The Ofsted report about my former school is way off the mark
I left the Jamiatul Ummah school in 2011. When I saw the headlines saying that my former school and other independent Muslim faith schools in Tower Hamlets were vulnerable to “extremist influences and radicalisation”, my first thought was that Ofsted couldn’t be more off the mark .
This latest inspection has labelled my former school “inadequate”, despite the previous inspection three years ago finding that it was outstanding. Five other independent Muslim schools in the area have suffered the same fate. The principal of Jamiatul Ummah, Sheikh Madani, is having all of his material analysed and all the khutbas (Friday sermons) are being scrutinised. I just don’t know how schools function under that kind of pressure.
Some of the media coverage has said we were taught that we weren’t allowed to listen to music. In fact, we were taught about different schools of thought in Islam, some of which believe music isn’t allowed and that segregation is something to be adhered to – but we were also taught about the other legitimate differing spectrum of opinions which stated otherwise. My school taught basic Islam, aqida (basic faith), fiqh (jurisprudence), and sunnah (sayings and teaching of the prophet Muhammad). It didn’t promote any specific ideology or any other political form of Islam that the state would consider radical – even though the word isn’t defined. The report says the schools failed to protect kids from radicalisation, but what does it mean? It seems to be an excuse to go on a witch-hunt to label people. Radicalisation could mean I don’t agree with foreign policy – that doesn’t mean I’m attracted to terrorism.
I suppose that radicalisation in the government’s eyes is sticking to one narrow and literalist view, but we were always taught different viewpoints, including studying fiqh from the schools of thought of Imam Abu Hanifa and Imam Shafi, and how these are accepted and celebrated elements of Islam’s rich history. I also went to a madrasah (classes at the mosque) when I was a kid and I can compare the lessons. At the madrasah I was taught the fundamentals of Islam, and fiqh from a particular school of thought. Going to a school where we were taught a range of ideas was a critical change in my Islamic education.
Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, has expressed concern that pupils from Jamiatul Ummah school may be vulnerable to extremist influences and radicalisation. He also said that pupil achievement, leadership and governance were inadequate. On the contrary, my school prepared me to navigate the world with a level head. I got seven A*s and four As at GCSE, and two As and an A* at A-level. I have a solid foundation in Islamic studies, as well as core subjects such as maths, triple science, English, information and communications technology and Arabic.
I took a year out before going to study physics with theoretical physics at King’s College London and began a startup. The Aspire Institute is a supplementary institute that gets top Russell Group university students to tutor kids from poorer backgrounds in small, focused classes. I’ve completed internships with Shell and Google and was offered jobs at both. I’m in the process of launching an internet startup dedicated to helping university students and am looking to start my second internet startup soon. One of my best friends from school went to Oxford and finished his theology and philosophy degree with a first. He’s a real success story.
Modern life means you need an open mind. I take the position that I am always learning and that I know less than most people around me – that’s at the heart of the Islamic approach to education.
I do ask every day whether I would have done better anywhere else. I can’t be sure but I think that I learned things at my school that I wouldn’t necessarily have learned at my local comprehensive. It took me 40 minutes to get to the school, which taught me independence. We weren’t spoon fed, we were taught to work hard and be self-motivated. Would I be the person I am now if I had gone somewhere else? Probably not. I’m a self-starter.
I vividly recall school assemblies where my teachers would end with a speech that became a defining mantra. They told us that success was measured on the level of what we go on to to contribute to our communities and to wider society, that as graduates of the school we should aspire to be change makers and that we should strive to positively affect the lives of everyone we meet, that we should be paragons of upholding morality and positive beacons of the faith. I would often leave inspired. If these aren’t defined as British values, then I don’t know what are.