Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jewish Schools

A judge ruled this week that JFS, a Jewish school in London, was not guilty of racial discrimination when it refused to admit a Jewish boy because his mother was not born a Jew (she was a born a Catholic but converted before he was born). The judge claimed that the kind of admissions policy in question was "not materially different from that which gives preference in admission to a Muslim school to those who were born Muslim, or preference in admission to a Catholic school to those who have been baptised."

I think this is questionable. There is nothing in Islam or Catholicism (or indeed many strands of Judaism) that requires the mother, father or child to be "born" into that religion on some kind of ethnic basis. After conversion, or reversion, whatever that person used to be is irrelevant and they become a fully paid up member of the religion who in theory at least cannot be discriminated against. I tend to agree with the parent position that the school admission code contained a test "not based on faith but wholly or partly on ethnic origins" - something which is surely against race discrimination legislation?

Of course, it may not be that simple. Unlike Islam and Christianity, which seek to convert all of humanity to their cause, Judaism tends to be a religion one is born into rather than converted to, and has a history based around the ethnicity and traditions of a people. If we considered the refusal to admit a person with a non-Jewish mother as unlawful racial discrimination, we would be attacking the Orthodox version of the religion itself.

My experience of Jewish schools is shaped mainly from the excellent nearby King David Primary School in Birmingham, on which Jeremy Jacobs has written an excellent article on here. My mum always used to tell me that they did not admit Catholics into this school, not for any religious reasons but simply because there were so many Catholic schools in Birmingham to serve the Catholic community, but they welcomed applications from other religions and not least Muslims who were more than happy to apply in the absence of any Islamic schools which only became available relatively recently. I remember going to this King David's on a visit from my Catholic primary in order to learn about Jewish traditions, although to be honest at that age we tended to be more interested in having running races with the pupils of that school during break time than learning the traditions of Passover. Boys will be boys.

The admissions policy of King David Primary probably put a seed in my mind that Jews and Muslims make natural allies, something I still tend to believe and promote today, a position which has become more entrenched as I learn more about the history of Europe and the Middle-East. While there is no doubt the issue of Israel has sullied relations between the two religions in recent years, and there have been periods of intolerance between the religions before then, I believe that these positions tend to be promoted by certain groups for short-term political gain, and are not an accurate reflection of the much more complicated relationship that has existed between the two religions.

Do people have any thoughts on this? Is King David the exception rather than the rule and do I have a warped understanding of the relationship between Islam and Judaism as a result. And is JFS discriminating racially by not allowing in children born to non-Jewish mothers even when they have converted. I would be interested to know what you think.


JPH said...

It seems reasonable to me that the school takes it lead on who is or isn't Jewish from the United Synagogue. In that sense they are not making a decision themselves but following guidance from the leaders of the Jewish community they reside in.

So, is the United Synagogue itself racist in not recognising proselytes as "proper" Jews? Probably, though I have a vague memory of a biologically separate Jews (from India?) being completely accepted a long time ago as fully Jewish, so on that basis it's not a race thing. I also believe Jews don't think of themselves as a race, but stand to be corrected here.

I don't know if we should have faith schools at all. They only seem to make sense if they are exclusive, yet this goes against mixing different cultures together at a young age which I believe is vital if you want understanding between different groups.

IftikharA said...


London School of Islamics is an educational Trust. Its aim is to make
British public, institutions and media aware of the needs and demands of the
Muslim community in the field of education and possible solutions.

Slough Islamic school Trust Slough had a seminar on Muslim
education and schools in Thames Valley Atheltic Centre. The seminar was
addressed by the education spokesman of MCB. I could not attend the seminar
but I believe lot of Muslims from Slough and surrounding areas must have
attended. Very soon, the Muslims of Slough will have a state funded Muslim
school but there is a need for more schools. A day will come when all Muslim
children will attend state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim
teachers as role model.

Muslim schools are not only faith schools but they are more or less
bilingual schools.

Bilingual Muslim children need to learn standard English to follow the
National Curriculum and go for higher studies and research to serve
humanity. They need to be well versed in Arabic to recite and understand the
Holy Quran. They need to be well versed in Urdu and other community
languages to keep in touch with their cultural roots and enjoy the beauty of
their literature and poetry.

Bilingualism is an asset but the British schooling regards it as a
problem. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not
want to become notoriously monolingual Brit. Pakistan is only seven hours
from London and majority of British Muslims are from Pakistan.

More than third of British Muslim have no qualifications. British school
system has been failing large number of Muslims children for the last 60
years. Muslim scholars see the pursuit of knowledge as a duty, with the
Quran containing several verses to the rewards of learning. 33% of British
Muslims of working age have no qualifications and Muslims are also the least
likely to have degrees or equivalent qualifications. Most of estimated
500,000 Muslim school-aged pupils in England and Wales are educated in the
state system with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. Majority of them are
underachievers because they are at a wrong place at a wrong time.

Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual
Muslim teachers during their developmental periods. There is no place for a
non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. As far as higher education
is concerned, Muslim students can be educated with others. Let Muslim
community educate its own children so that they can develop their own
Islamic, cultural and linguistic identities and become usefull members of
the British society rather than becoming a buden.

We are living in an English speaking country and English is an
international language, therefore, we want our children to learn and be well
versed in standard English and at the same time well versed in Arabic, Urdu
and other community languages. Is there anything wrong with this approach?

It is not only the Muslim community who would like to send their children to
Muslim school. Sikh and Hindu communities have started setting up their
schools. Last week. British Black Community has planned the first all black
school with Black teachers in Birmingham.

Scotland's first state funded Muslim school could get the go-ahead within
months after First Munister Alex Salmond declared he was sympathetic towards
the needs and demands of the Muslim community.

Iftikhar Ahmad
London School of Islamics Trust

Louis said...

JPH - When I say it is a race thing perhaps I really mean "hereditary" The point is that a person cannot get in whatever they do unless they are born to the right people which I think is wrong. Interestingly the school did lose a ruling in regards to its race equality policy, althought this is a technicality and quite a separate issue:

Iftikhar Ahmad - I think you raise some very interesting and correct points regarding Muslim schools. Your argument in theory should be espoused by the right who believe in free choice and tailoring schools to specific student groups - hence their support of grammar schools - although when it comes to Muslim schools I would not hold my breath for their support.

I disagree with you that such schools should only be for Muslims and would have no non-Muslim pupils or teachers. This would entrench segregation. The biggest flaw in the argument is that is seems to claim all Muslim children have similar needs, predominantly coming from Pakistan. There are many Somalian, Bosnian, and indeed Bangladeshi children who have come from a different culture and language with there own educational needs who should not just be lumped under the label "Muslim". Can you back up the statement that there is going to be a black only school in Birmingham? I would be surprised if this would be allowed under race legislation but as you can see I am no expert.