Madrassas modernise to meet needs of British Muslims

A modern Koran class in Bradford Modern madrassa classroom in inner city Bradford

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For many young Muslims who have been born and brought up in the UK, going to the mosque to attend religious classes in madrassas can bring back unhappy memories.

Getting shouted at by teachers who could not speak English was a common complaint.

Abid Hussain, from the Keighley Muslim Association in West Yorkshire, says that up until the last few years, children often got frustrated because they could not understand Punjabi or Urdu.

"Their mosque teachers were having problems with their English and this caused problems," he said.

"Thankfully this situation is now changing and most madrassas who don't employ British-born imams usually have one or two teachers who were educated in this country."

Most mosques have their own madrassa or religious school. Larger mosques can have a number of them, and they all form an integral part of the local community.

English 'mother tongue'

In close knit neighbourhoods most Muslim children regularly attend their local madrassa, in part due to peer pressure, as everyone living near the mosque does so. But in recent years that situation seems to have changed as many madrassas are attempting to modernise.

That has led to some children transferring from one madrassa to another as parents seek institutions where their children will receive an Islamic education given in English, which is also a safe and happy environment.

Bradford is home to around 85 mosques and madrassas. They are usually situated in heavily populated areas.

Start Quote

You can learn so much more in your own mother tongue language and for us that's English”

End Quote Hamza, aged 12, student at Victor Street Mosque Madrasah

The Victor Street Mosque in Manningham is a converted church hall and is run by Jamiat Tabligh ul-Islam, an Islamic organisation which also operates 16 other mosques in the city, all having their own madrassas.

Despite the building's old facade some of the rooms inside have been been converted into modern classrooms with white board facilities and computers which are used to teach children from the age of four.

Unlike older mosques, children sit at desks and chairs, instead of the floor, and although everyone has to learn Arabic so they can read the Koran, classes are taught in English.

Mohammed Sarfaraz is one of the teachers who works here. He said: "It's different to when we grew up when we could not understand Urdu very well. In my class we all speak English as it is the mother tongue of all the students.

"The benefits are that they learn quicker and they remember more, and at the end of the day what they learn, they can put to use in their everyday lives."

Twelve-year-old Hamza used to go to another madrassa in Bradford, where he was taught in Urdu. But his parents found he was not learning anything, and moved him to Victor Street mosque.

"I'm now doing good because I can understand my teacher, what he's saying, I've grown up my whole life speaking English and I can't really understand Urdu."

Islamic teacher Shakh Abdul Wajid Shaykh Abdul Wajid heads a team of Islamic teachers

Shaykh Abdul Wajid heads the teaching staff at the Victor Street Mosque. He said: "Our syllabus has changed and we teach our children through love. But it is not only in the classroom as we organise sporting events and take the kids out so they can form a better bond with their teachers."

The majority of mosques and madrassas in Bradford are affiliated to the Bradford Council for Mosques. Spokesman Ishtiaq Ahmed said: "Most of the Imams and teachers have been Criminal Records Bureau-checked, or this process is under way. We work closely with safeguarding initiatives, but children being slapped or harmed in anyway is not acceptable - children should feel safe."

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