Muslim Education in Britain: Lessons From Colonial India

Robert Ivermee
SOAS, University of London 

In contemporary Britain, the subject of Muslim education provokes regular, often ill-informed, media and policy-level questions like “Do Muslim schools fuel extremism?” or “Are they compatible with British values?” Muslim institutions are widely assumed to provide education of inferior quality, and to reinforce social segregation and traditional gender roles. Public funding was first awarded to British Muslim schools in 1997. However, the number of Muslim state schools remains very small: in 2012, just 11 out of more than 6,500 state-maintained faith schools in the United Kingdom were Muslim. As an historian of British imperialism in India whose research focuses on colonial and Muslim education it is hard not to be struck by the parallels between later nineteenth century South Asia and Britain today.

In India, the British government ruled over a population of diverse races, ethnicities and creeds, including a large but ethnically heterogeneous aggregation of Muslims. Colonial officials fretted over the loyalty of their Muslim subjects and assessed the compatibility of Islam with Western-style government and social pluralism. Simultaneously, however, Muslim institutions were brought within the educational system established by the British, while Muslim pupils attended state-managed colleges and schools. Exchanges between Muslim and British parties on the subject of education in colonial India offer a set of lessons for policy-makers and a wider public concerned for (or about) Muslim education today. Continue reading “Muslim Education in Britain: Lessons From Colonial India”