My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Storey for securing this timely debate. Education is extremely important to me. My personal coat of arms reflects this. It contains the motto “iqra”, which means “read”. It also shows a peacock holding two quill pens with a row of books. I should add that I have a business as well as an academic background, and for many years I was a visiting lecturer. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum and we look at issues that relate to Muslim communities in this country. I have held meetings with Muslim leaders and associations on the subject of education and I have spoken at events. I have also written on this subject.
We are taking positive steps to deal with the education of Muslim children. The Muslim faith and British values are not two separate things; in fact, for most British Muslims, they are the same. I believe it is vital that these values are at the heart of our education system and indeed of the way of life of all those living in this country. The importance of education for the betterment of society is something that is also highlighted by both the Holy Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, who asserted that for Muslims to fulfill their role of serving humanity, they must acquire knowledge for the common good.
Education is a tool that should be used to assist with integration and social cohesion. Going to school gives children the opportunity to create and develop bonds of friendship across different racial and religious groups that will help them to flourish in the future and thus become valuable members of British society. We should be grateful for the religious freedom that we all have as British citizens. The Muslim community cannot operate in a bubble, away from the rest of society. That spreads ill feeling and stops Muslims from flourishing here. This great country is a land of opportunity and one that I am proud to be a part of, but it is only through integration that we can make the most of the opportunities of this land.
As well as high grades and good qualifications, our children should come out of school as good citizens and well-rounded human beings who are a benefit to society as a whole. We must prepare teachers, imams and parents so that there is a clear understanding of how to promote both Muslim and British values. With this in mind I am totally supporting the establishment of courses at the University of East London for the training of Muslim teachers and imams. Our educational practices should follow moderate lines. We must not allow extremists to hijack our beliefs and pass them off as something that they are not. We must prepare our children for successful careers that will benefit them, their communities and the country at large.
The Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools comments on Lord Sheikh’s contributions in his closing remarks in the Debate.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Sheikh that education should be a tool of integration. We will not be able to call ourselves a truly successful society until we have a much more integrated society—and, sadly, we are some way short of that.