Taken on trust

If your heritage is to be alive and breathing rather than buried in history you must target the young. And for the Muslim community this is where madressahs (Islamic schools) step in. These schools, which provide a daily Islamic education in the evenings and sometimes weekends for five to 15 year olds, are central in the lives of the community, helping to preserve religion, culture and language.

Self-financed, voluntary and independent, madressahs are run by and for the local Muslim community. As well as raising heritage awareness and promoting an identity, the additional learning after school can improve a child’s motivation, work ethic, resilience and confidence.

However, madressahs are not immune to the need to modernise. The teachers (ustaads) and those who run the schools are becoming more qualified; teaching, more systematic and structured; and a greater use of technology in learning.

But some less savoury traditional practices can remain. Indeed, occasional allegations of corporal punishment had brought madressahs to the attention of social services in Kirklees, a metropolitan council in west Yorkshire covering Batley, Dewsbury and Huddersfield. The council, while recognising the enormous benefits of such schools, realised that information, support and advice particularly around child protection was lacking. And given that there are more than 50 madressahs and supplementary schools in Kirklees with about 10,000 children in their care, there was a need to engage positively with this previously untapped sector.

This resulted in the creation of the madressah project in summer 2002 to promote child protection issues and develop appropriate policies and procedures.

The project, overseen by a steering group with representatives from education, social services and local community organisations, including two local imams, was welcomed by most as an opportunity to be more aware of legal responsibilities, but was viewed sceptically by some. This is where Shakeel Hafez’s appointment as project development officer has been critical. He is from the local community, has child protection experience and crucially has taught in madressahs. “A minority were unsure about our motives,” he says. “They would say, ‘Why now? We’ve been operating madressahs for many years’. They were worried the local authority would interfere. But now most are happy for this type of engagement.”

The project has also championed positive parenting. Its leaflet explains why this can encourage better behaviour and why smacking can harm children. It draws on religious teachings to preach its message. For example, one line runs: “Children are amanat (trust) from Allah. We are required to protect them for the sake of Allah.”

The project has published a glossy 52-page guidance for madressahs, Safe Children, Sound Learning. This looks at behaviour management, child protection, recruitment and training, and health and safety. It provides appendices of sample policy statements. “Many teachers have never been to school in this country,” says Hafez. “Many are unable to communicate in English, and some have not been here long. The concepts of child protection, behaviour management and health and safety can sometimes seem alien to them.”

The guidance has been well received – and not just in Kirklees. Zainab Greaves, a family support worker for children’s charity NCH, says the guidance “encourages the mosque committees to take responsibility for the welfare of the children in their care by empowering them, rather than demanding that they make changes”. And it is with this style that the madressah project is turning its sceptics into believers.

– For more information phone Shakeel Hafez on 01924 482166. Or e-mail shakeel.hafez@kirklees.gov.uk

– Safe Children, Sound Learning is available (price £10) from Community Education & Regeneration on 01484 225385. Or e-mail commed®en@kirklees.gov.uk


Scheme: Madressah project.

Location: Kirklees, West Yorkshire.

Staffing: One (temporary) full-time project development worker.

Inspiration: To raise awareness of child protection, positive parenting and health and safety within madressahs.

Cost: £25,000 a year. Positive parenting leaflet paid for by Kirklees parenting support forum. Safe Children, Sound Learning paid for by Kirklees Community Education & Regeneration.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.