Published by Trentham Books on June 19th 2012
Genres: Academic Publishing, Non-Fiction
This book examines how policies designed to integrate Muslim communities, along with fears of extremism, are shaping the way schools and teachers approach the teaching of Islam. It shows how Islam is represented in textbooks and in relation to other religions and engages with complex themes that link the role of education to identity and values. The book challenges the way current approaches locate Islam within education and offers a new perspective for teachers and schools who are committed to developing an open and critical environment for learning.
The topics covered include: * The social cohesion agenda and Islam* Teaching and learning Islam - the raw materials * Islam and religious tolerance* Islam and the limits of multicultural education* Islam, radicalization and education: an international picture* Islam, social cohesion and the end of critical engagement in education
Islam and Education will be a provocative and challenging read for education professionals and those interested in the links between religion, education and social policy. For religious education teachers it is essential reading.
Teaching Religious Education (RE) today, at a time where discussions and questions on British values are prevalent in not only society, but also in education and in the curriculum, means that RE teachers are conscious of the controversial debates about teaching British values. After major political events occur both internationally and nationally, as well as when debating the religious practices of hijab and fasting in schools, a subject such as RE, not only adapts to educational legislation, but has to accommodate and intellectually articulate politically non-partisan views, especially in an RE classroom.
Revell’s book – Islam and Education: The Manipulation and Misrepresentation of a Religion – outlines the historical existence of Religious Education in the British Education system, and also discusses the problems school teachers have faced in teaching Islam. At a time of heightened Islamophobia, with parents choosing to withdraw their children from the teaching of Islam and from any visits to the Mosque, questions arise about the role and relationship between of British values and tolerance.
As an RE teacher, I witness parents who confuse other ‘Oriental’ faiths of with the teaching of Islam, and subsequently their children are removed from not just visits to the mosque, but also to a Hindu temple because it is seen as Islamic. Equally Muslim parents have removed children from teachings of other faiths; however, today more and more parents are removing students from the teaching of Islam and visits to mosques. Sometimes a call to parents explaining the importance of these visits more or less changes their minds to allow their child to visit a place of faith.
However, with regards to teaching about British Values and tolerance, should children be removed from the teaching of any religious faith? Revell raises this important question: “Teachers have to question the legitimacy of British Values as the benchmark for the values of all communities. The origins and implications of the obligation in Prevent to teach Britishness could be exposed in classroom discussions and in the training of teachers. The factors that distort our perception of Muslims could be challenged by adopting a critical approach to the representation of Islam in Education”.
Revell’s book succinctly highlights and does justice to the significance of Islam in education by examining the world view of Islam, the roles Islam plays globally, the emergence of multicultural Britain, and subsequently the teaching of different faiths – including Islam – in the RE curriculum. Revell explains how Home Office and the Prevent duty impact schools and the curriculum, especially in the teaching of RE, and in particular, of Islam: “Fear of extremism and associations with terrorism and radicalisation characterise popular views on Islam”. The book presents how these views can be propagated in the teaching of Islam, for example educational practitioners who feel the pressure of the Prevent duty and end up for ‘better be sure than sorry’ reasons of reporting Muslim students for minor reasons. Sometimes the sudden emergence of religious observances in students flags up radicalisation in some teachers. It is imperative that these views are not perpetuated by teachers and practitioners in the classroom – even subconsciously – and Revell’s book emphasises this.
RE educators should know better than to make simple (and offensive) mistakes in teaching Islam. For example, I have witnessed RE educators confuse multicultural and multi-faith. They will organise interfaith days to represent food of different faiths. That’s multiculture not multi-faith. Both jerk chicken and fish and chips can be halal and be part of an Islamic menu. Muslims do not eat biryani and curry only. When RE teachers organise activities like this, they are alienating students instead of educating them. RE teachers should know better, especially since they often wish to seek radical changes in the curriculum, and yet these basics about the difference between culture and faith are not understood.
Contemporary issues of the wearing of the hijab in schools and fasting when in school also plays a pivotal role in how schools and educators cultivate relationships with students they want to inspire and educate. Muslim students have felt alienated when teachers judge them for fasting, and Revell highlights this in the chapter of tolerance and representation. Revell also covers the importance of teaching and learning about Islam in her book by reporting on the comprehensive development over the last five decades of Islam in textbooks with Muslim authors and publishing houses, as well as in the text books of examining boards. “Islam was commonly referred to as Mohammedanism” originally in the British curriculum. Within text books varied Islamic opinions and the different facets of teaching Islam are increasingly common.
RE lessons are an opportunity to quell misrepresentation of Muslims in the media and to challenge the subsequenlty political policies about Islam. RE textbooks are necessary to critique the representation of Islam in the media The first point of conversation for most young people after what they hear and see in the media is often in the RE classroom. Revell’s book offers welcome guidance on how RE teachers should represent different views and be tolerant of different opinions, while maintaining neutrality.
To conclude, Revell has done justice to analysing the role of Islam within the British education system. She has thoroughly researched all elements of its purpose, history and future in light of contemporary legislation. As an RE teacher, I find her book a breath of fresh air. It is a concise and comprehensive investigation into the misrepresentation and manipulation of Islam in the curriculum, and brings to light the many questions educators of all levels teaching Islam should be asking. It should be on the reading list of all RE teachers and trainee teachers who are teaching about Islam.1