‘Madressa’. Sunny days. Primary school fun. Occasional boredom. Running around the playground. Slightly fresh textbook cartoons. Tedious homework last minute on a Friday evening.
Madressa. Hardly a term I thought would be plastered on my English TV screen in 2011. Certainly not when I was a wee little 4 year old learning my alif baa’ taa’s. For, yes, people of Britain, I attended a madressa. Though at the time, I would never have known that my Arabic and Islamic school would be in the midst of a category of questionables.
Channel 4’s Dispatches: Lessons in Hate and Violence has painted a picture so horrific, that I have to bend over my dustbin every time I remember the despicable footage they showed on Monday night.
Shocking mainly because, of course, it was utterly real. The documentary featured secret footage of a school called Darul Uloom in Birmingham, filmed over the period of two years. It depicted several men forcefully preaching hatred and social segregation to young children, as well as teenagers and teachers physically beating them for supposed discrepancies, through a blurry lens.
The preaching was sickeningly theologically flawed. No matter how you look at it. And despite the hundreds of viewer comments you get beneath such exposé documentaries and articles, shouting in your face, “yeah but, no but,… Islam should be eradicated” by people who’ve never read the Quran, never studied the Arabic language, or those who think Muslims take hadeeth, which is in essence a series of historical accounts and quotations, as fully authentic and literal.
These commentators aren’t the only ones who haven’t read much, that’s for sure, because as a friend aptly put it when we watched a clip of Dispatches, “this teacher preacher sounds like a hood-rat”. For one, what the hell is a Muslim haircut, that they had to line up the kids and assess them? And erm, how the hell is wearing trousers below your ankles imitating women? The two brain cells that had to fizzle together to come up with these thought processes must have burnt out in the comprehension to understand what they really meant. I, for one, don’t get it.
Then came the Kuffar bashing. The preachers were telling children not to befriend the Kuffar, equating them with all non-Muslims and inadvertently all white people, and not to go near anyone who had less than a fistful of beard hanging off their chins. Presenter Tazeem Ahmad really messes up here by over-simplifying the whole concept: “…an often derogatory term meaning disbeliever or infidel.” Both definitions mean little in context and she doesn’t go much further than the hood-rat did.
You’d think God hadn’t given enough clues as to who the Kuffar are in the Quran. The word is associated with numerous characteristics and actions – those who are not good to their parents, relatives, orphans, needy, neighbours or travellers, those who are arrogant, boastful, miserly (4:36-37), those who break covenants (2:100), those who those who wage war, drive you our of your lands, oppress you, take away your right of worship (4:102 and 22.25), and even the dodgy guys who plotted to murder Jesus (3:52-56). So, yeah, it really isn’t your Average Joe white boy mate from school.
The images banged on our TV screens paint a picture that has become all too familiar of Islam in the past decade or so. It is a picture so far removed from the reality – or even just the historical sources – of the role model of these preachers, Prophet Mohammed, that it has become another entity altogether (ironically aired almost on the anniversary of his birthday). A loving, forgiving, beard-trimming man pretty much universally acknowledged for his sheer honesty, and perhaps not acknowledged enough for his treatment of all people, all ages, all faiths, all social statuses – allowing children to crawl on his back whilst in prostration for hours on end until they’d finished their playing.
I guess the most heart-wrenching part of all of this is the tens of kids sitting there, all squashed up together, looking up to these people. Brainwashing is a powerful process. These children will either grow up to hate every ‘other’ person around them or to hate Islam – there’s no doubt about it. I, too, may have taken either direction had I been exposed to a similar independent school experience.
But Dispatches is doing a little bit of brainwashing of its own. Their timing wasn’t ideal with all the multiculturalism hoo-haa and the rise of the far-right. The disproportionate representation was another level, and a small classroom in Oxford to balance things wasn’t enough. One could have easily shown them five Iraqi-led Arabic schools in London, for example, who practice nothing of the sort of things this school did. Since the programme aired, I’ve been receiving multiple press releases of schools and mosques condemning the acts of this particular school.
The unfortunate madressas featured on this documentary need a wake up call. It is clear that the Muslim community, particularly in the UK, lacks leadership. But it shouldn’t have to take governing bodies and British law changes to instil some sense into these organisations, nor do we need the horror music of Dispatches in the background to tell us this is wrong. There are hundreds of independent schools, thousands of independent organisations, who I am sure are not bound by inspections.
I would not be exaggerating if I said that my independent school made up a huge portion of who I am today. Perhaps slightly behind on creativity, the school still managed to help me grow and provided a safe environment for me to explore another language and another culture. My self development didn’t stop there either. In my late teens onwards I was attending independent Quran lessons, which were invaluable to my conception of faith and which solidified my values – not just of tolerance, but of respect.
Whilst I can tell the difference between a nutcase running a classroom in Birmingham and normal Quran and Arabic schools across the UK, sadly, I don’t think the majority of viewers will. The message which rings loud and clear is that madressa = hate preaching.
And this is where Dispatches fails. The stereotypes continue and the work gets tougher.
Programme coming soon to 4oD:http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/episode-guide/series-80/episode-1
Preview clip can be seen here:http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/video/series-80/episode-1/lessons-in-hate-and-violence