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News about Islam and Muslims in UK: Welsh Muslim Named 2012 Young Achiever

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  • Zafar Khan
    Welsh Muslim Named 2012 Young Achiever OnIslam & News Agencies Friday, 08 February 2013 14:28
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2013
      Welsh Muslim Named 2012 Young Achiever
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Friday, 08 February 2013 14:28


      SWANSEA, Wales – A young Swansea Muslim solicitor has won the prestigious award young achiever of the year at the British Muslim Awards in recognition for her efforts to maintain her British and Muslim values throughout her educational and professional life in the legal field.

      “I felt honored and surprised to have been shortlisted as a finalist and honestly did not expect to receive the Award,” Mamuna Farooq, a solicitor at the Swansea-based law firm Douglas-Jones Mercer in Wales, told The Asian Image on Friday, February 8.

      “I would like to congratulate the fellow finalists, especially in the Young Achiever category.”

      Mamuna, 27, was the youngest award winner at the ceremony in which over 10,000 nominations were received across the UK.

      As an active member of the Muslim community in Swansea from a young age, Mamuna has been dreaming of using her professional qualifications to help ‘give back’ to the community.

      Working in a field that has very few Muslim females, she was nominated for the award in recognition to her efforts in maintaining her British and Muslim values throughout her educational and professional life.

      She is one of the first Solicitors in Wales to offer a bespoke service of drafting and advising Muslim clients on Islamic Wills.

      “To say I was excited when I unexpectedly heard my name called out is an understatement,” Mamuna said.

      “I feel extremely fortunate to have been named as a finalist and then a winner at the first British Muslim Awards alongside public figures, individuals and businesses whom I admire and respect.

      “To be told I’m regarded as a role model for younger Muslims is a true honor”.

      The British Muslim Awards are meant to recognize a wide range of achievements which cover various aspects of society including business, charity, sport, arts and culture.

      The ceremony will be one of celebration, reflecting the significant role that Britain’s Muslim have in society.

      The first year of the Awards aims to have over 500 present from across the British genre and intend to be a yearly celebration.

      Role Model

      The young Muslim’s achievement was praised by non-Muslim colleagues as well.

      “To say that Mamuna exceeds the expectations of solicitors in our firm would be an understatement,” Jonathan Powell, Director at Douglas-Jones Mercer Solicitors (DJM Solicitors), said.

      “Her dedication and professionalism have resulted in a level of service given to clients, which is second to none.”

      Mamuna joined DJM Solicitors, a Legal 500 firm, in 2008 as a Trainee Solicitor and was retained by the firm upon qualification in 2010 joining the Wills, Estate & Trusts team.

      She now specializes in all areas of Private Client law.

      Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.5 million.

      In 2011, think-tank Demo found that Muslims in the United Kingdom are more patriotic than the rest of population.

      Responding to the statement “I am proud to be a British citizen”, 83% of Muslims said they are proud of being British.

      The percentage came higher than average across the population which scored only 79%.

      A recent report by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex revealed that the Muslim minority in Britain is more likely consider themselves British than their white counterparts.

      Oxford in uproar over union motion to boycott Israel
      Threatening emails, accusations of racism and walkout by George Galloway follow motion at students' union
      Conal Urquhart
      The Observer, Saturday 23 February 2013 19.29 GMT


      Students at Oxford University will this week vote on a controversial motion to boycott Israel, after a tumultuous week that has seen hate mail, accusations of racism and a furious exit from a debate by MP George Galloway .

      The Oxford University Students' Union (OUSU) meets on Wednesday to decide finally on a motion backing the boycott of Israel, its companies and institutions. The motion, which would be tabled at the National Union of Students conference in Sheffield in April, calls on the student body to join the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, in protest at Israel's treatment of Palestinians and its hindrance of attempts to create a Palestinian state.

      Both the proposer and the seconder of the motion have received threatening emails: the seconder has withdrawn his support and the proposer has requested that her name not be publicised.

      Last Wednesday, Galloway, MP for Bradford West, walked out of a debate at Christ Church College. Galloway arrived 90 minutes late, delivered a speech condemning Israel and then interrupted a reply being made by Eylon Aslan-Levy, a student at Brasenose College.

      "You said 'we'. Are you an Israeli?" Galloway asked. When Aslan-Levy said he was, Galloway walked out. "I don't recognise Israel and I don't debate with Israelis," he said, to gasps of surprise and mutters of "racism".

      Mahmood Naji of Christ Church College, who had invited the MP, said: "He agreed to a debate and I though he would welcome open dialogue. I was amazed. He left because he wanted to make a statement. His main interest was demonstrating that he supported the boycott movement."

      The BDS movement urges a boycott of Israeli exports, including vegetables, fruit and Dead Sea beauty products, and of firms that do business in Israel, such as Caterpillar, security firm G4S and waste management company Veolia. Some BDS supporters have also disrupted cultural events involving Israeli performers.

      Last week, OUSU gave the colleges a further two weeks to debate the issue after most failed to come to a decision.

      Henry Watson of Magdalen College said the atmosphere at the university was fraught: "People thought it was a question of supporting Israel or Palestine or supporting peace. The boycott goes against everything the university stands for. The idea that we are not going to read your books or articles or hear your arguments on the basis of your nationality is ridiculous."

      Magdalen College voted 39-3 against the motion, Watson said.

      Aslan-Levy, who was born and brought up in Britain, said he is keen for the Palestinian conflict to be settled diplomatically and disagrees with the settler movement and its representatives, such as Dani Dayan, who spoke at the union last Friday. "In a lot of colleges, students are concerned about OUSU making foreign policy," he said. "In my college, the only argument was whether the motion was rejected or the college abstained. The college voted 20-15 to reject the motion."

      Dani Dayan, chairman of the Israeli settlers' council, Yesha, was at the union to debate the question, "Settlers: War Criminals or Patriots?" for a debate to be broadcast on al-Jazeera in April. Al-Jazeera had hired security guards, but Dayan was booed once and given polite applause.

      Not all students have immersed themselves in this debate. The Oxford Student newspaper reported that a member of the Bullingdon Club was fined for setting off a firework at a nightclub earlier this month. According to the paper, the student was accepted into the club after an initiation ceremony which included burning a £50 note in front of a tramp.

      UK Muslim population doubled in a decade
      Saturday Dec 22, 2012


      Figures from the 2011 census have revealed that the Muslim population in Britain has almost doubled in ten years so that Muslims make up 50 percent of the residents in some British towns.

      Between 2001 and 2011, the Muslim population rose from 1.5 million to 2.7 million, an increase from 3 percent to 4.8 percent of Britain’s overall population.

      According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) that conducted the census, the multiplying of Britain’s Muslim population has occurred for several reasons.

      The ONS said an important reason for the massive growth in Muslims in Britain is the rising number of Britons who are choosing to convert to Islam.

      There are estimates that hundreds of Britons convert to Islam every month, making a significant contribution to the steadily increasing number of Muslims in the country.

      Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard reported that many white British-born people are becoming a minority in their own cities, as almost 50 percent of residents in some British towns are Muslim.


      'Halal' interfaith unions rise among UK women
      Some religious leaders are coming to terms with rising numbers of Muslim-Christian couples in the UK.
      Rudabah Abbass Last Modified: 31 Dec 2012 13:00


      Islam is the United Kingdom's fastest-growing religion, and the country's Muslim population has nearly doubled in the past decade.

      As the number of British Muslims increases, some are deviating from the faith's traditional norms. Many Muslim women in the UK now walk a tightrope between their Islamic culture and British identity.

      Britain's diversity has spawned financially independent Muslim women who appear to be challenging their cultural and religious boundaries.

      Being raised in a country that promotes tolerance and acceptance of others, they do not see themselves any ‘different’ to their non-Muslim compatriots. Increasing numbers are rejecting some of the cultural norms on offer, such as arranged marriages and family introductions. Instead seeking partners for themselves, who are an intellectual, financial and social equal.

      Radically, challenging their boundaries has meant that growing numbers are choosing to marry out their faith.

      In the UK, 21,000 interfaith marriages were recorded in 2001. Although no new statistics on the issue have been released since then, imams in the UK told Al Jazeera that these figures have surged in recent years.

      Sheikh Toufik Kacimi, the CEO of Muslim Welfare House, a charity and community centre in London, says he is approached by at least two couples per week to consult on interfaith relationships.

      Most religious scholars agree that Islam permits Muslim men to marry "women of the book" - Christians or Jews - thus expanding the number of potential partners to choose from.

      Muslim women, on the other hand, are forbidden to marry a non-Muslim unless her partner converts to Islam, say purists. Some men nominally convert to Islam in order to appease their partner's family.

      Imam Taj Hargey of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford is an exception. He has conducted marriage services for Muslim women without their Christian or Jewish partners converting. Most Muslims find this notion unacceptable, claiming it is tantamount to living in sin.

      Imam Hargey's stance may be controversial, but he argues: "There is no verse in the Holy Quran that bans Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men."

      "Almighty God would have revealed explicit directives if Muslim women were not allowed to marry outside the faith," he says. "As Muslim men are entitled to marry women from the People of the Book who are not Muslim [Surah al-Maidah 5:5], the same right must be afforded to Muslim women as Islam is a gender-equal religion."

      While imam Hargey may be alone in his outlook, some traditionalists are adapting to the reality that interfaith marriages are becoming more common.

      In a new initiative by the interfaith organisation Christian Muslim Forum, senior Muslim imams and Christian ministers have recognised the rise in such marriages. After consulting with hundreds of couples, they have listed a series of guidelines calling for a softer approach to interfaith marriage.

      Although stopping short of endorsing interfaith marriage, the religious figures of the Christian Muslim Forum, have encouraged counseling for such couples and oppose forced conversion as a condition for marriage.

      Julian Bond, the director of the Forum, says unsympathetic behaviour towards interfaith couples can often turn people away from religion instead of helping them to remain within it.

      Ostracism and shame

      For 22 years, Mandy Sanghera has worked with women who have married out of their faith, and counseled their family members. Like Bond, she says transgressing women rejected by their families often withdraw from their faith, as they are unable to enter a mosque or interact with the community.

      Interfaith relationships have at times led to ostracism and violence against the couples, sometimes even resulting in forced marriages and honour killings. According to the UK constabulary, 2,823 honour crimes were reported to the police in 2010 and an estimated 10,000 forced marriages take place in Britain every year.

      Many women in interfaith relationships, says Sanghera, have been disowned by their families, who in turn are often shamed with hate mail, threats and assault. "They never overcome the shame element of what their neighbours and the community will think,” says Sanghera. “And their daughters become part of a witch-hunt, always looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives."

      Heather Al Yousuf is a Christian married to a Shia Muslim. In the late 1990s she decided to launch the Interfaith Marriage Network, a support group for Muslim-Christian couples.

      She is approached by an average of 100 couples per year. Initially the couples were mostly Muslim men and non–Muslim women, but now about half are Muslim women with non-Muslim partners. Similar groups are also underway in Germany, France and Austria, Al Yousuf says.

      Converging, not converting

      "We hear over and again: 'I've met this non-Muslim guy at university or work who I feel compatible with and he's not going to stop me from practising my religion'," says Al Yousuf. "None have told me: 'I'm giving up my faith,' because they do not feel their identity would be under threat by marrying a non-Muslim."

      Al Yousuf, when asked what the ideal model for an interfaith relationship should be, responded that the "couple should be converging rather than converting".

      Salma and Pim, who did not want their last names used, are such a couple. She is a British Muslim and he is a Dutch Christian. Their marriage ceremony was performed by imam Hargey.

      "When I started falling in love with Salma, who I knew was Muslim, I realised that me being Christian was a potential conflict," Pim told Al Jazeera. But he was not willing to undergo a sham conversion to Islam, due to what he describes as his "respect for Salma as a person and her religion".

      Salma, a practising Muslim, said the couple encountered difficulties when they decided to tell their families about their relationship: "I felt really sad that they were too upset and depressed to talk to me openly. There was so much happiness in my heart for being in love. I wanted them to come with me on this journey."

      When imam Hargey married them, he provided the comfort that Salma could still carry on being a believing Muslim. "It meant a lot to me," she says. "It's made me closer to God and has taken that inner conflict away."

      Supporters of interfaith marriages, say couples like Salma and Pim have ventured into a progressive new model.

      Meanwhile, it remains to be seen whether the Christian Muslim Forum's guidelines will ease the burden of interfaith relationships.

      For some couples, the conflict whittles down to a difference of opinion versus a difference of belief, without compromising a spiritually nourishing life.

      Interfaith couples are likely to take inspiration from the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm who said that: "Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love."

      Follow Rudabah Abbass on Twitter @Dabs13

      Film challenges extremism by and against British Muslims
      Combinations – featuring Olympic torch bearer and boxing trainer Imran Naeem – delivers blows against online propaganda
      Haroon Siddique
      guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 25 December 2012 13.00 GMT


      The call to prayer sounds and a serious-looking man with a bushy beard stares intently at the camera. At first appearance it is a familiar image of an angry Muslim but as the man breaks into laughter and begins to talk about his pride in being British, the viewer's presumptions are challenged.

      The clip is a trailer for Combinations, a short film being produced by Media Cultured, a fledgling organisation using film and social media to challenge extremism by and against Muslims. In an age when the Taliban and Somali group al-Shabaab use Twitter, and the anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims on YouTube was disseminated by extremists on both sides to further their own ends, Media Cultured is an attempt to use the same tools to promote harmony rather than discord.

      The community interest company in Teesside is the brainchild of director Amjid Khazir, who has been working with local mosques and national faith groups to help the Muslim community understand internet safety and online propaganda. "We are trying to achieve a level of integration and tolerance between communities in an area [social media] that's being ignored by the government," said Khazir. "If you ever wanted to define big society, this is it."

      Combinations, made in conjunction with Thousand Yard Films, features Imran Naeem, who runs a boxing gym, is a community volunteer and carried the Olympic torch through Darlington last summer. The title refers to the flurries of punches thrown by boxers as well as Naeem's dual British-Muslim heritage. The trailer has already been shown in one "hard knock" Middlesbrough school, as Khazir describes it, where he says the children's initial perceptions were challenged. He is in discussions to put the film on alongside workshops in other schools, as well as university Islamic societies, mosques and prisons, initially locally and then nationally.

      When showing the trailer, which is being developed into a short film, Khazir pauses it at different stages, asking people to write down their thoughts before pressing play and highlighting any mistaken conclusions they may have jumped to.

      "As a positive role model for young Muslims he [Naeem] is a fantastically credible, practising [Muslim], guy who's part of the community and who also challenges the xenophobic views and discriminatory views of racists who paint us all as one bloc of evil Mullahs," says Khazir. "He's the antithesis of that. We can achieve the same ends with one piece of work. We can reduce extremism, providing positive role models for Muslims and to non-Muslims we can show the opposite of what the stereotypes portray in the media."

      Khazir previously worked in PR and internet search engine optimisation when he noticed how videos of jihadis in Iraq and Afghanistan received large numbers of hits. He said: "Young people especially are often recruited and indoctrinated using videos posted on different social media channels – this can be by simply following a Twitter link."

      It was the death of his uncle that persuaded him to focus on his community work full-time. Mohammed Zabir, a taxi driver, died of a heart attack in 2011, a month after being attacked by a drunken passenger. Khazir said: "He was like a father to me. He lived next door to me, I grew up with him … I gave up the job I was doing and thought: 'I am going to make this work.'"

      Khazir set Media Cultured up with a bursary from Teesside University's DigitalCity project, which also provides him with an office and mentoring.

      With the longer version of Combinations almost complete, Media Cultured is already planning its next film, Head for Cover, a history of the hijab. "It's not a piece of clothing that's divisive, or causing separation or segregation," says Khazir. "It's actually just a personal freedom, a simple item of clothing which has biblical traditions right from the Jewish matriarchs to Mary."

      UK Muslims feel 'more British' than whites
      Research study says UK citizens of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage rate "being British" as key to their identity.
      Andrew McFadyen Last Modified: 21 Jul 2012 15:00


      Glasgow, United Kingdom - Muslims living in the UK feel more British than their white counterparts.

      It's a surprising statement that demands an explanation. In a study released in late June, the Institute for Social and Economic Research asked 40,000 households a series of questions, including how important, on a scale of one to ten, being British was to them.

      People of Pakistani origin scored the highest with an average of 7.76, Bangladeshi and Indian groups came second and third, while the white population scored lowest - with an average of 6.58.

      The report's authors believe the results disprove suggestions that ethnic groups are unable to integrate into British society.

      "Our research shows that people we might assume would feel very British, in fact do not - while others who we might assume would not associate themselves with feelings of Britishness, in fact do," said Dr Alita Nandi, of the University of Essex.

      The Understanding Society survey shows how "Britishness" has been successfully promoted as an open identity that is multi-cultural and multi-ethnic. But it also raises a worrying question.

      British, not English?

      While England's ethnic minorities say being British is important, they generally don't describe themselves as English. What is it about Englishness that shuts out people who aren't white?

      English national identity is an issue that politicians have been reluctant to address.

      Labour leader Ed Miliband touched on this in a recent speech delivered at London's Festival Hall when he said: "We were too nervous to talk of English pride and English character. Connecting it to the kind of nationalism that left us ill at ease."

      He was referring to the way in which far-right racists, such as the English Defence League, appear to have contaminated the idea of what it means to be English.

      Sunder Katwala, director of the London-based think-tank British Future, points out that 61 per cent of people think the St George's flag stands for patriotism and pride, but one in three associate it with racism and extremism.

      During this summer's European football championship, the English flag was a common sight fluttering above shops and from car windows, as fans of all ethnicities got behind Roy Hodgson's team.

      But Katwala says: "The same flag might still have a more ambiguous meaning when fluttering from a South London pub on a rainy winter's night."

      Regional debates

      The debate is different in Scotland, where British identity is much weaker than in other parts of the UK. North of the border, Scottishness trumps Britishness even among ethnic minorities.

      According to the report, if there are two persons who are similar in every respect other than country of residence, the person living in Scotland is predicted to report a Britishness score that is 1.04 points lower than a person living in London.

      Professor John Curtice, from Strathclyde University, says: "In Scotland, Scottishness has been sold as a multicultural identity and it does not have the same association with xenophobia as Englishness."

      The country is gearing up for a referendum on leaving Britain and becoming an independent state. Both the "Yes" and "No" campaigns have young, articulate Muslim politicians in prominent positions. Identity is not an issue for either of them.

      Scottish Labour's Deputy Leader, Anas Sarwar, whose family comes from Pakistan, says he classes himself as Scottish, although if he were asked for an identity he identified with more closely than that of his country, he would probably say "Glaswegian".

      "No matter what your background, give it a few years and you consider yourself Glaswegian. This city has been home to successive generations of immigrants. Irish and Jewish people have all settled here and been accepted."

      He adds: "The way Scotland deals with multiculturalism is a model that should be replicated throughout the UK and Europe."

      Mixing pot

      The Scottish National Party's Humza Yousaf, who represents Glasgow in the Scottish parliament, says that questions of identity have become more fluid and unrestricted:

      "Take my own example. As an Asian Scot born in Glasgow to a father from Pakistan and a mother from Kenya, I went on to marry my wife, Gail, who is a white Scot born in England to an English father and Scottish mother.

      "I would challenge anyone to accurately define the identity of any children we may have in the future. Will they be a quarter Scottish, a quarter Pakistani, a quarter English?"

      He adds: "It is not about where you come from, but where we are going together."

      Scots from all ethnic and religious backgrounds seem able to share in some version of Scottish national identity. Saying you are Scottish is a statement of civic identity, not ethnicity.

      Think-tanker Sunder Katwala told Al Jazeera he would like to see the same energy expended to promote an inclusive Englishness: "If Scotland can have a confident civic patriotism, there is no reason to fear that this cannot happen in England too. After all, England has a good claim to have long been the most internally plural of the British nations."

      British national identity is increasingly linked with the past - whether that is the shared experience of Empire or the sacrifices made during World War II.

      The Conservative-led government's reforms to services such as the National Health Service also appear to weaken the idea of Britain as a national community, because a shared state depends on shared values.

      Katwala points out that Viv Anderson became the first black football player to represent England - as long ago as 1978 - and the many immigrant contributions to English literature take in George Bernard Shaw, TS Eliot and Salman Rushdie.

      Perhaps it's time for a conversation about what it means to be English.

      Follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter: @apmcfadyen

      George Galloway denies Jemima Khan's claims of Muslim conversion ceremony
      Khan's claim in New Statesman article that Galloway converted in north London 10 years ago is 'categorically untrue', he says
      Helen Pidd
      guardian.co.uk, Thursday 26 April 2012 14.30 BST


      Islamic schools flourish to meet demand
      Demand for Islamic education in England is growing fast and schools – official and unofficial – are springing up to meet it. Now some local authorities are concerned that there is insufficient regulation

      Fran Abrams
      The Guardian, Monday 28 November 2011 19.59 GMT


      At about eight o'clock on a dull autumnal morning, a mother is preparing breakfast for her young son in the kitchen of an unassuming private house on a little modern estate in Leicester. The doorbell rings. Outside, a series of people carriers and estate cars are rolling up one by one; out of them tumbling a succession of children in twos and threes, all in traditional Islamic dress.

      By 8.30, 26 children – some of them only just old enough for school, some almost grown – are sitting in tight rows on the floor of a little inner room, reciting morning prayers in Arabic and in English. By 9.30, the conservatory has become an infant classroom, the dining room has been taken over by the juniors and in the living room, year 7 and 8 girls are preparing to spread their geography projects across the laminate flooring.

      By now, the mother has vanished – she doesn't want her name or address to be used, she says, because already families are turning up at odd hours asking to look round the "school" – and Fatima D'Oyen, director of Manara Education, has taken charge with her small team of staff.

      There's no doubting that the Manara academy is a most unusual educational institution. But it's also part of a national trend. Although the number of Islamic schools is still small – around 140 at the latest count, just 12 of them state-funded – it is growing fast. About 60 of these schools have opened in the last 10 years; several in the last couple of months. And the demand from parents seems to be huge – one school in Birmingham recently attracted 1,500 applications for just 60 places. At least five Islamic schools have recently applied to be free schools, although so far only one has been approved.

      Manara is one of two Islamic schools that have opened in Leicester this autumn – although in its case, the word "school" can only be used loosely. Manara operates just three mornings a week, and its pupils are registered as home-educated.

      Because Manara operates on a part-time basis, it does not need to register with the Department for Education as a school. But the rise in the number of Islamic schools has raised some concerns. Leicester City Council has called for national guidance to ensure that parents who send their children to "flexi schools" like Manara can be sure the staff have criminal record checks and their buildings are safe. And in some areas, full-time schools have opened without registration – meaning that there are no checks on the suitability of their staff or the quality of their curriculum.

      D'Oyen aims to open a fully registered, full-time school next year. Until recently, she was the headteacher of another Muslim school in Leicester, but left earlier this year – and decided to start her own school. She quickly found that the formalities required were much more cumbersome than in her native US, where she had previously helped to set up an Islamic school in New Mexico.

      "The Department for Education wanted everything done six months in advance; they wanted a plan of the building, they wanted to come and inspect," she says. "They wanted to see our curriculum plans in detail – a lot of rigmarole. And we wanted to be open in September. So legally we are a private tuition service – like a supplementary school, but during the day."

      Despite its unconventional setting – D'Oyen was invited to tea with the family who live here and seized on the idea that the house could be turned into a school – the children seem contented and the curriculum varied. Manara is experimenting with Montessori teaching methods, and religious education includes moral and personal discussions as well as study of the Qur'an. The time spent by many children learning the Qur'an at madrasas – often 10 hours a week or more – can rob them of their childhood, D'Oyen believes, and she hopes to provide a more humane alternative. The pupils will learn about gardening and alternative technologies, and have access to the garden, which is used as an outdoor classroom.

      "We'd like to teach a long morning, which would include some Islamic education, and then in the afternoons children would have more choice of activities – arts, crafts, PE," D'Oyen says. "We want the children to have creativity in their lives, and to follow some of their interests."

      She foresees no problems at all in finding pupils – another Islamic school in Leicester already has five applications for each place. The demand from Muslim parents for an education outside the mainstream is growing, she says.

      Others in the Muslim world agree with her. Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, founder of the Muslim Institute thinktank, says there is a growing feeling among Muslim parents that mainstream schools are not serving their children well: "If schools are focused on raising standards and on ensuring that there is discipline, I think most people are happy with that," he says. "But more and more parents are concerned about the quality of education, and about discipline."

      Yet in some areas, situations have arisen that have caused concern. A headteacher in the north of England, who asked not to be identified, described how an Islamic school had opened up two years ago without permission opposite her own primary school. "It operated for about six months without registration, and then it was forced to close. It didn't take long before it was registered and reopened again," she says. "Some lovely ladies came to see me and they invited me and my deputy to see what was happening there. But I have to say I found the whole thing very worrying indeed – it's just so divisive." She had been trained as an Ofsted inspector, she said, and did not believe that the school would have been allowed to operate in the state sector. Its buildings, even after renovation, were unsuitable, she said, and its curriculum was too narrow, with every lesson being linked in some way to the Qur'an or the life of the Prophet Muhammad.

      The Association of Muslim Schools, set up 20 years ago to support a then-tiny band of institutions, acknowledges that in response to a growing demand for Islamic education, a number of full-time schools have opened without proper formalities.

      "The Department for Education is in constant contact with us, and they do tell us if someone's operating without registration," says Shazad Mohammed, the director of the association. "Then we visit to stress the importance of registering – the local authorities have to know where the children are, for safeguarding purposes. We strongly discourage this – it is illegal to operate without registration."

      But it is hardly surprising that there should be some breaches, he adds – the UK has two and a half million Muslims, and the number is rising fast. The majority are aged between 13 and 25. One highly regarded Muslim school, the Al-Hijrah school in Birmingham, has introduced a lottery system to allocate places because up to 25 parents are competing for each one.

      In Leicester, the city council says it is anticipating a rise in the number of "flexi schools" like Manara, and it has asked the government to address the issue. "It is anticipated that this form of education may become more common, and the local authority has asked that the Department for Education consider producing national guidance for parents and providers around the quality of provision, including criminal record checks, health and safety and planning permission," it said in a statement.

      The DfE welcomed Leicester's commitment to working with home educators, but did not respond to requests for a comment on whether there should be more regulation of the sector.

      But for Fatima D'Oyen, the road ahead seems clear. Leicester's home education inspector paid her a visit this month, and was apparently impressed. Attempts to regulate the sector further would be counterproductive, she argues. "My perspective is that 95% of parents can be trusted to do what is best for their children," she says. "I don't believe it is either possible or desirable to try to regulate, especially if the desire to do so comes from racism or misplaced paternalism. The reality is that most Muslims setting up or working at Islamic schools, whether part-time, full-time, supplementary or otherwise, do so out of a sense of altruism and wanting to help children get a good education."
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