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Conference: Islam, Muslims, and education in Britain

16 April 2018

Building on the success of 2014’s postgraduate-led conference, the Islam-UK Centre kicked off 2018 with a one-day symposium which considered the narratives surrounding Islam, Muslims, and education in Britain.

The symposium emerged from our reflections as doctoral students whose theses are contributing to these debates. We have noticed that, whilst there has been a proliferation of research surrounding Muslims in education, this is dominated by Prevent. There is little consideration of how Muslims are engaging with education in ways that focus on their religious perspectives and positions, and not just the securitised version of that religion. This is compounded by the lack of rich, ethnographic work that explores the lived experiences of Muslims in diverse educational contexts. Furthermore, there seems to be little dialogue between and within educational institutions about how policies and practices conflict and converge with Muslim identities. As such, we sought papers that captured the lived realities of Muslims across these diverse educational contexts.

We were delighted to have Amanda Morris as the keynote speaker to talk about iLead; the Muslim Council of Wales’ flagship youth and community leadership training programme. Now in its 7th year, iLead is an exemplar of a grassroots Muslim educational initiative that is promoting civic engagement and the development of local leaders within the Cardiff community. Amanda’s keynote really set the tone for the entire symposium, as a practitioner showcasing how Muslims are engaging, on their own terms, with both education and wider society.

Other speakers continued to explore these themes throughout the day, organised around higher education, schooling, Islamic education, and practitioner perspectives.

Hanain Brohi’s detailed conversation analysis of a “Sister’s Circle” group demonstrated the importance of informal spaces, storytelling, and humour to “collectivise” instances of Islamophobia on campus. Karim Mitha’s auto-ethnography as a Scottish academic uncovered how social disadvantage manifest primarily as everyday micro-aggressions – such as “prove you can write”.

Tom Wilson, Anna Lockley-Scott, and Nigel Fancourt considered Muslim pupils’ experiences of state schooling. Wilson  drew upon two years conducting fieldwork in a Christian primary school to discuss the dynamics of conformity and resistance for Muslim pupils through their utterances of “stafallah”. Lockley-Scott’s framing of Prevent as a “perpetual anxiety” offered an innovative theoretical perspective for understanding the Muslim secondary school experience. Fancourt contextualised the new frontiers of Islam within neoliberal education policy – its implications for Muslim schools, the representation of Islam in the curriculum, and the Muslim student experience.

The turn to Islamic Education shifted discussion to the ways Muslims are shaping their educational provision. Ibrahim Lawson’s accounts of female students at a mixed Muslim seminary highlighted their appetite to engage with the rich Islamic intellectual tradition, and the work the seminary is doing in response to their needs. And Farah Ahmed’s exploration of halaqa as dialogical pedagogy drew fascinating parallels between traditional Islamic learning and contemporary educational approaches.

Papers also explored the experiences of Muslims as professionals within these contexts; an often forgotten perspective. In Asima Iqbal’s comparative study of Muslim headteachers’ religion and their professional role in state schools in England and Pakistan, she observed that Islam was in constant negotiation with changing notions of “being professional” in both contexts. For Shereen Fernandez’s London-based Muslim teachers, Prevent and Fundamental British Values dismantled the notion of classrooms as a safe space, which restricted their pedagogy. Finally, Dawud Bone made the case for Islamic psychology as a way for educators to better support Muslim students.

Over 30 delegates, 12 speakers, and numerous followers online participated on the day. Delegates commented on the refreshing variety of papers from Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, students, and practitioners from across the UK. The papers highlighted not only the pressing challenges, but the successes Muslims are creating within education in Britain.

To keep this dialogue going, some of our speakers have kindly contributed blog pieces summarising their papers. These can be found by following the links within this post.

Finally, we would like to thank all those who were involved in making the event such a success!

Matthew Vince and Haroon Sidat (symposium organisers)