UK 'terrorism-aimed' lesson plan concerns Muslim educators

Britain is funding a curriculum aimed at teaching children in Muslim religious schools how to steer clear of "extremism", but some of the lessons are worrying Muslim educators.

UK 'terrorism-aimed' lesson plan concerns Muslim educators

Britain is funding a curriculum aimed at teaching children in Muslim religious schools how to steer clear of "extremism", but some of the lessons are worrying Muslim educators.

One lesson plan goes something like this: A group of "Islamic extremists" want to buy fertilizer that could be used to make a bomb. Should the shop keeper sell it to them? Or take Ahmad, whose friends want to attack a local supermarket in retaliation for the war in Iraq. Is it right for Ahmad to harm innocent Britons because their government invaded a Muslim country?

The curriculum's answer in both cases is no, but the fact that these scenarios are being considered at all has prompted concern among Muslim teachers, who question whether they are appropriate for young Muslim students.

Some also feel insulted that the program appears to make the assumption that the religious schools — or, madrassas — are teeming with "budding terrorists".

"In an educational setting, those propositions are a bit stark," said Tahir Alam, chair of the Muslim Council of Britain's education committee.

The British government acknowledged that the curriculum raised sensitive issues, but claims they were needed to give Muslims the practical skills they needed to reject extremism.

"The project ensures that young Muslim students learn the true teachings of Islam," said a spokeswoman for the Department of Communities and Local Government, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.

Ten Muslim clerics have been teaching the lessons in six madrassas and a school in Bradford — a religiously diverse city about 200 miles north of London. About 500 students have already completed the course, versions of which the communities department hopes to roll out nationally to some of Britain's 100,000 madrassa students.

The project, called "Nasiha," or "guidance," draws on the Quran, Shariah law, and traditional Muslim scholarship to show that British laws are in harmony with Islamic values. Its lessons will be taught in madrassas in Britain after-school programs based in mosques or private homes.

The stated objective is to teach children, most between the ages of eight and 14, "to realize that to harm or terrorize citizens in the UK is not something permitted in Islam," and "to be able to identify individuals or groups who preach hatred and learn ways of avoiding them."

While some of the lessons cover day-to-day situations such as bullying or good manners, others are explicitly aimed at defusing Muslims anger over the war in Iraq.

Teachers are asked to remind their students that some of their schoolmates may be in the military, and that as citizens "they should take an active role for their safe return in what many may consider an unjust war."

A homework assignment asks students to list "some of the peaceful things you can do to show you are not happy about your country going to war."

"One lesson from school is not going to change fundamental attitudes," said Peter Neumann, the director of the Center for Defense Studies at King's College, London.

"Whether (or not) that's the right way of approaching kids, in principle it's not a bad idea to say: 'Actually, you can trust the authorities. If there is someone talking about jihad, then police is the place you should go to.'"

Sajid Hussain, the program's project manager, said the lessons needed to be taught.

"They were issues young people definitely needed some direction on: For example, whether young Muslims have a responsibility to prevent harm in society when they know that older Muslims may plan something," he said.

The curriculum, which is due to be published as a book in December, was still open to amendments, he said, acknowledging that some of the examples — like the fertilizer bomb — were a little too explicit.

"Originally we thought it would be best to start looking at these issues a little bit head-on," he said, "but we're dealing with the issues a little more tactfully."

The Nasiha curriculum has received about $198,000 in government money as part of a larger program intended to fight "extremism" in the Muslim community.

Outside of the East London Mosque, one of the city's largest, opinion was broadly favorable to the idea of lessons to counter extremism.

Last Mod: 24 Mayıs 2007, 20:49
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