BBC Panorama on Muslim Schools

As has been widely reported, the BBC’s Panorama ran a report on Monday by John Ware, entitled “British Schools, Islamic Rules”, about how certain schools may be promoting a segregationist mindset; although Ware made no reference to it, the programme came in the wake of a Telegraph report alleging that some Muslim schools in London received good reports from OFSTED due to the religious bias of particular inspectors.

The programme highlighted several case-studies, starting with the Jame’ah Uloomul Qur’an (var. Jamiah Uloom al-Qur’an) girls’ school in Leicester, where the niqab is part of the uniform. The school is associated with the Jame’ah Mosque, and with the Darul Iftaa Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence. Ware highlighted some particularly grim pronouncements from the Darul Iftaa website, such as that women should not leave the home “without need and necessity” and that music is a “direct ploy of the non-Muslims”. Although Ware did not give much background, these are the views of Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam al-Kawthari, who directs the Institute and who is also a teacher at the school. However, the school told Ware that the Darul Iftaa has no bearing on its “principles and ethos”.

Ware also noted links to between certain schools and controversial individuals: the Al-Risaala Balham Preparatory School, based in the Tooting Islamic Centre, described in a newsletter how Riyadh ul Haq had been an “inspiring speaker”; this was a year after his extremist views had been discussed by Andrew Norfolk in the Times. The school told Ware that ul Haq had not spoken at the school itself, but only in the Islamic Centre, which is in the same building. Meanwhile, APEX Primary in Ilford had a fundraising event involving Haitham al-Haddad, shown in a clip explaining how there was an “ongoing conflict” with the “enemies of Islam”, and that “we should pay the price of this victory from our blood”. APEX explained that this was not how it teaches “citizenship values”. I found this section to be less than satisfactory; a one-off link to an outside speaker with some objectionable views expressed elsewhere may be troubling, but in itself is insufficient to show that a school is hotbed of Islamist indoctrination. Rather than pursue the matter systematically or in any depth, Ware – whose research here appeared to consist of various bits and pieces culled from the internet followed up with requests for statements – quickly moved on to another subject, that of Saudi-influenced weekend schools (see below).

Ware also drew attention to the Bridge Schools Inspectorate (BSI), which inspects 70 schools connected with the Association of Muslim Schools UK and an organisation (not named by Ware) called the Christian Schools’ Trust.  Barry Sheerman MP complained that this “sub-system” had “slipped through the system before anyone noticed what had happened”. Ware noted that OFSTED has concerns that inspection organisations covering fewer than 350 schools and 5 faiths “might lack rigour and objectivity”; however, he only mentions in passing (and as something BSI has told him rather than as something which can be confirmed) that OFSTED has in fact rated the BSI as “good”. His sole – and somewhat thin – evidence against it is that it gave APEX a good rating despite al-Haddad having spoken at a fundraiser.

The last part of the programme dealt with the separate issue of a network of private weekend schools for young Muslims. Ware explained that there are 40 schools, teaching 5,000 children, and that they sometimes hire out school buildings for their activities. The schools use textbooks imported from Saudi Arabia, and Ware tracked down their distribution to a building associated with the London Saudi School in Ealing. The textbooks are inflammatory, explaining how Jews look like “apes and pigs” and how Zionists plan Jewish domination of the world. For 15-year-olds, there are illustrations to show where a thief’s hand and foot should be amputated, and discussion about the manner by which gay people ought to be executed. Ware notes that former Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal had promised an end to such “intolerance” and “an internal revision and modernization plan”, following the exposure of the same material at the King Fahad Academy (also in Ealing) in 2007. Risibly, the Saudi embassy pretended to have nothing to do with the weekend schools, although Ware had letters showing this to be untrue.

Of course, Ware made some effort not make clear that he was not targeting all Muslims: he began by showcasing Al-Furqan school in Birmingham, which stresses the importance of integration, and later in the programme the Stanley Road Primary School in Oldham, which has an increasing number of white pupils. He also briefly looked over some school websites linked to other religions; in particular, he noted that some ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools appear “locked into their own world”, and he found an Evangelical school website carrying an attack Islam; although he didn’t give the name, this is the Bethany School in Sheffield, which carries a 1992 article from Prophecy Today explaining that

Islam and Hinduism are both deceptions, but very different from one another. The followers of Allah make no secret that they are waging a holy war against infidels on behalf of Allah at both national and international levels, and their militancy is plain to see.

Two of those interviewed for the programme – John Bald, formerly of OFSTED, and Neal Robinson, an academic expert on Islam, contributed a Policy Exchange report entitled Faith Schools We Can Believe In: Ensuring that Tolerant and Democratic Values are Upheld in Every Part of Britain’s Education System, which can be seen here.