An Education In Muslim Integration
Could Islamic schools be part of the solution?
"What we have is a lack of leadership," says Mohammed Mamdani, a 22-year-old Sheffield-born Briton who founded the Muslim Youth Helpline to assist Muslim youths with personal and social problems. The members of the Muslim Council of Britain are, in his view, a typical graybeard lot, isolated from the larger British society and clueless about how Islam can play a positive role in helping young people to live in liberal, pluralistic societies. For his own relatively smooth adjustment to life as a young British Muslim, Mamdani gives considerable credit to the few years he spent in another north London Muslim school, Al-Sadiq. The school's approach to reconciling a strong Muslim ethos with the realities of living in a modern, liberal society is a model that he believes the British government should actively promote in other Muslim schools.
If Britain is moving at least quietly in that direction, so too are countries like the Netherlands, which has about 40 Muslim schools catering to about 3 percent of the nation's some 30,000 school-age Muslims. Those schools came under fierce criticism after a Muslim militant killed the controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh. The Dutch government continues to support them, but, says Martine Soethout, member of a Ministry of Education task force on social cohesion: "Citizenship has been bolstered in all of them."
In Germany, home to some 3.5 million Muslims, many of the federal states have long left Islamic education in the hands of Turkish teachers, who instruct in Turkish and often follow curricula designed by Turkish diplomatic missions. But in recent years, one state has made Islamic studies a public school subject available to Muslim students, a development that led the University of Munster to adopt the subject as one of its teacher-training courses. Even in France, the citadel of strict church-state separation, the government provides money under a contractual arrangement for about 10 Muslim schools. And before the riots, the now much vilified French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, was himself questioning his nation's rigid secularism as an obstacle to the ideal of an "Islam from France," not just an "Islam in France" --an ideal that includes a government-supported school for the training of imams.
The riots might even have given a boost to that kind of thinking, says Brandeis University scholar Jytte Klausen, author of a new book, The Challenge of Islam. About recent conversations with several European officials, she says, "Strangely, the riots are having the effect of convincing them that all the burden for integrating shouldn't rest on the shoulders of the Muslim immigrants." Maybe there is reason to think that a long overdue Islamic reformation can still take off in Europe.