Home / Analysis / Islamic Ed. Series Pt1: Indoctrination versus Cultivation

Islamic Ed. Series Pt1: Indoctrination versus Cultivation

The US led War on Terror, commonly understood by Muslims as a war on Islam, has resulted in close scrutiny of Islamic faith schools especially within Western liberal societies.  This has resulted in exacerbating the image of Islamic schools as a precursor to radicalisation.  One of the allegations against these educational institutes is the charge of indoctrination.  A charge that the government cannot ignore and a charge that I will attempt to refute by exposing the incorrect premise it is based upon. In doing so, I address the causes behind why individuals educated within a secular educational system may label Islamic education as indoctrinatory. This debate is an old and complex one involving two visions of reality, one system accepting only the physical while the other incorporating the physical within its metaphysical vision.
Liberal education is analysed through the commonly accepted Hirst and Peters’ model detailing the underlying philosophies. The concept of autonomy plays a crucial role in this debate and is viewed from the Islamic and liberal perspectives highlighting the root causes of the allegation.  Islamic education nurtures and develops both the material and spiritual nature of the human being intending to educate human beings into submitting to Almighty God.  To carry out a fair analysis, both liberal education and Islamic education shouldbe evaluated. I use Michael Leahy’s concept of indoctrination to argue the case that Islamic education need not be indoctrinatory and recommends that a fair comparison be carried out when investigating Islamic education.
The government has found itself in an awkward situation – on the one hand it cannot permit any institution to actively indoctrinate its citizens whilst on the other hand it has to allow minorities to live as they choose within a liberal society.  Of course, faith schools are a deeply contentious issue especially within a Britain that prides itself as a secular society.  Despite this there are currently over 100 Muslim schools in Britain; the taxpayer funds seven of them. However their status within British society remains seriously contested. David Bell, Chief Inspector of Schools and head of Ofsted[1], when mentioning Muslims schools said that they ‘do not fit pupils for their lives as Muslims in modern Britain’.[2]  The head of the Association of Muslim Schools challenged Bell’s comments as ‘Islamophobia’.  He explained that Ofsted had based their research upon 18 of the 50 Muslim schools as incompetent in teaching ‘tolerance’.  However, what Bell failed to highlight was that 17 of the 40 evangelical Christian schools inspected failed in the same area that is 6.5% more than the Muslim schools. Despite Bell’s clearly biased comments, the government has approved funding for further faith schools.[3] It is issues like these that highlight the very real nature of this debate.
Faith schools in Britain are not new; for centuries Christian schools have been part of this country’s tradition and history.  However, when it comes to minority faith schools such as Islamic ones, a debate erupts which fails to recognize the simple fact that ‘Muslims are the largest religious minority in Britain’.[4]  This debate can be said to be of two types, Muslims schools are divisive and appear to worsen social cohesion, and secondly, that Islamic education is indoctrinatory and prevents learners from being autonomous. 
Defenders of faith schooling argue their case in a number of ways: their academic results are generally better than the state system; parents have a right to send their children to a religious school; faith schools promote strong moral and ethical values; the state in funding these schools helpsto create a diverse society.  It could be said that as faith schools promote strong ethical and moral values this should aid social cohesion, however these arguments do not address the main philosophical issue of indoctrination and it is this issue that this thesis will be addressing.[5]
According to the ‘liberal’ concept of education indoctrination is perceived as the antithesis of what is understood by the term ‘education’. It is imperative that you understand the underlying philosophies of the liberal concept of education; therefore, I will partially focus upon the ‘liberal’ concept of education, its aims and objectives. The aims and objectives of this concept of education pave way to the notion of autonomy, which can be said to be synonymous with the term education from the liberal perspective. This will entail exploring what autonomy implies and how the liberal educational process sets out in achieving this from its philosophies. The findings from the concept of ‘liberal’ education from the second article will be contrasted with the findings from the concept of Islamic education in the third article.  It is important to detail both of these educational philosophies as this will aid my main argument and should provide the reader with a clear understanding of both educational processes. This will effectuate a deeper understanding of the inconsistency of the charge of indoctrination levied on Islamic education.
Within a liberal society such as ours, religion is treated as faith in a belief system, which is not-known-to-be-true. Using this premise, teaching any propositions which qualify this would be considered indoctrination. If such a proposition is believed to be true on a governmental level then this has serious implications with regards to the management of education within this country.  How would a government justify the funding of such educational institutes?  On the other hand if the government ceases its funding for faith schools then it might be perceived to be intolerant to the minorities which this liberal society consists of.  Alternatively, private schools might teach certain ideologies which might be perceived by the state as dangerous.  From the point of view of managing education the state has a fine line to tread between ensuring its citizens receive education whilst at the same time not be seen to curtail the freedom of its citizens in choosing a faith school for their children.


Notes: Article one: Introduction
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[1] Office for Standards in Education
[2] quoted in Meer 2007, p. 55
[3] Ibid, p. 56
[4] Parker-Jenkins 2002, p. 274
[5] Pring, 2005


About Faisal Siddique


  1. Grant S McCulloch

    Faith Schools, a big NO from me!
    I can take Ahmad’s point about faith schools results and discipline being something that British Educational Establishments could all take on board. What I can’t abide is faith schools in general. In a time of great instability between the Islamic and Christian/Jewish people, I think this is a worse way of heightening tension and intolerance.
    Segregating people away from others causes suspicion and mistrust. People always fear what they don’t understand, and as Yoda said fear turns to hate!
    I really feel that we are teetering on the edge of the Abyss in the UK and that we are one Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand moment away from total Islamic persecution.
    One of the steps I would take to eradicate the threat of this is to have all mutli faith schools. So people can get to know one another and learn from one another.
    I look at old texts with fondness, when the people of the world searched knowledge from one another and would present people with elements from their culture, national food etc. Faith schools will not help with this social cohesion.
    I am also concerned by the scientific untruths that are taught in faith schools. We are a great ape, we have been descended from apes, this is not debateable but a solid fact. It scares me the way this is taught in school whether that is Adam and Eve in Christian schools or the Islamic equivalent.
    It also leaves the non religion disenfranchised. Where are the no-faith schools, where Religion is not taught at all? This could be replaced with international studies, languages in conjunction with culture, politics and understanding.
    If I am blessed with children I will try to instil an eager mind that ask questions. I don’t want them answered with 2000 year old standard answers.

    Take care

    • Great article Grant.
      As an atheist nominal Christian married to an atheist nominal Sikh, I have no time for God stuff, as I have always regarded belief in God as a delusion, from the day I learnt the meaning of the word.
      Regarding schools, I think all religion, including the meaningless Lord’s prayer, should be banned from schools. I hate the religious indoctrination of children, and never indoctrinated ours with any sort of supernatural beliefs, but tried to teach morals by example.
      My daughter chose to be married in her local church, where her husband had been Christened, and I had no problem with this, blasting out “All things bright and beautiful” with the best of them.
      Islam has devised a particularly thorough form of indoctrination and sanctions, completely incompatible with democracy, and this is strengthened by faith schools.
      Muslims must choose between Sharia and its associated intolerances, and democratically constructed laws approved by elected politicians. Good luck.

  2. What are our strengths and weaknesses?
    This kind of article plays directly into the hands of detractors. Instead of trying to redefine Islamic education and say “Look, it’s just the same as what everyone else does, no need to panic”, we should say: This is the way we educate our children, and these are the results. If you can show us better results, we are willing to learn from you. If not, you are welcome to learn from us.
    This approach means we have to agree on what results are important. The problem with what you are referring to as the liberal approach is that they look at soft, rather than hard, results.
    Soft results are whatever wishy-washy nonsense is currently fashionable. Gard results are the sort of thing that makes you better able to behave in society, earn a living, raise a family, keep in shape, function effectively for yourself, your family, your community.
    Now, effective, results-oriented education depends on discipline. By that I don’t mean punishment for minor infractions and the mind set of Argus and a pack of bloodhounds: I mean internal self-discipline, that can fix on a goal and respect others who are doing the same. And the great thing about Islamic schools is that as long as the sexes are segregated after puberty, as long as they always dress modestly, and as long as the students have good standards of behavior, they will perform better than others in the areas that count – languages, mathematics, the hard sciences.
    Then if we concentrate on these things, while not neglecting deen-related studies, our students will always be ahead, always perform better in examinations, always seem more mature and responsible than their competitors at other schools, whether government or private.
    And then instead of debating about tolerance, or culture, or liberalism or sensitivity or inclusiveness or all the other red herrings drawn across the field of debate, we can simply say – what we do is working out for us. How are you others getting along?

    • Yes, I agree with you 100%. We need to learn to take care of our business properly and set an example. And fight with tooth if others dare to intervene it. That is it. The rest is the story of others, not ours.

    • Hello Ahmad. What you are doing is NOT right for you, otherwise why is half the Muslim world trying to relocate to the stupid, evil, inferior Christian countries? You do well here because we give you the chances you cannot find in the dysfunctional, undemocratic Muslim world. Or maybe it’s just secret reverse colonialism, but I don’t think so. Best of luck anyway!

      • Ladies and gentlemen, another fine troll specimen who remarks, on an article five years ago before the refugee crises caused by white people, as to why there are now Muslims fleeing their lands to avoid the chaos unleashed by European legacy…comedy gold…

  3. Tolerance – What do you mean by it?
    To Anon – I was wondering if you could clarify what you mean by Muslim schools being ‘tolerant’

  4. This article misses a learning opportunity and is inappropriately defensive

    When a Muslim school fails on tolerance, which is a highly regarded value in our religion, we shouldn’t be looking at how many other faith schools failed too. We should be looking at how we can change things to make sure that all Muslim schools score high on tolerance. I’ve worked at several Muslim schools before and its certainly true that tolerance needs some more emphasis.

    This article follows the line of thought we see Zionists taking so often. When Israeli human right violations are raised, they respond with ‘Well look at Iran”. Actually what they need to do is focus on their own issues, not highlight others.

    If we’re only 6.5% better than other faith schools at tolerance, then we’re not good enough. Lets stop being defensive and spend time thinking about ways to become top of the leagues in that area.

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