Source: Common Ground News
London - Studies show that poor educational attainment and professionalunderachievement are prevalent amongst young British Muslims. TheJoseph Rowntree Foundation, an independent development and socialresearch charity, found that British Muslims are less upwardly mobilethan their Hindu, Christian and Jewish counterparts. This trend appearsconsistent across Europe, where Muslims are almost three times morelikely to be unemployed than non-Muslims.
Because Muslims are one of the most insular and least economicallyadvantaged groups in Europe, there is a real need to raise aspirations,increase opportunity and mainstream the involvement of young Muslims insociety. Local mosques and madrasahs can help.
Britain has an estimated 1,600 madrasahs, weekend or after-schoolreligious learning centres, most of which are associated with mosques.As many as 200,000 Muslim children of all ethnic backgrounds - agedfour to mid-teens - attend these madrasahs. The schools range fromoffering rote learning of religious texts to interactive places whereIslamic teaching and mainstream school subjects are taught in fun andcreative ways.
Mosque-based madrasahs remain popular with British Muslim families,as they are often the only places where basic Islamic education isavailable to children. As such, it makes them a largely untapped marketfor exposing young students to professional and aspirationaldevelopment.
Unfortunately, some madrasahs are disconnected from the real worldand the potential for children to achieve their full potential goeslargely unrealised. A recent Open Society Institute report, "Muslims inEurope: A Report on 11 EU Cities", confirmed that teaching methods inmany madrasahs, which include rote learning and strict discipline, areoften out of tune with contemporary educational thinking and practice,failing to nurture the skills essential for success in the modernworkplace.
Another report by the Islamic Foundation's Policy Research Centreshowed a need for more "joined-up thinking" between messages emanatingfrom madrasahs and those from mainstream education providers. The needfor greater engagement between mosques and professional sectors iscrucial in building confidence and broadening horizons for Muslims inBritain and across Europe.
One such scheme has been launched by CEDAR(www.thecedarnetwork.com), a European Muslim professional network. Ithas partnered with Young Enterprise, the UK's leading business andenterprise education charity, to work in collaboration with mosques toprovide professional mentoring sessions within mosques themselves. Thisinnovative approach synergises the special connections many youngMuslims have with their local mosque with the wealth of professionalexperience of CEDAR mentors, helping to provide a learning experiencethat young Muslims can really engage in.
The mentoring programme seeks not only to raise the aspirations ofyoung Muslims, but also to make introductions with Muslim professionalswho can act as career role models with whom they can build long-termconnections.
For example, a recent event held at Tawhid Mosque in London saw aninteractive session consisting of a range of experiential learningactivities for the mosque's madrasah students and other local youth.This included life mapping (tools and techniques to help young peopleplan for the life they want), skills development and a competition forthe best social enterprise business plan involving the building of acommunity centre. This competition encouraged students to think of thepractical needs of their local community - comprised of Muslims andnon-Muslims - beyond those of their own faith community.
Unusually, the mosque - considered to be one of the more sociallyconservative in Britain - allowed a mixed group of boys and girls towork together, and saw the value of a programme which allowed Muslimchildren to be productive in an environment more akin to the realworld.
After the session, 13-year-old Bassim el-Sheikh reflected on whathe had learnt: "My confidence is much better now; my teamwork is muchbetter; my listening skills and talking skills are much better."
Mosques in Britain are slowly trying to make themselves morerelevant to youth, women and non-Muslims. The larger mosques areseeking to become more holistic centres, not just places of worship,offering English classes, basic computer courses, gym facilities andregular interfaith events.
The more that mosques and madrasahs can be plugged into mainstreamsociety, raising the aspirations of the young Muslims that attend themand providing key life skills, the greater the chances of preventingthe mental and physical ghettoisation which has afflicted some Britishand European Muslim communities, and of contributing to improved levelsof education and professional advancement.
* Asim Siddiqui is a founding board member of CEDAR, and a foundingtrustee of the City Circle. This article was written for the CommonGround News Service (CGNews).