On the face of it a localised dispute between a few hundred Muslim parents and the assistant headteacher of a school. Yet the outcome of this particular confrontation carries implications that will resonate far beyond the catchment boundaries of Parkfield Community School. Centred on a controversial programme – “No Outsiders” – designed to familiarise children as young as five with LGBT lifestyles, at its root lies one core question: to whom does the prerogative of children’s moral edification belong – the state or their parents?
Though the last census (2011) still indicated a slight majority for those who identify as Christian it would nevertheless be fairly uncontentious to posit that contemporary morality has entered the post-religious era, informed no longer by the traditional sources of Church dogma and the Bible but by liberalism’s precepts which assign to each individual the position of sole arbiter of right and wrong. A power moderated only by the Millian principle of non-harm. Such a paradigm renders the concept of objective morality not only meaningless but simultaneously its sole heresy. As a consequence we find ourselves in a situation whereby the beliefs of most Muslims (and those of Orthodox Jews’ and many Christians’) are officially anathema and from which, by law, children require inoculation.
While there is evidence to suggest that Ofsted is also intervening in some Christian and Jewish schools (be they dedicated faith schools or religiously homogenous comprehensives with a traditional ethos) the fact remains that when it comes to the Muslim community there is the additional factor of counter terrorism/anti-radicalisation at play, something which radically (if you’ll forgive the pun) alters the entire dynamic. In a digital presentation about the “No Outsiders” programme by Parkfield’s headteacher, previously available online but now taken down, the schools overwhelming percentage of Muslim pupils and the Trojan Horse hoax debacle of 2014/15 both find mention; an explicit link is also drawn between the programme and counter radicalisation efforts. Also mentioned is the much detested Prevent programme to whom several pupils have been referred (some allegedly for voicing opposition to LGBT lifestyles).
When Ofsted head, Amanda Spielman came out vociferously in favour of St Stephen’s school’s ban on young Muslim girls wearing the hijab she asserted it was to protect them from “sexualisation” – a wholly disingenuous claim that was parroted by a small coterie of so-called “secular/reformist Muslims”, at least one of whom was clearly working in concert with the regulator. Yet familiarising five year olds with cross dressing and the dynamics of same sex relationships appears not to fit that bill, as Spielman and Ofsted have made it abundantly clear that they are standing by Parkfield Community School and its assistant head (and author of No Outsiders), Andrew Moffat.
It hardly requires a conspiratorial mindset to contextualise this dispute within the overarching coercive drive by the state to secularise and assimilate its Muslim citizenry. Back in 2015 the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, in a watershed speech delivered, ironically enough, in a Birmingham school, cited the necessity of scriptural reform in Islam as an essential constituent in the twin campaigns of combating extremism and fostering social cohesion. Simple obedience to the law was no longer enough; nothing short of the complete abdication of any beliefs at odds with secular liberal values would be acceptable. Henceforth belief in, inter alia, Qur’anic inerrancy would be considered subversive for it was deemed the wellspring for a plethora of problematic ideas, most notably the concept of a global Ummah and its corollary, a universal Caliphate. Anything which served to attenuate such concepts in the minds of young Muslims would henceforth receive active support from the state.
Cameron’s speech came off the back of the so-called Trojan Horse affair which saw several Muslim majority schools that had been rated as Outstanding by Ofsted subject to summary inspections, downgraded to failing status and then taken into special measures, all on the basis of an anonymous letter alleging a vague plot to infuse the schools with an Islamist ethos. A subsequent enquiry found no evidence of any organised plot and no evidence of pupils being radicalised or exposed to extremist material (barring one minor isolated incident). The sheer injustice and scale of devastation wrought by Ofsted and ex-Counter Terrorism head, Peter Clarke’s witch hunt at the behest of the neoconservative then Education Minister, Michael Gove was brilliantly documented in a September 2017 Guardian article by the journalist Samira Shackle: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/01/trojan-horse-the-real-story-behind-the-fake-islamic-plot-to-take-over-schools. The author James Fergusson also covers the story and its debilitating impact on the lives and aspirations of the affected Muslim pupils in his book Al-Britannia, My Country.
As Muslims we make no apology for our belief in Qur’anic morality and an Islam stripped of its divine guidance is not a faith we recognise nor is it one we wish to pass on to our children. It has always been the position of Islamic orthodoxy – both Shia and Sunni – that heterosexual marriage provides the only acceptable context for a sexual relationship. This remains the view of almost all Muslims and indeed will remain so, as both the Qur’an and the Prophetic tradition are emphatic and unequivocal on this matter. From this position we will not resile – “we stand here, we can do no other”. That having been said, we acknowledge our position as a minority community and that despite our moral opposition to LGBT lifestyles, it is a reality that exists in modern day Britain and one which our children will inevitably encounter at some point. Our demands then in this respect are twofold. Firstly, that at a young age (i.e. primary school) ALL children are shielded from any manner of sexualisation and permitted to enjoy the innocence of childhood. Secondly that when it comes to passing moral judgements on questions pertaining to sex and relationships that this remain the prerogative of parents NOT the state. Teaching a child that a LGBT person has the right to expect equal treatment, dignity and respect from others is entirely different to teaching them that their lifestyle is morally acceptable and not at variance with their religious beliefs. The former we have no issue with and we believe it meets the requirements of the Equality Act as well as providing adequate preparation for life in a pluralistic, tolerant society that affords equal protection to all its citizens. The latter, to put it bluntly, is state indoctrination, and when enforced through the threat of referral to state reprogramming courses (and ultimately by the removal of children from parental custody), is something one would expect of authoritarian regimes such as China, North Korea or the former Soviet Union.
As to the accusation of “bigotry” then it is one which is has become increasingly fashionable in recent times. Everyone has found themselves accused of it at some point – on some matter or another. And of course, this is absolutely correct. For unless we embrace the precept “anything goes” in its untrammelled plenitude then inevitably there will be issues upon which we leave ourselves open to such as charge. This should not pose a problem, however. It is a fallacy that too many people have bought into that for a functional cohesive society it requires that nobody disapprove of (or, God forbid, detest) anybody else’s actions or beliefs. And yes, if people wish to detest Islamic beliefs and the associated lifestyle and to pass such attitudes on to their offspring, that’s fine. Although clearly there is a line where this crosses from mere passive disapproval and disdain to active incitement and demagoguery (think Tommy Robinson and his rabble).
We urge those (including from the LGBT community) who are genuinely interested in promoting a peaceful harmonious society to reach out to us in the spirit of amicable debate. It need not be like this.
May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon sayyidina Muhammad. Ameen.