Islamic education methods need to be more closely scrutinised, writes Rita Panahi
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IT’S time we took a closer look at the conduct and curriculum of Islamic schools.
There are around 30,000 Australian children enrolled in Islamic schools across the country and they deserve better than to have their education corrupted by religious doctrine that intrudes on every facet of their school life.
Meanwhile, gutless government bureaucrats look the other way instead of subjecting these institutions to the same scrutiny faced by other public and faith-based schools. Of course there will be religious instruction in a religious school but that theology, whether it’s Islam, Catholicism or Christianity, should not interfere with other subjects to the point it completely compromises what students are taught.
Denying children the opportunity to learn music in defiance of Australian guidelines, or discouraging girls to take part in sporting events because they may “lose their virginity”, is simply not acceptable. Nor are secondary school science classes on reproduction that barely mention sexual intercourse but include three pages from the Koran.
Religious doctrine should not be allowed to undermine the syllabus or make children abide by backward beliefs that are at odds with Australian values.
Can you imagine the outcry if it was a Christian or Catholic college principal who claimed they’d never had a gay student in their school?
And, yet when the principal of Al-Faisal College, Ghazwa Khan, made that claim there was barely a whimper from hypersensitive activists who would normally rail against any hint of anti-LGBTQI sentiment.
Not only is the claim a statistical impossibility, particularly given the fact there are around 2800 students currently enrolled at Al-Faisal, but it speaks of a deep intolerance towards homosexuality.
It’s an attitude backed by parents who embrace the values taught at such schools.
“Our religion does not tolerate homosexuality,’’ said mother of four Sawsan Agha. “I wouldn’t expect my kids to be gay, for example, but we respect everyone. I couldn’t see it happening at Al-Faisal.”
What hope does a gay kid have in an environment where they are condemned and denied the opportunity to be themselves?
That type of intolerance should act as a rallying call to LGBTIQ activists but sadly they prefer to push the flawed Safe Schools ideology instead of tackling real bigotry towards gay students.
In recent years there has been some focus on economic mismanagement and systematic corruption at certain Islamic schools but an investigation by The Australian, published this week, has given a worrying insight into the values and syllabus on offer in the nation’s fastest-growing schools.
Islamic schools are growing at a frantic pace, up to nine times faster than other schools, with the number of students jumping by close to 100 per cent since 2009.
These schools are reliant on taxpayer funds and it’s incumbent on both state and federal governments to ensure those resources are spent correctly.
Earlier this year $20 million in government funding was suspended after extensive governance failures were revealed at some schools managed by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.
That funding has been reinstated, with the six schools managed by AFIC receiving more than $40 million a year, which is between 75 and 90 per cent of their funding.
Any school reliant on government funding should adhere to government guidelines but it has been revealed that some Islamic schools are adopting strict interpretations of the Koran that forbid students from drawing animals or self-portraits, or attending music classes.
Last year, Victoria’s largest Islamic school, Al Taqwa, made headlines when a former teacher and a number of students came forward to claim that girls were banned from running in sporting events due to fears that they may lose their virginity or become infertile.
“The principal holds beliefs that if females run excessively, they may ‘lose their virginity’,” a former teacher wrote in a letter to the education minister.
“The principal believes that there is scientific evidence to indicate that if girls injure themselves, such as break their leg while playing soccer, it could render them infertile.”
Al Taqwa college principal Omar Hallak also caused a stir by saying that Islamic State was not created by Muslims but was instead an Israeli and US conspiracy to control oil in the Middle East.
The Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority last year ordered the school to revamp its sports curriculum and to be more inclusive.
It remains to be seen if that directive has or will be followed.
Though Islamic schools are growing at an enormous pace, it’s worth noting that the majority of Muslims choose to send their children to mainstream schools.
Those who are devout and opt for Islamic schools must ensure that their children are receiving a full education. Any child growing up in Australia, a country free and full of opportunity, should be allowed to partake in simple joys such as music and sport.
RITA PANAHI IS A HERALD SUN COLUMNIST