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MOSQUE crescent
Screen shot 2014-07-19 at 09.23.33

Source: British Humanist Assocation

Muslims will make up roughly eight per cent of Britain’s population by 2030.  However, the distribution of the Islamic population will not, of course, be spread evenly across the country: the concentration will be greater in urban areas, then as now.  Bradford and Birmingham contain more Muslims than other large British cities, and their numbers help to indicate developments to come – 32 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

In summary, Islam is already Britain’s second-largest religion.  This position will grow more entrenched.  It will surely be the most practiced religion in some of our major cities within 15 years…and there are at present only 12 Muslim faith schools in Britain.

One of the points repeatedly hammered home about the “Trojan Horse” case by Khalid Mahmood, the MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, is that most Muslim parents don’t want their children to attend Islamic faith schools or to have an education shaped by the “practices of a hardline, politicised strain of Sunni Islam” (as Peter Clarke, the former head of counter-terrorism chief whose report has just been published, has put it).  It was parental complaints about what was happening in Birmingham schools that helped to bring “Trojan Horse” to light in the first place.

None the less, the figures that I cite point to a coming clash that is not to be confused with the one over extremism and violent extremism, and the incompatibility of Britain’s liberal democratic norms with this “hardline, politicised strain”.

Very simply, most British Muslims are social conservatives, value their religion…and are not extremists.  As the presence of Islam in Britain continues to grow, more Muslims will continue to want their childrens’ schools to improve, and to involve themselves in those schools as governors.  The story of clashes between such governors and governments of both major parties precedes Trojan Horse.  Five Bradford schools with large Muslim-majority pupils have had their boards of governors removed.

We are likely to see more “Trojan Horses” as Britain’s Islamists attempt their own “long march through the institutions”.  But we are also certain to see more non-Islamist British Muslims – the majority – press for a greater recognition of their religious culture in schools, and for more Muslim faith schools.

The social conservatism of British Muslims overlaps with that of other faith communities, such as traditionalist Christians, to some degree.  In a crucial way, of course, it may not – when extremism is present, since extremism in Islam is associated not only with separatism but with rejection of the legitimacy of the state (and therefore of Britain itself, one might say).

None the less, we must prepare to answer some pressing questions.  One is: if state-supported faith schools are in order for Christians, why shouldn’t they be for Muslims, too?  To which the only reasonable answer is: they should be.  But my answer won’t be everyone’s (to put it mildly), and the growing row about Islamic faith schools and Muslim religious culture in schools is already impacting on the broader debate about all faith schools.  That impact will get bigger.

The barricades are going up.  There are strange bedfellows on either side.  On one side are militant secularists and people rightly concerned about extremism and violent extremism; on the other are people who believe in the benefit of faith schools (sometimes though not invariably Christians or members of other faith communities); Islamists who hope to build future Trojan horses; social conservatives (often though by any means always religious believers) – and, surely, an increasing number of those who practice Britain’s second-largest religion.

71 comments for: There’s already a culture war about faith schools. Expect one to grow about Muslim schools in particular.

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