Yorkshire. However he dismissed fears that such a move could lead to further segregation or extremism in the region.

“The reality is that parents who want to can send their children to an independent Islamic school, can send them to madrassahs for religious teaching after school and many pupils will be attending schools where de-facto segregation already exists. We want to meet the rights of parents to give their children a faith-based education in accordance with their Islamic beliefs while at the same time ensuring that these schools are properly run and promoting the values of a modern Britain.”

More mosques to be built in France

In the next several years, the construction of large mosques will accelerate in France, in Marseille, Strasbourg, Nantes, Paris, Tours, Saint-Denis, Cergy-Pontoise, and other French locations. Le Monde suggests that approximately 200 large mosques will open, leading to the closure of 2000 small prayer rooms around the territory.

At the same time, the Catholic Institute of Paris will graduate their second class of Muslim students destined to be imams familiar with “French secularism.”

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Islam in German schools

Saphir, a textbook for Islamic religion classes, presents the fundamental issues of Islam in 15 chapters for fifth and sixth grade pupils. Themes include the concept of God, the Prophet Mohammed, and the structure of the Quran, as well as issues such as the rights of children and social responsibility. Editions for grades seven to 10 are currently being prepared.

The textbook is part of an initiative to better educate Muslim students at Germany’s public schools about their Muslim faith. Saphir stands at the forefront of contemporary religious education. For Islam in Germany, the new schoolbook is a step away from the fringes and into the mainstream of society.

The book “does not aim to educate pupils to believe, but rather to make responsible decisions concerning faith,” stressed Harry Harun Behr from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. Behr, a German convert to Islam, teaches aspiring religion teachers at the Interdisciplinary Center for Islamic Religious Education. He is one of the authors of the teaching plan for classes in Islam at the Bavarian model schools in Erlangen, Bayreuth, Fürth, Nuremberg and, since the beginning of this school year, also in Munich. Behr maintains that classes in Islam at school should encourage a “critical distance to one’s own religion.” The university lecturer feels that a literal understanding of the Quran as an instruction manual is “not a sustainable model.” He regards the Quran as a literary text with a historical point of origin and development.

Islam as a regular subject at German public schools has, until now, only taken place on a trial basis. According to Article 7, Paragraph 3 of the German constitution, Muslims have a right to religious education for their children under the supervision of the state, just as Christians do. Yet for many decades, this right has not been implemented due to the lack of suitable partners on the Muslim side. Since 1999, North Rhine-Westphalia has offered Islamic instruction in approximately 140 schools to some 10,000 Muslim pupils. However, the Islamic instruction does not correspond to religion courses as prescribed by the German constitution. Such a course curriculum is only now being prepared in collaboration with Islamic associations.

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Montenegro: Montenegro Gets Islamic School

After an almost century-long wait, Muslims in the Republic of Montenegro will finally receive their first secondary school to accommodate students and parents wishing the youngsters to receive an Islamic education. Construction of the facility has been completed, with help from the Saudi bases Islamic Development Bank and a number of charities in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. The school is now scheduled to open for the 2008-2009 school year, with facilities including dorm rooms, a library, computer lab, gymnasium, and theater. However, enrollment in the first year will be comprised entirely of boys; girls are expected to be added to the student body in the following school year.

Finland: Shi’i Muslims unsatisfied with their Muslim education

Some Muslims living in Finland are not satisfied with their Islamic education in schools, as critics say that the teachings are too closely tied to one particular sect. Finnish public schools are required to offer lessons in general Islam – i.e., teachings that are agreeable with all Muslims and sects. However, in the city of Turku, Shi’I Muslim parents say that all of the city’s teachers are giving instructions that are dominated by Sunni teachings. The issue is especially relevant in the Lausteen School in Turku, where nearly half of the students are from immigrant families that are mostly from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, and Kosovo. The school’s headmaster Lauri Tiikasalo says he is not qualified to judge the quality or direction of the Muslim classes at the school, pointing out a general shortage of Islamic education teachers across the country.

Background: How Are We Educating Our Young?

Due to the lack of adequate channels of Islamic education, from mosque-centered activities to websites run by mainstream, non-fundamentalist Muslims, second- and third-generation Muslim youth in Germany are increasingly losing touch with their origins. Small local initiatives set up to fill this gap are gradually cohering into wider, national institutions like the Lifemakers. In a bid to recapture Islamic youth, such groups are also increasingly involved in youth activities more social than religious, such as sports, films, debating, and placements in higher education.