Raphael G. Satter, AP, May 23, 2007
Britain is funding a curriculum aimed at teaching children in Muslim religious schools how to steer clear of extremism, but some of the lessons are worrying Muslim educators.
One lesson plan goes something like this: A group of Islamic extremists want to buy fertilizer that could be used to make a bomb. Should the shop keeper sell it to them? Or take Ahmad, whose friends want to attack a local supermarket in retaliation for the war in Iraq. Is it right for Ahmad to harm innocent Britons because their government invaded a Muslim country?
The curriculum’s answer in both cases is no, but the fact that these scenarios are being considered at all has prompted concern among Muslim teachers, who question whether they are appropriate for young students.
Some also feel insulted that the program appears to make the assumption that the religious schools—or, madrassas—are teeming with budding terrorists.
The British government acknowledged that the curriculum raised sensitive issues, but said they were needed to give Muslims the practical skills they needed to reject extremism.
“The project ensures that young Muslim students learn the true teachings of Islam,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Communities and Local Government, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
The project, called “Nasiha,” or “guidance,” draws on the Quran, Shariah law, and traditional Muslim scholarship to show that British laws are in harmony with Islamic values. Its lessons will be taught in madrassas, which in Britain are usually unregulated after-school programs based in mosques or private homes.
The stated objective is to teach children, most between the ages of eight and 14, “to realize that to harm or terrorize citizens in the UK is not something permitted in Islam,” and “to be able to identify individuals or groups who preach hatred and learn ways of avoiding them.”
While some of the lessons cover day-to-day situations such as bullying or good manners, others are explicitly aimed at defusing Muslims anger over the war in Iraq.
The curriculum, which is due to be published as a book in December, was still open to amendments, he said, acknowledging that some of the examples—like the fertilizer bomb—were a little too explicit.
“Originally we thought it would be best to start looking at these issues a little bit head-on,” he said, “but we’re dealing with the issues a little more tactfully.”
The Nasiha curriculum has received about $198,000 in government money as part of a larger program intended to fight extremism in the Muslim community.