Islamia Primary School
The Islamia Primary School in Brondesbury commenced with a nursery class in October 1983, and took its first batch of Year 1 five and six-year olds in January 1984. The venture was spear-headed by Yusuf Islam, who had purchased a property on Brondesbury Road, Kilburn, for the purpose. Supported by the local community and other well-wishers, Yusuf Islam made the first submissions to obtain state funding in April 1986 but the case remained pending for many years. In May 1990 the then Minister of State for Education refused the application. During the run-up to the General Elections in 1997, Muslim advocacy bodies such as the UK Action Committee for Islamic Affairs (UKACIA) were at the forefront in raising the issue of state funding of Muslim schools at meetings with politicians. State funding – i.e. a voluntary aided primary school maintained by the Brent LEA – did not come through till 1998, after the change of Government from Conservative to Labour (General Election held in 1997).
Papers obtained from the Department for Education and Skills under the Freedom of Information Act now provide further details of the reasons why funding was rejected in the early 1990s. A letter from the Department of Education and Science (dated 24th May 1990) justified its decision on the grounds that “it is not [however] normally the practice of the Secretary of State to approve proposals for the establishment of a new school to be maintained out of public funds where there is evidence of vacancies in existing schools in the area which the proposed school would serve. The Secretary of State was not satisfied in this case that there was a need for additional primary school places in Brent in the vicinity of the proposed school”.
Yusuf Islam then applied for a judicial review in August 1990. On 15 May 1992 the judge ordered the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision. In November 1992 the School offered fresh evidence in support of its application On 18th August 1993 the acting Secretary of State for Education, Baroness Blatch (died 2005) met Yusuf Islam (who was accompanied by Yusuf Abdulla) to tell him that she stood by her decision to reject the application for voluntary aided status for Islamia School. The official minutes of the meeting note that : “…she had been satisfied that all the criteria had been met except that which required evidence of a need for additional places in the area – defined as the area within Brent LEA covering a two-mile radius of the school in question”. The minute records that “Mr Islam said that the decision was a great disappointment. The prospects for the school in terms of a continuing subsidy were very uncertain…in particular he considered untenable the restriction of basic need to the area of Brent LEA…given that Islamia was the only Muslim primary school in the area, he considers LEA borders to be irrelevant. It was inevitable that the Muslim community would feel aggrieved by the decision: it would underline for them the attitude of the British Government towards Muslim communities, notably Bosnia”.
On 20th August 1993, The Independent reported that “the truth seems to be that ministers have hidden behind a technicality to avoid the precedent of supporting an Islamic school. The long period of agonising before Lady Blatch’s announcement suggests that excess capacity was not the chief concern. Rather, the Government was unwilling to take the right and fair decision. Some people will applaud this disingenuous behaviour. Across the political spectrum there are those who argue that official support for Islamia would open the way for many more mjusim schools. This, they say, could mean that most Muslim children would be separated from their peers and confined to a cultural ghetto. They cite fears that girls in Muslim schols would face a poorer education, inconsistent with the sexual equality that is meant to underpin the state system. These are dangerous myths, founded in ignorance…there is no good educational reason for refusing government finance to Islamia. The decision can only confirm Muslims’s feeling that they are a persecuted minority suffering discrimination. Ironically, a decision that reflects fears that Muslims will not assimilate may exarcerbate their sense of isolation”.
The obituary notice for Baroness Blatch noted that she was “a quiet, but firm, supporter of Thatcher, and a Christian evangelist, she held very traditional views on education and social issues”. (The Guardian, 1st June 2005)
Muslim Institute for Research and Planning
The Muslim Institute for Research and Planning was conceived by Dr Kalim Siddiqui in 1972. A political scientist, journalist and university lecturer, Dr Kalim’s engaging personality rapidly gathered scholars for projects and evening seminars based at the Institute’s offices at 6 Endsleigh Street, London.
The Institute’s report for 1979 described it as “an independent centre of research and learning in London. It is independent because it has not been set up by any government, Muslim or non-Muslim, or by any political or other type of party or movement. The Muslim Institute’s work is not affected by any national, regional, linguistic or ethnic bias. The Muslim Institute is part of the worldwide ‘Islamic movement’ but restricts itself to an academic role. One of the major roles of the Muslim Institute is to strengthen the Muslim presence on the intellectual map of London and the west as a whole. Until now the few Islamic centres that have existed in western cities have played an important part by providing prayer facilities and some community services in matters of marriage, divorce, burial and the occasional conversion of non-Muslims. New institutions with a more dynamic and imaginative approach are now emerging and the Muslim Institute is part of this phase of development”.
Islamic Council of Europe
The Islamic Council of Europe (inaugurated in London in 1973) under the stewardship of the Saudi-Egyptian diplomat Salem Azzam, established a unique network of Islamic thinkers and statesmen who came together in a series of conferences and seminars held in London in the late 70s and 80s to formulate and articulate the Islamic position on a range of contemporary issues.
Following a conference held at the Albert Hall in 1980 on the theme ‘Message of Muhammad’, a smaller group worked on a response to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Those involved in its many discussions – held at the ICE’s offices in 16 Grosvenor Crescent, Hyde Park Corner – were the former Sudanese Prime Minister Sadiq Al-Mahdi, the two leading Pakistani legal experts of the day A.K. Brohi and Khalid Ishaque, and judge Midhat Azzam and Dr Kholi from Egypt. The outcomes were two seminal papers that capture Muslim thinking of the period: ‘A model of an Islamic Constitution’, published in 1983, and the ‘Universal Islamic Declaration Human Rights’ published two years ealier(see below).That such a publication should see the light of day in a European city, rather than some part of the Muslim world, is itself telling. The pattern had been set for autocratic regimes and monarchies, sustained in power not on the basis of popular mandate but through secret police and sweet-heart deals with the USA or France. The vision of an equitable social order based on Islamic values held out the hope of a better future. The thinkers who composed this ‘model of an Islamic Constitution’ did not believe that such change was round the corner, but considered it their duty to ensure that some theoretical groundwork be put in place. The doyen of Muslim legal thinkers of the period, Abdullah Khudabaksh Brohi, himself remarked that an Islamic state could only come about in a society that was literate. The thinking was thus democratic at heart, envisaging empowerment of all people through education so that they could make informed choices.
The constitution outlines the roles of various institutions of state:
‘A model of an Islamic Constitution’
Islamic Council of Europe’s Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights – 1981
This 19 page pamphlet was to become one of the ICE’s most widely disseminated publications, also translated in numerous languages.The Document articulates, in simple form, what Islam has to say on human rights and duties. It is wide-ranging and comprehensive, including clauses on human freedom, privacy, the rights of children, the right to protection against abuse of power, the right to protection against torture, and even rights after death – a deceased’s body is to be handled with due solemnity. The authors note “Islam gave to mankind an ideal code of human rights fourteen centuries ago. These rights aim at conferring honour and dignity on mankind and eliminating exploitation, oppression and injustice. Human rights are firmly rooted in the belief that God, and God alone, is the Law Giver and the Source of all human rights. Due to their Divine origin, no ruler, government, assembly or authority can curtail or violate in any way the human rights conferred by God, nor can they be surrendered”.The Declaration is an example of competent minds’ exercising Ijtihad (independent judgement), while maintaining their allegiance to the principle of an immutable Law (the Shariah). It also demonstrates the important role played by institutions such as the ICE in offering an intellectual and physical space within which thinkers were able to discuss Islamic norms, thus providing a benchmark for the reform needed within the Muslim world.Interestingly, the next major Muslim contribution to this effort did not surface for several decades. In 2001, AbdulKarim Soroush offered a critique of the Islamic paradigm of human rights as too ‘duties-based’, leading to a deference to power, though the ordinary man could question the application of justice. He contrasted this with the ‘rights-based’ paradigm emerging from the European Enlightenment, in which human rights stem from the nature of man. There is thus also a morality outside the umbrella of religion. Soroush contends that the absence of a declaration deeming slavery as immoral, and the tolerance of autocratic rule, are the ‘ugly faces’ of the ‘duties’ paradigm. Notwithstanding Soroush’s views, the ease with which the inheritors of the European Enlightenment have jettisoned human rights post 9/11, even legitimising torture, discredits the notion of a universal human rights based on Enlightenment norms, and reaffirms confidence in a Declaration based on Shariah.