An Islamic school in Birmingham, England has come under fire for a remarkable act of gender segregation.
A Muslim school will not allow girls to eat lunch until after boys have finished, an Ofsted chief has told MPs.
Ofsted is the U.K. Office of Standards in Education.
Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham is still segregating boys and girls despite a Court of Appeal ruling in 2017 that found it was unlawful, according to Luke Tryl, director of corporate strategy at Ofsted. … He said that Al-Hijrah school was enforcing a “very strict gender segregation” which included “denying the girls to have their lunch until the boys had had theirs.”
“We had some very discriminatory texts for instance, encouraging violence against women,” he said.
The school was ordered to desegregate almost two years ago but appears to have made no meaningful changes.
Ofsted officials feel let down by the inaction of the country’s Department for Education. DfE guidelines state that education providers mustn’t separate pupils along lines of gender, race, or religion. Apparently, however, followers of Allah may ignore all this with something akin to impunity.
Unlike Ofsted, the DfE has enforcement powers, but often declines to use them in cases like these, so as not to anger British Muslims.
Islamic schools in the U.K. have come under scrutiny before. In 2014, Michael Wilshaw, then the head of Ofsted, publicly despaired at the official education offered by some Muslim headmasters and teachers. The problem wasn’t just rampant sexism, Wilshaw said; he warned that students in certain Islamic schools were
“… vulnerable to extremist influences and radicalization.”
The schools focused on, he said,
“… developing Islamic knowledge and understanding, at the expense of other important areas of the curriculum.”
In one school monitored by Ofsted, the entire lesson plan was constructed around Islamic tenets. According to Britain’s National Secular Society,
[P]upils told inspectors they believed it would be wrong to learn about other religions. … Inspectors noted that “pupils were making good progress” in memorizing the Qur’an but that, “errors of spelling, punctuation and grammar were left uncorrected by teachers.”
At the Al-Mizan school, teachers accepted “that their information about pupils’ progress in English, mathematics and science is inaccurate,” but in contrast, Ofsted found that “a rigorous system is in place to track pupils’ progress, homework and fluency in memorizing the Qur’an.”
At the East London Islamic School, “A pupil in year one explained to inspectors that he would ‘go to hell’ if he participated in music or dance.“
Returning to the topic of gender segregation, the inspectors also found that at the same school,
“[M]ale teachers and boys make a daily visit to the East London Mosque. The girls are required to wait for their return before lessons can resume. Girls do not have equal opportunities.”
It is now common for Islamic schools in the U.K. to receive government funding. Among the very first was the Islamia Primary School in Brent, London, founded by Yusuf Islam — formerly Cat Stevens. Mr. Islam once publicly declared that the novelist Salman Rushdie should be killed, a statement he has never withdrawn, let alone apologized for.
The Observer‘s Andrew Anthony claimed of the Islamia school that
“It’s an incubator of the most bonkers religious extremism and segregation, and is particularly strong on the public erasure of women.”
Citizens of the United Kingdom may well wonder why public funds continue to be used to promote troubling, deeply illiberal forms of education — and segregation — in the country’s Islamic schools.
P.S.: Think this couldn’t happen in the good ol’ U.S. of A.? Maybe not in Muslim schools. But in Jewish ones, absolutely it can.
(Image via Shutterstock)