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Birmingham Muslims being ‘pilloried’ for their faith, claims council boss

Birmingham Muslims being ‘pilloried’ for their faith, claims council boss

🕔09.Sep 2014

Publicity generated by the Trojan Horse affair has left Birmingham Muslims feeling “pilloried for what they believe in”, the city council’s equality director has claimed.

Mushaq Ally quoted from the results of a focus group study where participants felt strongly that allegations of schools being a seedbed for violent extremism were whipped up by the media without proper evidence.

There was a general denial in the community that any organised extremist plot existed in Birmingham, he added.

Council officers who asked groups of practising Muslims for their views were told the allegations of inappropriate behaviour were an example of “scaremongering about Islamification of the UK”.

However, Dr Ally conceded that he had spoken to only 60 Muslim representatives – 30 men and 30 women – to arrive at his conclusions.

Dr Ally’s findings appear to contradict three formal inquiries into the Trojan Horse allegations which found that a small clique of governors attempted to impose a rigid interpretation of Islam on pupils in non-faith schools and forced out more liberal head teachers.

In a scrutiny committee presentation Dr Ally, assistant director equalities, community safety and cohesion, said the groups of men and women he had spoken to believed Muslims were being unfairly singled out and blamed the media for poor reporting.

An Ofsted investigation into 21 Trojan Horse schools uncovered a “culture of fear and intimidation” with governors attempting to promote a “narrow faith-based ideology” in classrooms.

Peter Clarke, an education commissioner appointed to probe the allegations, found a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained” campaign to introduce “an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos into a few schools”.

Incidents uncovered by Clarke included girls being told they would be sent to hell if they refused to have sex with their husbands and the showing of a Jihadist video to pupils.

Ian Kershaw, appointed by Birmingham council to investigate the allegations, found that a number of governors connected through different schools were bullying and harassing teachers where school curriculums were regarded as anti-Islamic.

Mr Kershaw said the governors took action because they believed some schools in east Birmingham were failing Muslim children. But there was no co-ordinated Trojan Horse plot.

Dr Ally said his research showed that most people dismissed the reports’ findings as “simply the schools responding to the needs of local Muslims” and that religious conservatism should not be confused with extremism.

He said: “Yes, there were people behaving badly but not because they are extremists but because they weren’t well equipped to be governors of schools. They were trying their best.

“They came to Britain to improve the life of their families and they see education as essential to that agenda.”

He added: “Relatively little blame for furore around the schools is apportioned to either the Government or any named politicians, although the apparent change in Ofsted’s assessment of the school in a short period of time was cited. It is the media which they regard as principally responsible for unfair coverage of the story.”

The female group spoke about the need for British Muslims to integrate into UK society and were keen to remain part of the secular state school system rather than sending their children to faith schools. However, they felt the schools “should reflect the Muslim communities in which they are situated, and believe that accommodation can be made for religious sensitivities on social issues within the mainstream state sector”.

Both groups welcomed a greater focus on British values and subscribed to those laid out by the Prime Minister recently. They also backed practical policies to advance these values, ensuring new immigrants can speak English, a greater focus on teaching British history in narrative form and promoting, rather than simply respecting, British values.

Dr Ally added: “They were all at pains to stress that they have a high regard for Britain and that it is when they travel to see family abroad that they value it the most.

“The female group spoke especially positively about British values of tolerance, democracy, freedom to practice their religion, equal opportunities, and education. They saw these as being in line with Muslim values.

“However, they believe that there will always be some slight tensions between Islam and British society because Islam is based on beliefs that do not change while British society does change.

“They state that this religious conservatism should not be confused with extremism. As a result of these tensions, they wish to retain the right to engage with their child’s education, especially on sensitive social issues.”

Dr Ally described Birmingham as a city of segregated communities. There had to be a programme to bring communities together.

But he warned that for many young people “Islam is an essential part of their life” and they would not stop being Muslims.

He continued: “What’s important is that they can live as a good Muslim and a good citizen in Birmingham. We have to recognise there are certain beliefs that Muslims aren’t going to give up. They need help and support as young people in how they can make changes but still be authentic to their faith.”

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