LONDON: Britain is funding a curriculum aimed at teaching Muslim children in madrassas how to steer clear of extremism, but some of the lessons are raising eyebrows among 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, even if she suspects it will be used for "holy war?" Or take Ahmad, whose jihadi friends want to attack a local supermarket in retaliation for the war in Iraq. Is it right for Ahmad to harm innocent Britons just 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 educators, who question whether they are appropriate for young students. Some also feel insulted that the program appears to make the assumption that madrassas — or Muslim religious schools — 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 said 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, while speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "There will be difficult issues and scenarios to discuss — but it would be wrong to shy away from them," she said.
Ten Muslim clerics have been teaching the lessons in six madrassas and a school in Bradford — a religiously diverse city about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of London. About 500 students have already completed the course, versions of which the communities department hopes to roll out nationally. 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, which in Britain are usually unregulated 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 a 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 counterterrorism expert had mixed feelings. "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.
But as part of a broader strategy, he said, the lessons could play a valuable role in getting Muslims to place more trust in the British authorities. "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 store — 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 100,000 pounds (US$197,522; €146,562) 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. "The terrorists try to brainwash the young because they are vulnerable," said Asef Zia, 45. whose son, Muhammad, clutched at his shirt. "Muslims are good people," Muhammad, 12, said. "But some bad people say they are Muslims and act wrong and we can teach them." There are some 100,000 madrassa students in Britain, according to the communities department.
The Nasiha website is an important teaching tool for educating young Muslims on aspects of citizenship. The Citizenship curriculum is interwoven around character teaching from the Islamic tradition and is an important resource for Students, Imams and Parents. The site was developed through a city initiative by the Bradford Council for Mosques CFM and incorporates a joint effort from all sects of the Islamic faith.
Nasiha curriculum aims to embed good teaching exercise in Madrassahs and help young Muslims to know their sacred roles and responsibilities in the societies we live and interact in. The teaching objectives identifies core life skills in which young Muslims need to learn and practice to become successful. Examples include becoming a good neighbour, cleanliness, earning a living in a proper manner, instilling love for humanity and Allah's creation, respecting the environment and avoiding what would constitute harm to other persons or their property and other excellent teachings exemplified by the Prophet, peace be upon him. The research done here on Ayat, Hadith and Tradition has been done by the Learned community from diverse Islamic traditions and is referenced for each lesson. Nasiha is also promoting good teaching practice and encouraging young Imams to become trained in the curriculum by consultants, become accredited and spread good teaching skills in the Islamic communities. Moreover, though Nasiha is a resource designed for Imams and students, it is also important for Parents to utilise the lesson plans for teaching at home.
We hope that you will find the Nasiha resource useful, participate in its growth by using it as a teaching tool and adding teaching points to the database.