As a teacher of Religious, Moral and Philosophical Studies it has come as no surprise that A LOT of people have wanted to ask about Islam recently. Although I’m a Christian myself, it is a subject that I’ve studied for a long time and taught to a lot of people. So I know a fair bit about it.
But RMPS obviously isn’t all about religion. In fact the topics that fill my classroom are wide and varied – in one lesson we may be talking about the arms trade and in another feminism. So, it’s also no surprise that many of my pupils have been asking questions about events from the last few weeks and have been responding to it in different ways:
‘What causes terrorism?’
‘What can we do to stop it?’
‘Why aren’t people with extreme views arrested?’
It’s made for a lot of interesting discussions and has made me think a lot about how to guide young people through their questions and yes… often fear.
As I’ve taught them Islam this year, I’ve always been clear that the people committing these terrible crimes are not really Muslim. I try to make it perfectly clear that Muslim does not mean terrorist. But the media does not make it easy.
In the wake of the London attacks, many of the boys have found ‘The Jihadis next door’ curtesy of youTube. Although this video clearly shows Muslims turning against the extremists and are at times, the only one to take issue with the preachers of hate – it hasn’t done a lot to quell the fear.
Last week, I had conversation with a group of boys after they found an article about a mosque being vandalised. One of them thought that the vandal had done the right thing – so I asked him to consider something:
Imagine there was a group of young people in that mosque who have a teacher they really look up to. The teacher tells them they are welcome, they belong, and that they are important. The teacher is someone they respect as a authority figure. Now imagine that the teacher had taught that the people out there hate them – the ‘people’ are against them, are against Allah, and represent everything that is wrong.
What would happen if you vandalised their mosque?
One of the boys responded – I may as well have just killed people myself.
Another other boy was confused and said ‘but all you did was vandalise stuff – it doesn’t matter.’
But his friend added – ‘yeah but you’ve just proved the teacher right.’
It may not have been the most highbrow of conversations. We didn’t even get into talking about interpreting the Qur’an, domestic or foreign policy, or even the correct religious response. The boys didn’t want to know about police funding or what the government was going to do. They wanted to know what they could do.
We had a great chat about tolerance, differences, and ultimately a very practical discussion about social inclusion. It made me realise that I teach some incredible kids and that there is so much to celebrate about life.
I’ve read a lot recently about not living in fear and the importance of having a good time. But I also feel that it’s important not to turn against any group in all of that.
Yes, I hope that the government will sort out foreign policy. I hope that they will increase police funding. It would be great if there was a good vetting process for immigration. And obviously, keeping closer tabs on nutters waving Jihadi flags about would be a good start.
But all of those things are not in my power to change. I also don’t know if I’m one of those people who can just march round London with my kids saying I’m not afraid. What I am sure of, is that I do not want to live at the exclusion of others.
Reading the news this week has been an utterly harrowing experience. I found that I would just cry reading people’s accounts of the tower block fire. The horror those people have been through is unimaginable. But a friend shared an article about how Muslims who had risen early for Ramadan had actually helped saved many people. They had been up early to eat before sunrise so could alert people to the danger. It was good to read something positive like this relating to Islam.
Although this obviously isn’t a terrorist event, many articles have also reminded me of how many many people are there, ready to help. There’s a lot that is good about people.
Every Friday, I feature an original illustration by the super talented Alison Soye. This week is no exception. Champagne to symbolise the importance of celebrating life.