Muslim leader says more must be done to accommodate Muslims in our schools

A prominent spokesperson for the Muslim community in Ireland has called for radical changes to be made to the education system.

The Irish Times reports that Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre (affliated with the Clonskeagh Mosque) has called in a new book for reform of school admissions policies, as well as latitude for Muslim values to be reflected in the teaching of PE, relationship and sexuality education, and music classes.

In his new book, Islam and Education in Ireland, Dr Selim says that “a revolution of inclusivity” was need in Irish schools along with “an upheaval in Irish educational perspectives”.

This was necessary to accommodate the needs of a society which is now “home to a variety of Christian denominations, as well as people of other faiths and of none.”

Estimating that of approximately 65,000 Muslims in Ireland today as many as 20,000 would be in the under-18 school-going age, Dr Selim writes that, “Gaining admission to Irish schools is a challenge for Muslims” He described as “legal discrimination” section 15 of the 1998 Education Act which allows faith schools to give preference to pupils of their own faith. It was a “major problem for non-Catholic children who apply to them because of proximity or quality of education”, he says.

Dr Selim, who lectures in the Mater Dei Institute and Trinity College, also said that the state's RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education) programme was problematic for Muslim students, saying the programme had “crucial differences” with Islam, (which) forbids pre- and extramarital sexual relations, whereas RSE perceives sexual relations outside wedlock as part of normal practices.”

He suggests there is “a clash of values” also between Islam and “traditional ways of teaching PE”. In some schools, “under the guise of health and safety, Muslim girls are obliged to take off their headscarves for PE classes, which is not acceptable to them”.

Where schools were “persistent”, they should “employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. They should also not be visible to men while at play.”

Dr Selim also spoke about teaching and playing music, saying that some kinds would be prohibited, but “if music is performed using non-tuneable percussion instruments such as drums, most Muslims will have no problem”.