British values and Muslim compatibility

The publication of Lord Nash’s guidance on promoting British values in schools last year ought to raise the question of why it was ever published in the first place. The key part of the plan, we are being told, is to ensure children become valuable and fully rounded members of society who treat others with respect and tolerance, regardless of background. “We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. “This ensures young people understand the importance of respect and leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain,” the government said at the time. The question that Muslims have been asking is if any British Muslim really stands against these values in principle. Putting aside the looney fringe, such as, Anjem Choudhary and his not-so merry followers, all Muslims are agreed on not violating these values. Of course, not violating them does not mean complete and total agreement with everything that falls under them.For instance, many Muslims oppose the government’s continued support of the Israeli government and its ill-treatment of the Palestinians, but will not speak against democracy or the rule of law. Likewise, there are Muslims who believe in exclusive salvation thereby openly disagreeing with all other similar claims expressed by other religions. This does not mean that Muslims will not tolerate these different beliefs. Disagreement over life-style choices is part of the freedoms of living in Britain and provided these disagreements do not lead to hatred and a lack of respect for others to hold these views, what’s the problem? Take the examples given by the government in regards to the understanding and knowledge pupils are expected to learn. These include, among other things: an understanding of how citizens can influence decision-making through the democratic process; an understanding that the freedom to hold other faiths and beliefs is protected in law; an acceptance that people having different faiths or beliefs to oneself (or having none) should be accepted and tolerated; and should not be the cause of prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour; an understanding of the importance of identifying and combatting discrimination. Although most of the above would be agreeable to all Muslims, there still remains a grey area when it comes to properly defining discriminatory behaviour. Others examples of actions schools can take to promote British values include: in suitable parts of the curriculum - as appropriate for the age of pupils - material on the strengths, advantages and disadvantages of democracy, and how democracy and the law works in Britain, in contrast to other forms of government in other countries; ensure all pupils within the school have a voice that is listened to, and demonstrate how democracy works by actively promoting democratic processes such as a school council whose members are voted for by the pupils; use opportunities such as general or local elections to hold mock elections to promote fundamental British values and provide pupils with the opportunity to learn how to argue and defend points of view; consider the role of extra-curricular activity, including any run directly by pupils, in promoting fundamental British values. Again all the above would not be unpalatable to Muslims except that there requires some rigorously clear and unambiguous definitions put in place so that all grey areas are erased for the vast majority. Otherwise, almost all Muslims would agree with the fundamental values in principle.