The Islamic school that ensures its boys understand the Israeli point of view

Aug 7, 2018 by

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The private Abrar Academy is pioneering a groundbreaking method of teaching the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict

More than 550,000 students took GCSE history this summer, says Michael Davies, a history teacher at Lancaster Royal Grammar, a selective state boys’ school in Lancashire. “Of those, only 2,200 had studied Israel and Palestine. In comparison, 70,000 had studied the history of the American West.”

At Abrar Academy, a private Muslim boys’ school based in a former Methodist church in Preston, this year’s GCSE cohort did not take the Israel/Palestine option. Like so many schools of all dominations, they studied the first world war instead.

It’s not that the boys aren’t interested, says Suhayl Hafiz, curriculum manager, during the eerily quiet lunch break: “Palestine is the third holiest site in Islam, and the conflict is something all the boys have heard about, whether at the mosque or at home or in school.”

It was their history teacher’s decision, he says, as a group of boys in long white tunics play barefoot football downstairs where the pews used to be. “They weren’t really confident at that time.” It’s something Davies has often heard: “Teachers are scared of it. It’s a hot potato. They are worried about upsetting parents or the kids saying something which will be reported to the authorities, and so they teach the Tudors instead.”

Yet towards the end of Abrar’s summer term, Hafiz accepted an offer from Davies to teach a class on one of the most divisive conflicts in the modern world. It was a big moment for Davies, who has set up a project called Parallel Histories, which teaches Israel/Palestine from both sides rather than “twisting competing perspectives into a single, compromised narrative”.

In June he organised an event at the House of Lords to discuss why so few schools dare to teach this difficult and often very emotional topic. None of the 20 or so Muslim schools he invited came. A few Jewish institutions did, encouraged by Samantha Benson, director of education at the Partnership for Jewish Schools.

It was disappointing but not a surprise. “Muslim schools are acutely aware of the potential for bad publicity after the Trojan Horse affair,” says Davies, referring to a scandal in some Birmingham schools in 2013 and 2014 when hardline Muslims were accused of conspiring to take over local schools and running them according to strict Islamic principles.

Source: The Islamic school that ensures its boys understand the Israeli point of view | Education | The Guardian

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