The Bill Muehlenberg Trophy: Iftikhar Ahmad

29 05 2008

Iftikhar Ahmad of the London School of Islamics has (it appears) been spamming blogs and discussion boards with an essay arguing for the state-funding of Islamic schools in the UK as a way of improving the academic lot of British Muslim children. He prophesies that “A day will come when all Muslim children will attend state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role model [sic].”

I want to begin by acknowledging the least objectionable, and in some cases semi-reasonable elements of his argument. Islamic schools are not just faith schools, he contends: they are also bilingual schools.

Bilingual Muslim children need to learn standard English to follow the National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve humanity.

Agreed. And I would add the obvious point that proficiency in English will enable these children to function as productive citizens and workers in Anglophone societies like the UK.

They need to be well versed in Arabic to recite and understand the Holy Quran.

Hmmm . . . OK. If a knowledge of Arabic affords one an enriched understanding of Islam and the Koran, and facilitates a critical/heuristic approach to the religion, then by all means should these kids learn Arabic. If the aim is to inculcate a submissive, dogmatic approach, whereby the main objective is for the kids to learn the text by rote, then I can’t see why the UK Government should embrace that as a funding priority.

They need to be well versed in Urdu and other community languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry.

Again, that seems valid to me, but there seem to be cognitive advantages to multilingualism that are (in my view) even more important than keeping immigrant children in touch with their cultural roots (not that the latter isn’t a valuable objective). Moreover, as Ahmad rightly points out: “A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village.” (Underline the words “global” and “village” here. They will become important later on.) Read the rest of this entry »