|Abdullah Trevathan is Head Teacher of Islamia Primary School. He embraced Islam in the mid-seventies and has had a multitude of jobs from working in theatre to farming. He lives in Buckinghamshire with his very large and extended family.
Firstly, congratulations on the 20th Anniversary of Islamia School, which is quite an achievement. Can you tell us about the initial vision that underpinned the setting up of a Muslim school in the heart of London?
In the early eighties Yusuf Islam and a few parents, (which included myself) came together to see what could be done about setting up a school for Muslims. Looking back now there were two different motivations shared by two different types of parents; namely parents who were either born in this country and who were interested in pioneering a Muslim approach to teaching and viewing the state system education as influencing children in secular and materialist modes of being and thinking and therefore inherently un-spiritual. The other type of parents were those who had emigrated to Britain and were more prone to a protectionist mindset. They felt frightened by their encounter with the west, particularly in relation to their children and the influence of western mores. There is a significant difference between these two perspectives so there was a strange but potent mix of pro-active and reactionary motives behind the initial vision of the school. I think ultimately the former has won out we are more engaged in creating a British Muslim culture than attempting to preserve a particular culture.
How important do you feel it is for Muslim children to attend Muslim schools?
After several years of thought on the subject and experience in both Muslim and state schools I don't believe there is an easy answer to this. I have met wonderfully conscientious Muslims who have been educated in non-Muslims schools and I have met ill behaved, ignorant children educated in Muslims schools. I think what is important is that there is a choice for Muslim parents and that we have educational diversity. Obviously we have a lot to offer as a Muslim school as we can provide a strong sense of identity so that there are fewer propensities for identity crises in the teen years with the possible attendant ills of fanaticism and extremism. Because of the self-esteem and confidence engendered by the fact that there is such a strong link between the home and the school culture children tend to flourish here. It is this, which lies behind our academic success in being ranked consistently in the top three schools of Brent.
I know this is a difficult question, but from your experiences, do you feel that the children who have attended your school emerge with a closer relationship with God than Muslim children educated within mainstream secular schools?
We have to differentiate between memorising Qur'an and 'feeling and being' Qur'an. Let's just say that there is the possibility of more of a 'spiritual literacy' with a larger number of children that is obtained through collectively educating them in this way. But there is no getting away from the fact that the parents and the home environment are the most crucial factors in a child's spiritual and, indeed, whole development. For this reason home educators, and there are an increasing number of Muslims opting for this, are able to effect their children's holistic development profoundly.
Islamia was the first Muslim school to be awarded grant-maintained status. How important was this development and how has it affected the running of the school?
Being connected to the state system has been beneficial for the general development of policies and procedures within an educational institution like ours. We also have more access to general resources than previously though we still require a significant amount of money from our school community. Voluntary Aided Schools like ours receive 85% funding from the Government and the religious community meets the 15% left. The LEA advises and provides us with the legal and curricular support that they give to all schools under their remit. We have absolutely no interference from them in our teaching of the deen [religion]. As a result of its being the first Muslim state funded school we are well known and get many visitors, which is a very natural and effective form of dawa'. Islamia is not just a school as in many ways we are also a social centre many people have come to us for help in their daily interfacing with the wider non Muslim community perhaps because we ourselves are on the frontline; dealing with the myriad of social problems experienced by Muslim children and families. We are applying our basic understanding of this deen to modern contemporary issues faced by people here and now. With the greatest of respect to many of the Imams we currently have in this country and there are many wonderful exceptions but through no fault of their own many of the problems faced by people in their daily lives are not ones, which many of our imams have encountered previously. This can be especially the case if they have been educated within the Muslim homelands and not exposed to the peculiarities of western life.
I understand there will be a celebration at the world-famous Royal Albert Hall marking the 20th Anniversary of Islamia. What do you have planned?
This will be a cultural manifestation of the flowering of British Islam and I think that it is significant that it is based around the school. The planning of that has been left generally to the man behind all of the Islamia schools phenomena Yusuf Islam. All I can tell you now is that we have a group of our children participating with some well known people blessed with wonderful voices and rhythm. The rest will have to be a surprise!
What improvements would you like to see in the education of Muslim children over the next 20 years both at Islamia School and in the wider society?
We need people to do research into developing a new innovative educational philosophy based on the principles of the deen. It would be good to be contributors to the educational debate in this country. We need to develop more resources, which reflect a traditional, sacred, classical and spiritual perspective of life and the world around us. The teaching of Arabic for non-Arabs is another long running lack in our educational armoury. I would like to see more innovative approaches from Muslim schools and things like the tending of animals-horse riding, the tending of plants, archery and other similar practical based activities placed at the core of the curriculum. Also very important is to have children who are very knowledgeable about environmental issues.
To order tickets and/or obtain further details about Islamia's Night of Remembrance visit: http://www.yusufislam.org.uk/nightofremembrance/