Muslim schools across Britain will be urged to teach Judaism as a second faith after several Jewish schools vowed to heed the Chief Rabbi’s call for lessons on Islam, writes Justin Cohen
The government have announced changes to the curriculum which mean schools must from September devote at least 25 percent of the religious studies GCSE course to teaching about a second faith.
Just days after Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis recommended that Jewish schools take the opportunity to promote better interfaith understanding, the Association of Muslim Schools, which has 130 member schools, revealed it will write to member schools urging them to “reciprocate”.
Chairman Ashfaque Chowdhury told the Jewish News: “We were hoping to recommend Catholicism and Judaism as we can complement the teaching by visits to each other’s schools and joint activities between students. We feel it will contribute to community cohesion, British values and interfaith relations. I also feel that amongst Abrahamic religions Islam and Judaism are most similar.”
Chowdhury is head teacher at Alhikmah school in Luton, which has already committed to teaching Judaism, and he said around 20 others heads had expressed initial interest in following suit during a conference last month.
In the wake of the Chief Rabbi’s comments, his organisation would “primarily” recommend the teaching of Judaism “to show respect” for his stance, which he predicted would be a catalyst for the move to become widespread.
The office of the Chief Rabbi told Jewish News: “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. 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”.
JFS and Immanuel College indicated this week they will teach Islam as a second faith, with the former’s headteacher Jonathan Miller saying: “While we remain concerned that adequate time be given to the study of Judaism, we welcome the guidance of the Chief Rabbi in helping us to decide that Islam will be the second religion taught at GCSE.
“Our students will relish this addition to our curriculum and we welcome the opportunity to enhance our students’ understanding of their own religion alongside an increased understanding of others.”
Partnerships for Jewish Schools (PaJeS) will run training sessions to help prepare teachers for this element of the syllabus while it has also announced plans for a conference for non-Jewish schools on teaching Judaism, in partnership with the Board of Deputies. It said: “We have received a very positive response and are expecting approximately 100 teachers to attend this event in London. We are currently gauging the demand for a further conference in Birmingham and one in Manchester.”
The Chief Rabbi’s guidance came despite him describing the loss of time for teaching about Judaism as part of GCSE as a “serious loss”. But Jonathan Rabson, Executive Director of NAJOS (National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools) said: “We continue to regard the introduction of the requirement of a second faith in the teaching of religious studies GCSE as an unwarranted intrusion into religious freedoms.”