"Music, Chess, and Other Sins"

Date: 30 Jul 2009


"Music, Chess, and Other Sins"
Middle East Quarterly
Summer 2009, pp. 78-82


In the United States, Muslim communities and Islamist advocacy groups are demanding establishment and support of Arabic and Muslim schools. In New York City, controversy erupted over the charter Arabic-language Khalil Gibran International Academy after exposure of the radical associations and statements of its principal Deborah Almontaser,[1] and over Minnesota's Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy after an investigative reporter exposed Islamist indoctrination in the state-funded school.[2] Expansion of the Islamic Saudi Academy in Virginia has also come under fire after exposure of textbooks preaching hate and intolerance.[3] While Muslim schools in the United States are a relatively new phenomenon, in the United Kingdom they are better established. In February 2009, Civitas, a London-based think tank dedicated to the discussion of social problems and civic society, published a 154-page report,[4] excerpted below, exploring the challenge to social cohesion presented by many Muslim schools in the United Kingdom. There are twenty-four Saudi schools in the United Kingdom alone; many of the other 132 registered Muslim schools have Saudi ties.

Civitas followed links on school websites that often led to the sites of radical preachers, locations where children could buy books and CDs by extremist writers and, in a couple of cases, sites that gave direct access to jihadi material. Some extremists founded schools, and others sat on school advisory boards. Many guest speakers preached extremism. Abu Yusuf Riyadh ul Haq, a known anti-Semite, anti-Christian, and inciter of pro-jihad violence,[5] was a teacher of Hadith, Arabic, and Islamic studies at a school in Kidderminster. Murtaza Khan, a vicious anti-Semite,[6] taught at Al-Noor school in Ilford. These figures and others inveighed against Western society, indoctrinated children to have nothing to do with non-Muslims, forbade participation in Christmas festivities, and described non-Muslims as the corrupt and decadent enemies of all Muslims. Already, the retardation of social integration caused by such schools is apparent in British society. Because Muslim schools in the United States share some of the same sponsors and have adopted similar curricula to their British counterparts, the Civitas survey may also highlight a growing problem in the U.S. education system that should be addressed directly.

— The Editors

The Muslim Curriculum
Many guest speakers preached extremism at U.K. Muslim schools. Abu Yusuf Riyadh ul Haq, a vocal anti-Semite, anti-Christian, and inciter of pro-jihad violence, was a teacher of Hadith, Arabic, and Islamic studies at a school in Kidderminster.
… The activities and lessons from which the Muslim Council of Britain wants the right to withdraw Muslim pupils include: mixed swimming; dance; sex and relationship education; music; drama; figurative drawing. On farm visits, touching or feeding pigs is prohibited, and staff are warned that pupils and parents may refuse to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex at prize-giving ceremonies.[7]

To achieve this, many Muslim educationalists and those responsible for what is taught in Muslim schools have put forward ideas about how to promote a curriculum consonant with Muslim demands, and how to Islamize existing curricula. This is a conscious process that threatens to derail the very notion of a shifting but fairly uniform body of knowledge that is passed on to each new generation.

In the case of a prohibition on sex education, the consequences may be severe. It may be argued that young Muslims often marry earlier and, willingly or not, observe a stricter moral code than non-Muslims, and that they do not, therefore, need sex education. This ignores the fact that Muslim girls do have boyfriends and do get pregnant, and that the consequences for such activities may be very severe indeed. Many Muslim women have been killed for even minor infractions of that moral code. Such "punishments" are not Islamic, but they do occur disproportionately within sections of the Muslim community. More information, not less, will surely make it easier for Muslim teenagers and young adults to straddle the challenges of living between two worlds. Given that several fatwa banks we have accessed through school websites provide extremely explicit sexual advice for adults, introducing sex education to Muslim schools should not be as hard as it seems. …[8]

Muslim Schools and Women
Many schools are linked to organizations promoting misogyny, including active moves to restrict the freedom of Muslim girls. Such actions rely heavily for their justification on a belief that women are designed to be daughters, wives, and mothers and that they should not venture outside their homes or, if they do so, should not be seen without heavy veils. The website for the parent body of the al-Mu'min primary school contains the following statement:

There are three grades of Purdah (veiling):

1. The first is that the woman covers every part of her body except her face, her hands, and her feet.

2. The second is that the woman covers her face, her hands, and her feet also.

3. The third is that woman keeps herself indoors or keeps herself hidden in such a veil that no-one can ever see her clothes. This stage is the greatest of all the three.

This will strike most readers as excessive, yet it is part of a site run by a primary school. Hard questions must be asked by government as to how healthy it is to allow hard-line Puritanism like this to inform the lives of young and vulnerable children. There is little question that a girl brought up under such restrictions may never be psychologically robust enough to enter ordinary British life; may never be able to take up employment in the mainstream world; may never be capable of interacting with men at any but the most circumscribed levels.

If a young girl is made to wear hijab [head covering] and taught that adopting it is the only way a woman may comport herself in the world, by the time she grows up and leaves school, a broad psychological barrier will have been planted between her and 99 percent of British society. If a grown woman were to choose to wear hijab in any form, non-Muslims might regret it, but would honor her choice. However many Muslim schools are enforcing a strict rule of hijab, usually in a form involving kameez [long shirt or tunic] with a headscarf, but in other cases jilbab [long, loose-fitting coat or garment] or something like it, sometimes from the age of four (al-Noor Independent School, Ilford; Madani Secondary Girls' School, East London; Iqra School, Oxford; al-Islah School, Blackburn).

We believe this to be harmful on several grounds. Some rulings by 'ulama' and fuqaha' argue that women and girls must wear the veil in order to protect them. But it does not protect them so much as it infantilizes them and keeps them under the tutelage of men. By putting a four-year-old or older child in hijab, she is receiving a strong impression that, come what may, she must continue to wear body and head covering for the rest of her life—which appears to be the purpose of such rules in a school context—rather than learning how to make such decisions for herself. The over-protection of children is known to backfire, making the child more dependent and less confident. Western styles of school uniform are invariably modest and very far from an insult to Islamic standards of decency, unless those standards involve a level of cover that is unnecessary in the UK. Full cover also has the undesirable effect of cutting Muslim girls off from the society around them, making them more likely to seek out Muslim friends and environments in preference to non-Muslims. And this clearly makes them ill-suited to an adult life in universities or the workplace …[9]

Ask-Imam is an online site providing authoritative rulings on all matters pertaining to Islam. It can be accessed through the website of al-Jamiah al-Islamiyyah Darul Uloom, Bolton. It carries extensive rulings on women. Here are some examples:

Women may not attend mixed-gender universities. Men should try to avoid them.

Masturbation for women and men is a "filthy and evil practice."

Rather than study, women should remain at home unless forced to go outside.

A woman who has been raped is jointly responsible for the crime with the man who raped her if she "does not cover properly and wears revealing clothing, which seduces men."

Men have authority over women. A woman is not permitted to serve as the head of any organization.

Female circumcision [female genital mutilation] is commendable (mustahabb).

A Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man.

Women must speak to men in stern voices [in order to avoid using soft, "seductive" tones that may incite lust].

Men are more intelligent than women.

There must be no free mixing of men and women.

The Western view of sexual equality is false, claiming that a woman can do what a man can do.

It is not permissible for strange males and females to talk to one another without any valid Shar'ee excuse. If there is a valid reason, the talk should be restricted to the necessity. In that situation too, it is prohibited for the female to talk in a soft and alluring tone as that conduct excites a male's passion. And Allah Knows Best. Mufti Ebrahim Desai.

Allah has bestowed on man the capability to rule, become prime minister/ president or simply speaking as a leader of any community. Allah mentions, "Men are overseers over women" (Qur'an). Men are meant to go out into the world and seek a living, unlike women who are embodiments of concealment. They are not meant to go out into the world and become public figures. It is in the home where the honor, respect, and dignity of women lie. Today, pandemonium has broken out because women have emerged from their homes. Women are being treated as advertisement tools. They are being used disgracefully to market even the pettiest item. Therefore, women are urged to return to their abodes, live or mingle with them; the legal punishment for adultery is stoning.

Rulings such as these would, if applied, reduce the lives of women to something not known in Western society since the Dark Ages. That they may have an impact on British-born Muslim girls and young women runs directly contrary to the whole purpose of providing equal educational opportunities to both sexes, and makes a mockery of the basic principle of Western education, which is to prepare children for a future life in mainstream society. The very process of asking for fatwas, often on the most trivial of issues, takes responsibility for people's actions out of their hands and places it firmly within those of a small elite of religious scholars, many of whom are, frankly, wholly lacking in any understanding of British society. In the case of susceptible children, many of whom may be brought up to believe that there is always a "right" answer and that that answer is never one they themselves can make, the practice has alarming implications in a society of free, rational, and uncoerced individuals. If we wish to integrate Muslim children (and adults) into that sort of society, very large compromises will have to be made by the Muslim clerical establishment.[10]

Muslim Schools and Hate
A former teacher at al-Noor school, Ilford, Abu Hasnayn Murtaza Khan, is hostile to Jews and Christians with equal vigour. On Audio CDs, such as Return to the Quran by Knowledge Books, he said: "Those whom the wrath of Allah is upon, is the Jews, is the Christians." He continued:

We have become Jews in our clothing; Jews in our eating; Jews in everything that we do, and the other half is Christian in everything we do. Muslims are following one of these accursed nations. And people are still not waking up to understand the fact that these people are enemies towards us.

He has further expressed his loathing for all non-Muslims in these terms:

For how long do we have to see our mothers, sisters, and daughters having to uncover themselves before these filthy non-Muslim doctors? We should have a sense of shame.

There are two Islamic Shaksiyah Foundation schools, in Slough and Haringey, North London. The Foundation is a creation of female members of Hizb ut Tahrir, a radical Islamic organization that Tony Blair promised to ban following the 7/7 bombings. "It is banned in Germany, Russia, and throughout the Middle East because of its anti-Semitism and its stated aim is to establish a global Islamic state. It also calls for the destruction of Israel and the re-union of all lands that were ever under Muslim rule—including parts of Southern Spain—through jihad if necessary." The creator of the schools' history curriculum, Themina Ahmed, has written of her hatred for Western society, and her wish to see it destroyed: "The world will," she writes, "witness the death of the criminal capitalist nation of America and all other [infidel] states when the army of jihad is unleashed upon them."

The website for al-Jamiah al-Islamiyyah Darul Uloom, Bolton, links directly to a fatwa site run by South African imam Ebrahim Desai. Here is another example of what pupils may expect to find:

Islam has ordered us Muslims to fight against the enemies of Islam and not be like the Jew and make other nations fight their wars. We as Muslims may share in Hitlers hatered [sic] for the Jews but we cannot praise him for the manner in which he went about killing the Jews (if the history books are correct). You should understand that we as Muslims firmly believe that the person who doesn't believe in Allah as he is required to, is a disbeliever who would be doomed to Hell eternally. Thus one of the primary responsibilities of the Muslim ruler is to spread Islam throughout the world, thus saving people from eternal damnation… if a country doesn't allow the propagation of Islam to its inhabitants in a suitable manner or creates hindrances to this, then the Muslim ruler would be justifying (sic) in waging Jihad against this country.[11]

[1] The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Oct. 23, 2007.
[2] Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), May 19, 2008.
[3] Fox News, June 11, 2008; The Washington Post, Mar. 23, 2009.
[4] Denis MacEoin with Dominic Whiteman, Music, Chess, and Other Sins: Segregation, Integration, and Muslim Schools in Britain (London: Civitas, 2009).
[5] Times Online, Sept. 6, 2007.
[6] "Undercover Mosques," U.K. Channel Four, Jan. 15, 2007; "UK: Muslim Hate Preachers Escape Investigation," Jan. 21, 2007.
[7] See Meeting the Needs of Muslim Pupils in State Schools, Muslim Council of Britain, London, 2007.
[8] Music, Chess, and other Sins, pp. 47-8.
[9] Ibid., pp. 79-81.
[10] Ibid., pp. 82-5.
[11] Ibid., pp. 97-8.