I would like to commend the Association of Muslim Schools for organising this International Conference which aims to address the needs of Muslim students and educationist in the broadest sphere.The Association aims to provide high quality services and support for the development of excellence in Muslim Schools in all spheres of life for learners and educators. I agree with these objectives and hence I am here today to welcome to the Conference.The Conference has a busy programme and I hope ideas will emerge which can be put in practise for the benefit of Muslim education. This Conference will also be an excellent venue for networking and I hope that the people attending can exchange ideas and learn from each other’s successes.This is truly an International Conference and mashallah we have a very large attendance here today. I want to talk about the importance of education, in particular that with values and faith at its heart.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.
These all signify the importance of my educational background and the fact that I am very keen to promote education. I used to be a lecturer but I soon had to decide whether to go into full-time lecturing or to go into business. But I worked out a compromise and I became a visiting lecturer as well as going into business. Tony Blair was not the first person to say “Education, Education, Education”. It was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, founder of the Aligarh University in India, who first coined the phrase and it was actually his motto.
In Islam, education is seen as vital. There is a verse in the Holy Quran which reads as follows: “Read in the name of your Lord who created. Created man from a clot of blood. Read! And your Lord is the most generous. Who has taught by the pen. Taught man what he did not know”
This verse shows that Muslims believe Allah created humanity and that he commanded us to seek knowledge in order to become stronger in our faith. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has also said the following: “Seek knowledge even unto China”. “Acquire knowledge for he who acquires it performs an act of piety, he who speaks of knowledge praises God”.“The ink of the scholar is more precious than the blood of the martyr”.
The importance of education for the betterment of society is also something that is highlighted by both the Qur’an and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who asserted that for a Muslim to fulfil their role to serve humanity, they must acquire knowledge for the common good. Everyone should be given an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of religion or socio-economic group. For me, this is one of the key pillars of values-based education. Education provides individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to increase their incomes boost their employment opportunities and fight social inequalities. One of the aims of this conference is to build bridges of understanding between Islamic faith education and mainstream education.
It is therefore important to note the importance of education as a tool in assisting with integration and social cohesion, especially in the diverse multi-cultural and multi-faith society that we live in today. The school establishment is the earliest social institution with which children come into regular contact with others, and the lessons they learn while at school help prepare them for adulthood and for living working lives. Going to school gives children an opportunity to create and develop bonds and friendships across different racial and religious groups, which will help them to flourish in the future and be a valuable part of British society. When I was at school in Uganda, I had several friends of different religions and I learnt to speak six different languages. Learning about other religions enabled me to develop an understanding of the various groups that lived in and around my community. It will enable other children to do the same. Faith-based education is in fact instrumental in promoting some of these values. Indeed, the concept of building bridges across communities in the wider sense can be nurtured by education with faith at its heart.
Religion can promote a neighbourly society that too often seems to have been eroded. I believe that learning to appreciate cultural harmony and developing an awareness for others can be all the more effective if it is taught within the context of the true meaning of Islam. We can only benefit from our religious diversity if we sustain the freedom for religions to reflect their differences. It is through reinforcing such ideas that strong community links will be forged. This will also ensure that our children are taught the importance of cultural and community values. In this respect, schools should not just be an academic institution but should also promote civic values. As well as high grades and good qualifications, our children should come out of school as good Muslims and well-rounded human beings that are also a benefit to society as a whole. In short, faith schools are an important part of the education system, offering diversity and choice to parents, as well as helping improve standards.
I would in fact like to see greater participation by Muslims in all aspects of the education system, as governors and teachers in mainstream schools in addition to Muslim faith schools. Local Muslim community organisations and parents need to play an important role for this to happen. It is imperative that parents take an interest in the education of children and the parental involvement does have a positive impact on the outcomes of pupils and students. I would like to state that the standard of education amongst children of Bangladeshi extraction has improved considerably over the last ten years. Their performance is fact better than the results the British white communities. One of the reasons is that there is a greater parental involvement in the educational wellbeing of the children.
Ladies and gentlemen, faith, values and community cohesion can go hand-in-hand with education. I believe that the shared objectives of so many people here today are proof of that. In recent months there has been references relating to extremist practises in some schools, there are also been reference to the alleged Trojan horse plot which has received a great deal of publicity. I would not like to comment and do not know fully whether these comments are justified. I would however like to say that our educational practises should follow moderate lines. We must prepare our children for successful careers which will benefit them, their communities and the country at large.
In Urdu we say Deen and Dunnia which means religion and the world. I would however like to say that in my business and professional life I have met young Muslims, males as well as females who have done well in every walk of life. Let us have more of these bright and successful young people and I am sure we can achieve this.
Finally I would like to thank the Association of Muslim Schools for asking me to address the Conference. Please enjoy the Conference and I hope that you find it interesting and fruitful. Thank you.