British Muslims Monthly Survey for September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9
The reportedly racially-inspired attack on a 16 year-old Muslim youth in the Tower Hamlets district of London on 9th September led to a heightening of the racial tension in that area. This was compounded by local ethnic minority perceptions that the police were not doing enough to catch the gang who inflicted a severe beating on the youth. When local people gathered outside the hospital on 11th September to show their support for the injured youth and their revulsion at a racially-inspired attack, nine youths from Asian families were arrested on public order charges. The common perception of local people from the ethnic minorities, there are reported to be 40,000 Bengalis and 10,000 Somalis in Tower Hamlets, is that this is only the tip of a much larger iceberg. They regard racism as endemic in the area.
This perception was reinforced on 16th September when the first-ever member of the British National Party was elected for the Millwall seat on the local council. The elected man made openly racist comments. He was elected by a majority of seven votes with the bulk of the votes cast being split between the Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates. This has led to charges of racism within these local parties with each blaming the other for allowing a BNP member to be elected. There have been calls from Muslim commentators for the BNP to be outlawed with the fear that an election victory will bring it some credibility and increase racism in other parts of the country.
According to the British Crime Survey, the number of racial attacks reported to the police in 1992 rose to 7,793 which is up from 4,383 in 1988. It is generally accepted that the real number of attacks is far higher as only a small percentage are actually reported to the police. This was confirmed in a comment made to the House of Commons Home Office Affairs Select Committee by the Home Office Minister, Peter Lloyd. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 1 ]
St Philip's School, Harborne, Birmingham, was set up in 1942 as a grammar school catering for Catholic boys from the city. The site and the buildings belong to the Oratorian Fathers, a Roman Catholic community of priests who are dedicated to building up the Catholic community in the city. When Catholic education was re-organised in the mid-seventies, St Philip's ceased to be a boys' grammar and became a Catholic Sixth Form College with the hope that it would attract both male and female students from across the city. There were those at the time who said that this was a flawed idea as several Catholic secondary schools kept their sixth forms thus decreasing the number of students who were likely to attend. In order to increase the number of students to offer a viable range of sixth form subjects, the college opened its doors to accept any students who wished to enrol. There are now about 950 students on roll of whom about one third are Catholics and about 200 are Muslims. The college has developed a reputation for offering sixth form education in a multi-religious context.
Over the last two years a certain tension has arisen between the governors of the college, a majority of whom are appointed by the Oratorian Fathers, and the staff about what constitutes Catholic education. The staff held that they had a Christian duty to provide education in a context which respected the religious beliefs of all students but the Oratorians wanted a more explicitly Catholic education reserved for Catholic students. This led to a plan to close the college and revert to a boys' school exclusively for Catholics on the same site. Several members of staff and the Principal left the college during discussions about this issue.
With the government's reform of Sixth Form education, all such colleges were taken out of the hands of the LEA and were placed under the immediate direction of the Department for Education. In this process their articles of government had to be re-approved by the DFE. In St Philip's case, this was done on 17 March 1993. These articles included the paragraph, "Collective worship shall comply with the provisions of the Trust deed and reflect the procedures, rites and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church". In accordance with this, the governors made the decision that all collective worship on the site would have to be in the Catholic tradition as from the start of the current academic year. In effect this meant that all non-Catholic groups, e.g. Anglicans and Muslims, would have to assemble off the premises if they wished to pray together.
In the past a room has been set aside for prayer within the college and the Muslim students were accustomed to congregating there for prayer. At the start of this academic year, the locks on this room had been changed and Muslim students were forbidden to congregate for prayer on the premises. There is a report which suggests that some Muslim leaders objected that this room was unsuitable for Muslim prayer as it contained the images of another faith. A room was reserved for their use in a nearby Church of England School and the rent for this was to be paid by the college. On the first occasion that Muslim students came to use this room it was locked and they were denied access. One report indicated that the rent had not been paid for the room. The Muslim students had to travel to the Central Mosque for Jummah prayers.
The controversy has been widely publicised in the regional and national press. The underlying power struggle has been vented and there has been a general air of hopeless resignation to the inexorable will of the Oratorian leadership. A spokesman for the Archbishop of Birmingham said that the Oratory is autonomous and so there was nothing that the Archbishop could do about it. The Oratorians' response was to stand on the point of law and say that there was nothing which could be done but the law must be obeyed.
A room has now been provided for the students but the atmosphere has hardly returned to tranquillity. A staff group is pressing for a halt to plans to close the college and they have written to the Archbishop of Birmingham to request his support. This has not been forthcoming so far. The local M.P., Ms Clare Short, has called for independent governors to be appointed by the Secretary of State for Education in an effort to keep the school at the service of the local multi-racial community. Discussions are proceeding with the Church of England to see if it would be possible to transfer the college to the site of a local C of E school which will become available in 1995 due to the closure of the present establishment. This will hardly solve the problem as St Philip's is renowned for the high quality of its equipment and facilities which will, of course, remain in the present building. The Oratorian governors have announced that the college will definitely close in its present form in the summer of 1995 but as yet they have revealed no intentions regarding the future of the site. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 1-3 ]
A row has arisen at the Springfield Junior School in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham. This is an area heavily populated by Muslims. The row centres on the appointment of Mrs Noshaba Hussain as headteacher. Mrs Hussain has a degree in law and has been a lecturer in education but she has no paid experience in primary schools. She was appointed in the face of a large field of applicants, many of whom had extensive primary school experience. Staff in the school are now working to contract as a protest against the appointment of Mrs Noshaba Hussain as headteacher. They say that they have lost confidence in the board of governors who have failed to heed the LEA's advice to reconsider the appointment.
In addition to her lack of teaching experience, the staff, and some parents, are concerned about Mrs Hussain's record in handling the finances of other projects in which she has been involved. Concerns centre on an enquiry into financial irregularities at the Muslim Women's Training Centre, where Mrs Hussain was managing director, and at the Al Nisaa Training Academy and Workshop which wrote off nearly all its business, amounting to around £35,000 in just two years of operation, as a bad debt. Given that each school is now responsible for its considerable budget under government regulations, the teachers' professional body considers there to be room for an independent enquiry.
The local M.P., Roy Hattersley, has become involved in the dispute. He was approached by local Labour Party officials and teachers and asked to put pressure on the Education Secretary to investigate the matter. Mr Hattersley had a meeting with the governors, after which he said that "some disquiet is justified". He undertook to raise the matter with local education officials.
The National Union of Teachers published a leaflet detailing why they were considering strike action over the affair which was distributed to local homes. A meeting between the staff and their union organisers to discuss a ballot for strike action was scheduled for 6th October. Under pressure of this impending meeting, the governors finally agreed to the LEA's demands that there should be an enquiry into the appointment of Mrs Hussain. It has been agreed that Mrs Hussain will meet with the Education Department and that the procedures by which she was appointed will be reviewed by both governors and the Authority. Teachers with their union are still pressing for a full investigation and are continuing to work to contract. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 3/4]
A new initiative is to be launched by Leicestershire Family Health Services Authority to facilitate women patients in the city consulting female general practitioners. This is particularly relevant for Muslim women in the city but applies also to many women from Asian families who, it is feared, are endangering their health by going without medical attention rather than consult a male doctor. The scheme will encourage established G.P. practices to share Asian women doctors so that they can offer the widest possible provision. Although the FHSA cannot directly fund a G.P.'s salary under current regulations, possible ways to subsidise practices who take part in the scheme are being explored. A sum of £70,000 has been set aside for the project which will run initially for 18 months. There has been much emphasis laid on the shortage of women general practitioners in general and of those from Asian families in particular. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 4]
Several British independent boarding schools have offered free places to refugee children from Bosnia who have demonstrated exceptional intelligence. The case of one 16 year-old girl who has been offered a place at Cheltenham Ladies' College, one of the country's most prestigious girls' schools, was highlighted in Q News (24.09.93). One problem was that, although the school has waived all tuition and boarding fees, she still has to find the money for her uniform and extras. The newspaper was making an appeal for help. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 4]
The Economic and Social Research Council is to provide £1.7m over the next five years to fund a research project at the Centre for Research in Ethnic Relations at the University of Warwick. The project will look at issues of migration, racial violence, citizenship and discrimination across Europe. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 5]
Muslim leaders in Bolton are to apply for a City Challenge grant to repair a Muslim community centre which was ransacked and set alight on 3rd September. The Centre was widely used by local Muslim young people.
Less than 24 hours before the York city planners gave permission for extensions to the Bull Lane Mosque, it was the subject of an attack by a gang of youths. Some Muslims who were in the mosque at the time gave chase and were able to apprehend three of the gang who were later questioned by police. The mosque has been attacked on several occasions in the past, the most serious of which was a firebombing last December which gutted the building. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 5]
A source at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel claimed that six boys had been treated by doctors there after circumcision operations which had been performed elsewhere went wrong. A consultant at the same hospital acknowledged only one case where a man had paid a doctor £100 to operate on his two sons at home. One of the boys had started to bleed profusely after the operation and needed hospital treatment. The boy's father reported that the operation had been carried out with two injections into the penis followed by incisions with a knife and pair of scissors. Such a report should be read in conjunction with fears expressed by the Muslim community about uneven provision under the NHS for non-therapeutic circumcision. In some areas such operations are available under sterile conditions, whilst in others they must be paid for privately. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 5]
The results of the Radio Authority's decisions on awarding independent radio franchises in London were announced on 3rd September. There was much concern in the London Muslim community that all six of the Muslim bids were unsuccessful. This concern was further heightened when Sunrise Radio, which many Muslim leaders claim to be unfair and anti-Muslim, was awarded a London-wide franchise to replace its former West London franchise. Sunrise proclaims itself to be a multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-ethnic "Asian" radio station. Representatives of 12 ethnic radio licence bidders have banded together to form the Ethnic Radio Action Group which has decided to refer the award of the licences to the Office of Fair Trading and to use every means to have the decision overthrown. It is particularly relevant as Sunrise Radio has secured the regional licences for the East Midlands and Yorkshire which include substantial Muslim populations who, it is alleged, do not support or approve of the station. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 5/6]
There was a local council by-election in Slough on 23rd September. The campaign was marred by insults and "gangster style smears" which were directed at the Labour Party candidate, a former chairman of the Race Equality Council, Nazar Lodhi. A particularly offensive pamphlet was distributed in English, Urdu and Punjabi which questioned events from Mr Lodhi's past. There appears to be some evidence that a Muslim faction was responsible for this pamphlet. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 6]
Blackburn District Health Authority has set aside £6,400 to pay for the services of a part-time Muslim chaplain to patients in their hospitals. The money will be used to provide three periods of duty each week. The local Church of England authorities were also looking for additional funding to convert their current part-time chaplaincy into full-time but this request was turned down by the health authority on the grounds that there were no provisions at all for minority faiths. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 6]
Muslim women in Huddersfield have formed the Muslim Conservative Women's Association, the first group of its kind in the country. More than 100 women have joined. It has the backing of local Muslim councillors as well as the local M.P. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 6]
Two employment specialists from the Keighley Training Group have been appointed to lead a new initiative in Bradford to relieve the close to 50% level of unemployment amongst the city's Muslim males. They will begin by providing training sessions in language and communication skills and go on to a series of confidence building and interview technique sessions. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 6]
Muslims in Rochdale have formed a vigilante group to protect local people from a gang who are terrorising people, reportedly with air guns. There has been a series of assaults against local Muslims which have included attacks with sticks, theft and damage to cars and finally a petrol bomb incident. Local leaders say that the police are too slow to respond and are not sufficiently active in apprehending the culprits. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 6]
The Prince of Wales, who is the patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, will deliver a speech at the Sheldonian Theatre on October 27th when he comes to visit the Centre. His topic will be "Islam and the West". [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 6/7]
Cleveland County Council made a grant of £38,300 to the Middlesborough Islamic Society to pay for repairs to the roof of the Waterloo Road Mosque. It appears that the work was done with a saving of £10,247 which the mosque committee used to help buy a new carpet for the prayer hall which cost £18,900. The council is now entering negotiations to reclaim the £10,247. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 7]
Muslims in Stockton have joined in a multi-faith campaign to prevent a teenage family planning clinic from opening there in October. They have submitted a 2,000-name petition against the scheme which they claim will provide contraceptive advice for children as young as 13 and send the wrong message about sexual activity amongst teenagers. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 7]
The East Lancashire social services committee has expressed its pleasure at the success of four projects set up locally to serve the needs of ethnic minority members. These include the business and catering management course at Blackburn College which is training 16 young Muslim men and women in the production of high quality halal food for the meals-on-wheels service; the appointment of a development worker to assist with home nutrition programmes for elderly Muslim women in the Nelson area; and a project aimed at encouraging more members of the Muslim community to use community care facilities in Burnley. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 7]
The government-appointed Committee on the Ethics of Genetic Modification and Food Use, chaired by the Revd. Dr John Polkinghorne, the Cambridge scientist and theologian, reported on 20th September. Their brief was to look at the way in which genes from one species were being introduced into others to modify the production of foodstuffs. Examples which were referred to included sheep which had been genetically engineered to carry the human gene which produces blood clotting factors for haemophiliacs and cows which were producing milk which more closely resembles human breast milk. The committee recommended that all foodstuffs produced in this way should be clearly labelled so that consumers knew what they were eating. This recommendation has been accepted by the Agriculture Minister. There was concern when this committee was set up that it drew only from a narrow religious base and did not include experts on Muslim ethics but the committee did attempt to consult widely whilst gathering their information. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 7]
A new teaching pack has been put together by the Westhill R.E. Centre, Birmingham in conjunction with the West Midlands police. The pack consists of a book and a video film which introduces the audience to the basic beliefs, practices and sensitivities of major religions in Britain. In addition to the police, the material is aimed at anyone who works in the caring professions or whose life brings them into contact with the followers of Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Rastafarian religions. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 8]
Planning permission has been granted for a halal fish and chip shop in Smethwick, West Midlands. The shop will sell only halal food including meat pies and everything will be cooked using vegetable oil so that patrons can be sure that there has been no contamination with forbidden foods or animal fats.
A bakery is soon to open in Liverpool which will supply traditional bread for the region's Muslim population. All ingredients will be halal. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 8]
The application by the Lothian Racial Equality Council on behalf of local Muslims for an area to be set aside for Muslim burial in a local cemetery in West Lothian (see British Muslims Mothly Survey for August 1993) has come a step closer. The environmental health committee has been recommended to accept the proposal and assign 100 burial plots for Muslim use. This will become only the third Muslim burial ground in Scotland.
Concern was expressed in High Wycombe when the family of a local Muslim man who died of a brain haemorrhage was charged £640 to have him buried in the town's cemetery. This is twice the standard charge. The reason given was that the man lived outside the town area and so the higher rate applied. It is particularly unfortunate as this is the only cemetery in the area with graves set aside for Muslims. A spokesman for the environmental services committee of Wycombe Council said that the situation would be reviewed at a meeting in October. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 8]
The GMB Union has released figures drawn from the 1991 census which they claim show that discrimination against Black and Asian workers does not only occur amongst the unskilled but even highly qualified workers from these minority groups are more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 8]
One of the largest produces of beer in the country, Bass Brewers, has claimed that the demand for its alcohol-free beer "Barbican" in the Muslim countries of the Middle East and Far East has caused it to embark on a £55m expansion of its brewery in Birmingham. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 8/9]
The Islamia Schools Trust has been quietly considering the situation after the initial responses to the latest rejection. The idea of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights has been muted occasionally by Muslim commentators but the most productive line of thinking centres on an application for grant-maintained status. This means that the school would be funded directly by central government who would supervise it without reference to the Local Education Authority. A grant-maintained school receives 100% of its expenses from the government. According to Moeen Yaseen, of the Association of Muslim Schools, a position paper on this question has been prepared for consideration by the Association and the Islamia Schools Trust (Muslim News, 24.09.93). Under the provisions of the Education Act 1993, from April 1994 private schools can apply for grant-maintained status. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 9]
Girls' schools came out on top in the league tables based on the results of GCSE's. In the independent sector between 65% and 75% of schools (depending on which way the results were collated) in the top 50 were girls-only. One implication of this is that some mixed state schools are considering teaching in single-sex groups.
Amongst Muslim independent schools, the results were less promising with 60% of schools being below the national average. The two top performers were the Islamia School in Brent and the Al-Hijrah School in Birmingham, both of which far exceeded the national average. One worrying point in these results is that the subject balance tends to favour ethnic languages and Religious Studies rather than the core subjects of English, Maths and Science. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 9]
Concern was expressed by parents when they found that the reception classes of five year-olds in the independent Leicester Grammar Junior School were divided along racial grounds. The school claimed that this came about by accident as the class lists had been drawn up on the criterion of ability alone but it turned out that there was one all-white class and the other had only children from Asian families. The school has undertaken to ensure that this cannot happen in future years. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 9/10]
A Muslim father who unsuccessfully appealed against his daughter having to attend a mixed secondary school in Hull ended up by keeping her away from school at the start of term. Within a week of the start of the school term a place became available at a girls' school and the Muslim pupil was able to take it. Her father claimed it as a victory but local education chiefs said that the vacancy was due to the fact that the girl to whom the place had originally been awarded failed to arrive for the new term. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10]
Following the decision by the High Court that Bradford LEA had not acted in a discriminatory way (see BMMS for August 1993) Muslim parents have made alternative arrangements for their children's education. The girls have been awarded places at a local Muslim girls' school and a Muslim community school is to be set up to educate the boys. The boys' school will rely on volunteer teachers to deliver as much of the National Curriculum as possible. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10]
There was rejoicing in Normanton, Derbyshire, when the school agreed to change its school uniform to allow Muslim girls to wear shalwar and kameez in school colours rather than the normal school uniform. The school has placed its emphasis on particular colours rather than set styles of dress so pupils are free to wear whatever they like as long as it conforms to the stipulated colour scheme. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10]
The madrassa run by the Keighley Muslim Association in Highfield Lane has outgrown its present building and will be moving to a former church in Albert Street. The move will provide the additional space to expand the centre's teaching work. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10]
The local council has backed a scheme to build a mosque and madrassa on an open site in the Soothill area of the town in spite of protests from local residents that it should be kept as a recreation area for everyone. The plans will now have to go before the planning authority. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10]
Plans to extend the Masjid-E-Causia in Chester Street have been altered so that they provide 40 on-site parking places and the building is angled so that it does not directly face neighbouring houses. The extension will serve as a meeting hall. Planning permission is expected imminently. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10]
Detailed plans have been submitted by the Frizinghall Islamic Association for a new building on a site in Shipley Fields Road. Outline planning permission was granted some two years ago but this is the first time that detailed plans have been submitted. The plans show a 35 feet high hexagonal building which is 60 feet wide at its widest point. It will be used as a cultural centre to teach Arabic and other ethnic minority languages. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 10/11]
Muslims in Inverness have not been able to find a suitable building locally to purchase for a mosque. They have bought a caravan, which will be parked behind an Indian restaurant, to serve as a place to pray and educate children until they find a suitable building. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 11]
A mosque in Cambridge Road, Smethwick, which was allowed to function by virtue of a temporary permit from the Department of the Environment has now been granted permanent permission by the local council. Two petitions were submitted from local residents, one supported the mosque and the other opposed it. The council has decided that the mosque, run by the Bangladeshi Muslim Welfare Association, represents an acceptable use of the premises. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 11]
Negotiations over the sale of land presently owned by the local council for the erection of a mosque in the Ferndale Road area of Swindon are continuing (see BMMS for August 1993). There is a strong local group who oppose the sale on the grounds that it will deprive the whole community of recreation space. There have been charges of racism levelled against this group but they have been strongly denied. The question looks set to cause a major split in the local Labour Party, which controls the council. The majority of the Labour councillors support the plan but some prominent members have joined the opposition. [BMMS September 1993 Vol. I, No. 9, p. 11]
The mosque in Bull Lane which was damaged by a firebomb last year is to be extended and refurbished with the prayer room being doubled in size, the addition of library and recreation room, the erection of a minaret and the inclusion of arched windows. ***