Why this project is needed
In the United Kingdom
In today’s Britain and beyond, it has never been more important to build strong, effective relationships between people of different religious and cultural backgrounds. Yet the tensions and fissures that exist both on and beneath the surface of society have seldom been greater or in greater need of attention. The most urgent example of this is the relationship between British Muslims and Britons of other faiths and none.
Many Muslims today perceive a disconnect between their professional lives in non-religious contexts and their religious belief. This has been made worse by the absence of a contemporary philosophy of Islam to connect religion and daily life and to understand Islam in modern Britain.
This has resulted in Muslims defending their faith in a way that often involves setting-up a range of false polar opposites to buttress faith – such as Islam vs. the West; Science vs. Religion – in a way that is inconsistent with living a successful life in Britain. It also results in a failure to appreciate the compatibility of Islam with British values such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion and democratic political process.
In a mirror image of this, many non-Muslims do not understand that Muslims and the Islamic faith have a long-standing relationship with Britain and have contributed to Britain’s success in remarkable ways. Many non-Muslims do not see how a strong religious identity fits into modern secular life.
Our Curriculum for Cohesion Team believe that the fundamental problem is the lack of a framework that connects British identity with Islamic belief, and connects belief in the power of formal education with the Islamic aspiration for learning. This has caused four related problems that affect Muslims and non- Muslims:
- Entrenched political and cultural alienation. This leads to gang behaviour in ghettoised communities and a mutual fear of cultural engagement between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially in educational settings.
- Widespread educational underachievement especially amongst Muslim males at secondary level. In 2010, 46% of Muslim boys gained five A*-C GCSE grades compared with 70% of Chinese boys, 51% of white British boys and 68% of Indian Hindu and Sikh boys.
- Occasional violent extremism which in Britain has been largely a ‘home-grown’ phenomenon: the 7/7 bombers were all brought up in Britain and educated in nonreligious, mainstream State schools. This allows all Muslims to be characterised as ‘the enemy within’.
- Frequent discrimination against Muslims which in its milder form manifests itself as employment discrimination and in its more obvious form as the anti- Muslim prejudice of the tabloid media and the extreme right-wing groups such as the English Defence League.
Inadequate School Curricula
The current school curriculum in England has the potential do much more to help young Muslims succeed.
At the moment, the Humanities subjects which could potentially help are not prioritised by governments, schools or, indeed, Muslim parents due to a narrow and false understanding of what makes people employable and successful.
Recent research shows that History and Religious Studies, two subjects that pupils tend to like and consider relevant to making sense of themselves and the world around them, are under-developed and under-valued.
Religious Education only superficially compares religious practice and belief and often does not help pupils think about and debate difficult contemporary religious issues.
The present National Curriculum for History contains modules on the History of Islam but these are optional and are almost never taught. Furthermore, the History of Islam modules and the rest of the History curriculum fail to set contemporary issues that affect the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in a deeper historical context. This means that non-Muslim pupils are less ready to recognise their Muslim peers as their compatriots and are less well-equipped to deal effectively with the Muslim-majority world. It also impairs the identification of Muslim pupils with Britain.
Supplementary Islamic Education, whether in madrasahs or in supplementary Saturday Schools fail to connect Islamic learning with formal, mainstream education.
What is needed to change this situation is a vision of what it means to be a Muslim and to live with non- Muslims in a multi-faith country and the dissemination of that vision into schools. This will help all young Britons to reflect on the meaning of living in successful co-existence with people of other faiths and of no faith whilst being committed to their own religion.
Why Curriculum for Cohesion is needed Internationally
The analysis above is specific to the urgent case of Britain. However, the conceptual framework that we develop in this project is extensible to a wide variety of cross-cultural national or international situations.
In the context of rapid globalization, issues of Muslim / non- Muslim relations are amongst the most pressing facing the world. Despite the reality of increased international connections, conflicts fuelled by nationalism and religious sectarianism proliferate across the globe. There is an aching need for adequate education in History and Religious Education that helps young people effectively negotiate these global changes and to have positive encounters with one another.
In order to address this need, once the project has engaged effectively with the British situation, we shall turn our attention to applying our approach to History education to the global stage through the development of a World History Curriculum constructed by a panel of internationally recognised educationalists and historians.
This will enable teachers operating in challenging international multi-faith environments to teach defining moments and episodes in World History to foster a person who is genuinely educated in the Humanities for the 21st century.