Civitas Institute for the Study of Civil Society

February 2009

Media information: embargo 00.01am Friday 20 February


Music, chess, Shakespeare, cricket and Harry Potter banned on fundamentalist Muslim schools' websites


Men are more intelligent than women, children told


Think-tank calls for vetting of Muslim schools to eliminate fundamentalists


Some Muslim schools are threatening the social cohesion of Britain by promoting a fundamentalist version of Islam that encourages children to despise the British society in which they live and to confine themselves to enclaves. In Music, Chess and Other Sins, Denis MacEoin presents the findings of his study of websites belonging to Muslim schools in Britain and their links.


'When a fatwa bank linked from a school tells a boy that dreaming of playing cricket for Pakistan is forbidden because it is a sacrilegious waste of time, or stipulates that reading Harry Potter books is prohibited; or another argues that pupils must not read 'shameless novels and fiction books', that Ludo, Monopoly, draughts and chess are forbidden because 'the Holy Prophet stated the person who plays chess, is like the one who dips his hands in the blood of a swine (pig)', and condemns 'the evil system of the Western culture'; or when a site run by an educational institution writes an article stating: 'One should abstain from evil audacities such as listening to music'; and when a graduate of the last institution speaks of the 'evils of music', calls the Royal College of Music 'satanic', and claims that music is the way in which Jews spread 'the Satanic web' to corrupt young Muslims-how are we to respond?


'It means that no child attending an all-Muslim school of this nature will ever visit an art gallery, attend a concert of classical or non-classical music, experience the transcendence of listening to a great operatic tenor perform, pass an evening mesmerized by a production of Romeo and Juliet performed by the National Ballet They represent some of the greatest achievements of Western civilization. To deny young Muslims access to the finest things in our culture, for what are the most puritanical of reasons, is to undermine the very foundation on which our education system is built If literature, art, dance, drama, and music are closed off, where do the most talented young Muslims go in order to achieve the things that so many young Jews and Christians take for granted?' (pp.31-34)


Nor is it only the artistic culture of the country that some schools are criticising. On the website of the Madani Secondary Girls' School, East London, we read: 'Our children are exposed to a culture [i.e. British culture] that is in opposition with almost everything Islam stands for.'


'This is a bruising comment that indicates what a negative picture of Western life and civilization will be imparted to pupils. To see everything Western as the clear opposite of all one is taught to believe to be right has the potential to damage young minds for life. This should be taken seriously in the light of the 7/7 bombings, where hatred of what non-Muslims stand for was adduced as an excuse for massacre. We do not say that schools teach terror, but we do ask if they do not make some of their pupils likely to fall prey to even greater extremism. If all that is Islamic is right and lovely, and all that is non-Muslim is corrupt and evil, how might an impressionable mind understand his or her role in British life?' (p.52)


'Be the lovers of death'


In a small number of cases, Denis MacEoin has found evidence of links between Muslim schools and those advocating jihad, for example in the case of Feversham College, Bradford of which the website links to islamworld.net, that contains a section of papers on jihad. In one of these papers, Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, writes: 'Jihad is an obligation from Allah on every Muslim... [Jihad] involves all possible efforts that are necessary to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their places of worship and smashing their idols... Today, my brother, the Muslims as you know are forced to be subservient before others and are ruled by disbelievers... Hence in this situation it becomes the duty of each and every Muslim to make jihad... Therefore prepare for jihad and be the lovers of death.' (p.99). Themina Ahmed, the creator of the history curriculum for the two Islamic Shaksiyah Foundation schools, in Slough and Haringey, North London, has written: 'The world will witness the death of the criminal capitalist nation of America and all other [infidel] states when the army of jihad is unleashed upon them.'


However, the principal objection raised by the report is not that Muslim schools are linked in any significant way with terrorist activities, but that some of them create in children a ghetto mentality that will make it difficult for them to function in British society:


'Many Muslim schools in this country try to recreate the milieu of South Asia, creating a closed environment which means children will live in a surrogate Pakistan or Bangladesh at home and school, even though they actually live in Bradford or Birmingham (p.53)... No child raised in close contact to this kind of thinking has much hope of developing into a balanced British Muslim, someone with non-Muslim friends, perhaps a non-Muslim partner, a job in a mainstream place of work, love for English literature and international sport, and a freedom from neuroses that can only be addressed by backing away into the safe realm of the ghetto.' (p.103)


One obvious aspect of the process of ghettoization is the wearing of hijab by often very young girls. For example, the website of the parent body of the al-Mu'min primary school in Bradford contains the following statement:


There are three grades of Purdah (veiling):

  • The first is that the woman covers every part of her body except her face, her hands and her feet.

  • The second is that the woman covers her face, her hands and her feet also.

  • The third is that woman keeps herself indoor or keeps herself hidden in such a veil that no-one can ever see her clothes. This stage is the greatest of all the three.

'This will strike most readers as excessive, yet it is part of a site run by a primary school. Hard questions must be asked by government as to how healthy it is to allow hardline Puritanism like this to inform the lives of young and vulnerable children. There is little question that a girl brought up under such restrictions may never be psychologically robust enough to enter ordinary British life; may never be able to take up employment in the mainstream world; may never be capable of interacting with men at any but the most circumscribed levels. If a young girl is made to wear hijab and taught that adopting it is the only way a woman may comport herself in the world, by the time she grows up and leaves school, a broad psychological barrier will have been planted between her and 99 per cent of British society.' (pp.79-80)


The status of women


The issue of veiling is only one aspect of a worrying concern about the relatively low status that is ascribed to women by a number of those associated with fundamentalist Muslim schools, which may not prepare girls and young women for life in mainstream British society in which women are regarded as the equals of men. Ask-Imam is an online site providing authoritative rulings on all matters pertaining to Islam which can be accessed through the website of al-Jamiah al-Islamiyyah Darul Uloom, Bolton (which has now closed down its website following queries relating to this report). It carries extensive rulings on women, such as:



Similarly, the Jameah Girls Academy in Leicester has a direct link to a fatwa site, Darul Iftaa, run by the school's own patron, Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari. He places severe restrictions on male doctors treating female patients; he rules that women may not swim (even for medical reasons) where a male lifeguard is present, or where there are non-Muslim women; using tampons is 'disliked' (makruh-a classification in shari'a law); a woman may not travel beyond 48 miles without her husband or a close relative accompanying her; a female is encouraged to remain within the confines of her house as much as possible; polygamy is permissible. If anyone were to ridicule polygamy, he would become an unbeliever; it is a grave sin for a woman to refuse sex to her husband; it is forbidden to have close, intimate relations with or have love for non-Muslims; Muslims are not to sit, eat, live or mingle with them; the legal punishment for adultery is stoning.


'Rulings such as these would, if applied, reduce the lives of women to something not known in Western society since the Dark Ages. That they may have an impact on British-born Muslim girls and young women runs directly contrary to the whole purpose of providing equal educational opportunities to both sexes, and makes a mockery of the basic principle of Western education, which is to prepare children for a future life in mainstream society.' (p.85)


Where are the inspectors when you need them?


The questions that are raised by this report are of the sort that would normally be part of the remit of an Ofsted team of inspection. It is therefore of great concern that some of the schools about which questions have been asked have received glowing reports from Ofsted, sometimes from Muslim inspectors. According to Denis MacEoin:


'Some inspectors are missing the most crucial facts about the schools and writing glowing reports that might mislead the DCSF and the public. It's not their fault in the least, since a close knowledge of Islamic doctrine and practice won't have figured in their training. One may ask harder questions about Muslim inspectors who may have been expected to catch on a lot more quickly but who also present largely favourable reports.' (p.93-4)


The failure to spot problems is all the more surprising in view of the fact that Music, Chess and Other Sins is based on material found on schools' websites, and the website is part of a standard Ofsted inspection. Some of the material cited is from the school websites themselves, and some is from sites linked to them. It could be objected that this is to imply guilt by association, and that schools are not responsible for material on other sites. However, as Denis MacEoin argues:


'The problem is that we are dealing with schools. Mainstream schools do not invite representatives of the BNP or the IRA to speak, they do not make links to their websites on the school site, and they do not ask them to attend their prize days. Schools have to be much more careful than other institutions in society not to expose those in their care to extremism, to hate speech, or to religious fanaticism Let us be frank: if similar views were held by schoolteachers, headteachers, governors, or trustees of non-Muslim schools, we would expect an enquiry and a great many reforms. Yet Ofsted, not knowing where to look, provides most Muslim schools with a clean bill of health.' (pp.102-3)


The need to distinguish between moderates and fundamentalists


The aim of Music, Chess and Other Sins is not to attack Muslims, but to draw attention to certain problems in schools run by fundamentalists. Its aim is to 'stand up for all the young Muslims who are cajoled or bullied into adopting a way of life that reduces them to lookers-on in their own country' and to 'help roll back the tide of fundamentalist and radical Islam from places where it deserves to exert no influence: the British educational system and British schools' (p.101).


The report makes a number of recommendations, including the following:


  • A sufficient number of Ofsted inspectors, non-Muslims and identifiably moderate Muslims, must be trained properly in all relevant aspects of Islam, so they can identify suspect lessons or connections.

  • Ofsted must consider how to tackle the problem of how to inspect Urdu-speaking, Arabic-speaking, or Bengali-speaking schools without depending exclusively on Muslim inspectors. Transparency is vital.

  • Imams and preachers currently associated with schools as principals, sponsors, trustees etc. must be vetted for fundamentalist tendencies. If the views they hold are opposed to the basic values of British society, their role in schools must be restricted or terminated. If someone is incapable in conscience of teaching loyalty to Britain and love for the majority of its citizens, their competence as educationalists must be called into question.

  • The recent proposal that imams should lead citizenship lessons in state schools should remain in mothballs until a reliable method can be found to distinguish moderate from extremist clerics.

Notes for Editors


1. Civitas is an independent social policy think-tank. It receives no state funding either directly or indirectly and has no links to any political party.


2. According to the author, there are at present in Britain an estimated 400,000 Muslim school-age children of whom the overwhelming majority, 96 per cent, attend non-Muslim state schools. (p.30)


3. There is a steadily growing minority of Muslim children in Britain who have begun to receive full-time education at one or other of its estimated 166 Muslim schools (p.7). Of these schools, the overwhelming majority are in the independent sector, although increasingly they are beginning to seek and to gain voluntary-aided status.


4. Many of Britain's Muslim schoolchildren also receive regular supplementary religious instruction at the week-end or in the evenings at one of the country's estimated 700 madrasas (p.5), 'extra-curricular schools in which mainly Qur'anic subjects are taught'. (p.124)


5. Of the country's independent Muslim schools, 24 are said to be funded by Saudi Arabia, and hence liable to be influenced by and sympathetic to that country's officially favoured highly puritanical version of Islam known as Wahhabism. (p.7)


6. A further 26 independent Muslim schools in Britain are Darul Ulooms (p.7). Of south Asian provenance, Muslim schools of this type purvey an equally puritanical form of Islam known as Deobandism. (p.71).


7. The publication offers many examples of where what is currently being purveyed by Britain's Muslim schools, especially the Wahhabi and Deobandi ones, would severely impede the capacity of their pupils to accept and become part of mainstream British life and society.


8. The author, Denis MacEoin, is a leading international authority on Islam, as well as being a well-established novelist.


For more information contact: 020 7799 6677


Music, Chess and Other Sins: Segregation, Integration and Muslim Schools in Britain by Denis MacEoin, with the assistance of Dominic Whiteman, is published online by Civitas.


Click here to download the publication:
http://www.civitas.org.uk/pdf/MusicChessAndOtherSins.pdf