An Iman helps a young boy learn The Koran at The Central Mosque in Luton, UK.
(photo credit: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP)
The heads of a British network of Islamic schools has announced that it will recommend that its members institute classes in Judaic studies in order to “reciprocate” the recent call by the country’s chief rabbi for Jewish schools to educate their pupils about Islam.
On Wednesday, Ashfaque Chowdhury, of the 130-member-strong Association of Muslim Schools, told the Jewish News that while he had originally intended to urge constituent schools to teach both Catholicism and Judaism, he would “primarily” push Judaism “to show respect” for Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s statement.
“I also feel that amongst Abrahamic religions, Islam and Judaism are most similar,” Chowdhury, who is the head teacher at a Muslim school in Luton, was quoted as saying.
Several prominent European rabbis, including Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, had called for Muslim reciprocity in the wake of the chief rabbi’s call.
In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle published last week, Mirvis took a radically different position than he had expressed in the past, when he and representatives of other Orthodox organizations advocated against the push for British schools to include a second faith in their religious studies curriculum.
“It is more important than ever that our children have a better understanding of Islam and that we build strong relationships with British Muslims. As such, the chief rabbi has recommended that schools take this opportunity to teach students Islam, a faith which is widely discussed but often poorly understood in public discourse,” a spokesman for the rabbi told the Jewish newspaper.
According to media reports, at least two Jewish schools will begin Islamic studies lessons, although opposition to the move remains, with the head of the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools calling the new curricular requirements an “unwarranted intrusion into religious freedoms.”
In an email to the Jerusalem Post last week, Omer El-Hamdoon, the president of the Muslim Association of Britain, praised Mirvis, saying that “the more schools teach about other religions, the more understanding will prevail among children, which can only be a positive thing.”
“The news that the Association of Muslim Schools will now be recommending to its members that they teach Judaism to their students is extremely significant,” Mirvis told the Post on Thursday.
“We often talk about tolerance and understanding between communities as an ideal, but education is the vehicle that will get us there. It is so important that every child learns from a young age that all people are created in the image of God, no matter what their faith or ethnicity, and it is my hope that other Muslim schools will follow their lead.”