23rd November 2010
On the 22nd November 2010 the BBC aired a Panorama programme entitled “British Schools, Islamic Rules”. This programme aimed to investigate the “disturbing evidence” that some Muslim schools were providing a platform to “extremist preachers” and “fundamentalist Islamic groups”. The programme also attempted to “expose” the extreme, anti-Semitic and homophobic material found within the curriculum of some Islamic schools.
In short, the programme misrepresented established Islamic teachings on a range of issues in a
manner that portrayed them as crude and insensitive whilst linking them to social unrest and violence.
In a statement by Saqib Sattar, Vice-Chairman of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), he said “The attack on Muslim schools as an institution is both ill-informed and misguided. Muslim schools constantly achieve high academic standards with students continuously becoming highly responsible members of society, contributing positively to the public good. No ‘hard’ evidence has ever been presented otherwise. Muslim Schools have excelled in this regard, due in no small part to their ethos which is rooted in the Islamic scholarly tradition which provides an objective and cohesive basis for social values and norms, something which we find lacking in our increasingly secular society. The irony is that most of our social ills stem from the failure of state schools and society at large to provide such grounding, leading ever more conscientious parents to choose private or faith schools for their children’s secondary education. Faith schools and communities are providing that important moral voice for our society, making their presence felt through social welfare projects across the country. The contribution of faith communities should actually be championed and not maligned.”
The BBC has shown that it does not have the ability to convey the reality of the Islamic tradition. iERA condemns such irresponsible and sensationalist programmes. It is obvious that this Panorama programme has been designed to attract viewers without engaging their minds. Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, iERA’s media representative said, “The attack on mainstream Islamic speakers because they hold established theological views is making the job of community cohesion difficult, as is the constant misconstruing or lack of context with regards to their statements. The programme-makers would have been better served to look deeply into the Islamic scholarly tradition and its historical impact, and they would have found a beautiful model
of community cohesion. For example it is a well known historical fact that Islam and Muslims for centuries have been offering protection to the Jewish community.
A contemporary Jewish Historian Zion Zohar for instance has written that Jews used to see Muslims as liberators from Christian persecution. There is a whole corpus of historical and theological material that strongly indicates conclusions that contrast with the content of the Panorama programme. Another example includes the Jewish Historian Amnon Cohen who writes that Jewish people, particularly women, used to go to Islamic authorities for adjudication of disputes even though they were always given the option to go to Rabbinical courts.
The reality that Islam has ensured security and peace for the Jewish people is not a historical accident, it is engrained in the Islamic traditional sources. For instance the Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessing be upon Him) said that ‘whoever harms a non-Muslim [under Muslim protection] harms me’. Additionally the Qur’an, the holy book of the Muslims, states in its 60th chapter ‘And He does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just”. The difference between political confrontation and communal engagement has always been clear in the Islamic tradition.
It is very surprising that the BBC ignored this fact, and shows once again that it has prioritised sensationalism over substance.
For many Muslims, Islamic law is an important part of their lives. Islamic law covers politics, economics, criminal law, business, contracts, family life, hygiene, social issues and many more. There are similarities with Western secular law in terms of the rights it gives and the principles and values that it upholds. To reduce Islamic law to criminal punishments is a caricature of a comprehensive legal and social framework.”
Sattar further adds “The decontextualised references to cutting the hand of the thief and other criminal punishments in the programme are the equivalent of claiming that British law is unjustbecause it has short sentences for rapists without even taking into consideration the social and jurisprudential context of the British legal system. For example, Professor of Law at Harvard University Noah Feldman has tried to educate the west on Islamic punishments. He states “Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah [Islamic law] for a
handful of offences, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation.”
To warmly articulate the Islamic worldview and demystify the negative image this programme attempted to paint of Islam and Muslims, iERA will be distributing their new CD “Another View” and a leaflet clarifying the BBC’s misconceptions across the UK, and also on the morning of Monday 29 th December 2010 outside the BBC Headquarters with specific educational packs for the programme makers.