On 7 February the Department for Education (DfE) launched a consultation on Reform of the National Curriculum in England. It ends today (16 April). The DfE has already published a draft curriculum specification for 12 school subjects. In History, the Islamic contribution to this country remains almost entirely absent.
In June last year an education group made up of Muslim and non-Muslim academics, Curriculum for Cohesion (CfC), submitted a proposal ‘A Broader, Truer History for All’ to the National Curriculum Review for History. It urged the Government to adopt a history curriculum that was relevant to the diverse school populations of our times – including Muslim students. It did not ask for any special favours to the Muslim community. The recommendations were flatly ignored and now we are on the deadline for final submissions to the DfE’s reform proposals. It is a shame matters have come to this.
The National Curriculum Review (page 166) states that the purpose of studying History seeks to provide ‘…a knowledge of Britain’s past, and our place in the world, helps us understand the challenges of our own time.’ This can hardly be achieved if the interaction of Europe and the Muslim world over the ages is absent from school curriculum. We cannot ignore historical facts, such as the contribution of Muslim service personnel during two world wars; or the fascinating relationship that existed between Richard the Lionheart and Saladdin during the Third Crusade; and the discussions of forming an alliance between Elizabeth I and the Sultan of Morocco to confront an imminent Spanish Armada!
The Muslim contribution to British culture and history is far too strong to be ignored in this chronological history. For example, the Muslim contribution in the development of scientific ideas and technological inventions is an established fact. Ibn Sinna (Avicenna) still remains the patron figure of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, for example.
Professor Nabil Matar, a US academic, has discussed the interaction of Elizabethan England and the Muslim world in several books, including in ‘Islam in Britain 1558 -1685’. British academic Professor Humayun Ansari’s ‘The Infidel Within’ gives a broad account of Muslims in Britain since 1800; his ‘Minutes Book’ of the historic East London Mosque provides an insight on the emergence of the Muslim community in the early 20th century London.
The DfE’s response implies that our education leaders in the National Curriculum for History (NCH) are not yet ready to accommodate the Muslim contribution to human civilisation nor ready to accept the cultural heritage of 4.8% of the population in England and Wales and approximately 10% of the children in English schools.
At a time when Islamophobia is becoming socially acceptable in Britain it is vital we help build confidence among Muslim children of their rich heritage and provide opportunities for a better understanding of fellow Muslim citizens among the rest of the population.
The exclusive nature of the draft National Curriculum for History (NCH) has created resentment amongst mainstream education bodies. The Association of School and College leaders has said curriculum changes were ‘rushed’ and could ‘create chaos’.The head of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, echoed his concerns – ‘if teachers don’t believe in the curriculum it won’t work.’ The Historical Association asserts that the content of the draft Programmes of Study are ‘far too narrow in their focus on British political history…’
Why should we include Muslim achievements and contribution to all the Key Stages of the history curriculum? Because they are true and because it will help young Muslims identify positively with Britain and its history. The history curriculum could be one area which they can relate to in terms of their own family and cultural histories; this could be a real opportunity for them to become stake-holders in the cultural and political life of the land.
In his keynote lecture at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford in 1993 HRH Prince Charles noted, “… there is also much ignorance about the debt our culture and civilisation owes to the Islamic world.”
Compulsory Holocaust Studies and related school trips have contributed to minimising right-wing anti-Semitism in the playground. Positive curriculum material in history could help significantly reduce Islamophobia.
School children could, for example, be provided with curriculum-related educational visits, including to the Royal Observatory to learn contributions of Muslim astronomers. This recognition of social and cultural diversity in the history curriculum would be extremely valuable in building self-belief within Muslim children; it would also help bust a myth among others that Muslim youth are a ‘problem’.
The OSCE Guidelines in 2011 for ‘Educators on Countering Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims’ stated: “Discriminatory and intolerant behaviour can be nourished by false and misleading representations of Muslims. Of particular relevance in school settings are inaccurate and misleading representations of Muslims and Islam in textbooks.”
We need a culture shift in our public discourse. The continuous absence of the history of Islamic civilisation and of the longstanding Muslim connection with Britain in the history curriculum is untenable in our current social reality. It is time Muslim children are seen as our national asset; it is time we have an inclusive national curriculum of history in our schools.