Muslim Extremists, and a Worrying Lesson for Us All
Last week, a deputy head teacher in Birmingham, called Razwan Faraz, tweeted a newspaper article casting doubt on claims that hard-line Muslims were plotting to take over some of the city’s state schools. “The truth reveals itself,” he said.
The document behind the claim, supposedly a “how-to” letter from one Muslim extremist to another, certainly had its problems. At least one of its claims was wrong, taking credit for the ousting of a head teacher that had occurred 20 years before. The very name the letter gave to the alleged operation, “Trojan Horse”, was perhaps a little too obvious. For that reason, this newspaper and others described it as a “purported” document.
But whether or not the letter is genuine, much of what it describes is certainly real.
Investigations by The Telegraph, separate to and in parallel with the “Trojan Horse” letter, reveal that there is indeed an organised group of Muslim teachers, education consultants, school governors and activists dedicated to furthering what one of them describes as an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham’s schools. And Mr Faraz should know: he is at the heart of it.
They convene, among other places, on WhatsApp, a messaging service, where they have a closed discussion group called “Educational Activists”. In their messages, all of which have been leaked to this newspaper, the activists describe their goals and tactics. As one put it: “Let the schooling babysitters, the Department of Education and [schools inspectorate] Ofsted be factors of [merely] incidental importance in the Prophetic endeavour to raise and educate our young people.”
In one typical entry, for February 5, this year, one member, Nasim Awan, an Islamic bookshop owner, political activist and former chair of the city’s Springfield Neighbourhood Forum, boasts: “A battle was fought and won tonight at a large inner city primary school where the governors voted by 8-7 in favour of collective worship that is wholly or mainly of an Islamic character, thereby overturning five years of ‘children pray in their own way and language’! The governing body is now polarised on faith grounds.”
Other messages from different members have an unpleasant Islamic supremacist or anti-Semitic note to them. “JEWS have intentionally developed some websites to spread wrong information about the Quran,” says one. Another message, sent from the mobile number of the deputy head of Carlton Bolling school in Bradford, Akhmed Hussain, says: “Al-Islam will prevail over all other ways of life. Look at how [the] Muslim population is increasing in the UK.”
The activists claim credit for the appointment of a new Muslim head teacher, Shanaz Khan, at Small Heath, a secular state secondary in Birmingham, where she will start in September. It was a “hard battle” but the “dynamics have finally changed”, says one member of the group, who identifies himself as a Small Heath governor. “A true achievement. At last!” exults one member of the group.
Under its current head, Peter Slough, Small Heath is enormously successful, winning the highest Ofsted grade, “outstanding”, in its last three inspections and providing an “exceptionally high quality of education for its students”. Educational excellence is apparently not enough for the “educational activists”, however. “First agenda item [for the new head] is to apply for a determination”, an official procedure to establish Islamic forms of worship at the school, says Mr Awan. “Indeed, brother Nasim,” replies the Small Heath governor.
But Mr Faraz says a more tactical approach will be followed. “She [Mrs Khan] is a very astute lady. She knows her game,” he writes. “Please don’t pressurise her to start the Islamising agenda first. That will be a lot easier when she is respected as leader. She has to establish herself with minimum controversy for the first six months, and lead the people to believe in her before they believe in her policies.”
The Small Heath governor replies: “My exact words to her, Razwan. However, at macro governor level, [the] ball needs to start rolling.” Mrs Khan and the school were not available for comment. There is no suggestion that Mrs Khan is an extremist.
The ball appears to have been rolling at other Birmingham schools, too. In the leaked messages, the activists consistently claim that they are merely targeting underperforming state schools that “embed the inferiority complex” in Muslim children. As Mr Awan puts it: “The last thing failing schools and local authorities want is concerned parents and members of the community holding school leadership to account, because they are the ‘professionals’ ”.
The problem with this argument is that, like Small Heath, many of the schools targeted are already superb. At Oldknow, an academy primary school in Small Heath, the non-Muslim head teacher, Bhupinder Kondal, is leaving. Former and current staff have told The Sunday Telegraph that she has been driven out, despite achieving the highest Ofsted grade, “outstanding”, by a concerted campaign to remove her and Islamise her school.
“Last year, the children were not allowed to celebrate Christmas,” said one teacher. “The pantomime was cancelled and they were told they couldn’t put up cards or a Christmas tree.” Several of the Muslim parents, the vast majority at the school, strongly objected, the teacher said. They wanted their children to be able to celebrate Christmas.
“The same year [Mrs Kondal] got an ‘outstanding’, the governing body failed her on schools management,” said a teacher. “They kept setting her targets that were completely unrealistic and they wanted her out.” A spokesman for Oldknow refused to comment on the claims.
Mr Faraz, described as the “administrator” of the Educational Activists’ group, was a teacher at Adderley, another of the schools allegedly targeted for infiltration. He has now received swift promotion to deputy head at Nansen Primary School, which is controlled by yet another of the schools allegedly targeted, Park View.
Mr Faraz is the brother of Ahmed Faraz, a man dubbed the “terrorists’ favourite bookseller”, whose Birmingham shop, now closed by police, distributed extremist literature to many involved in terror plots, including one of the 7/7 bombers. In 2011, Ahmed Faraz was jailed for multiple terror-related offences, though he was later cleared of some of the charges on appeal. Razwan defended his brother, saying the convictions were an attack on free speech. He said last night that the Educational Activists group “doesn’t exist any more”, but put the phone down when asked to comment further.
Other members of the Educational Activists group include the director of a recruitment agency that has recruited many teachers to Birmingham schools and is currently advertising a number of teaching vacancies in the city.
The group has held regular face-to-face meetings, usually at a hall in Towpath Close, Bordesley, in conjunction with something called the “Muslim [Teacher] Network”, run by Mr Faraz, and another organisation called the Muslim Parents Association. The meetings are described as “networking events” for Muslim parents, teachers and governors to work out how to “hold school leadership to account”.
The MPA is run by a man called Tahir Alam, a key figure in the Birmingham schools world, whose mobile phone number is given as a contact for the group and who is a director on its Companies House listing. Mr Alam has been the keynote speaker at a number of the meetings, most recently on January 4, when he denounced sex education in state schools.
In the “Trojan Horse” document, Mr Alam was named as a key instigator of the alleged plot. He has furiously denounced both the document, and the plot as fabrications. But both he and the Muslim Parents Association do have clear links to many of the schools where questions have been raised.
At Oldknow, Achmad da Costa, the chair of governors allegedly behind the departure of Mrs Kondal, is a co-director with Mr Alam of the Muslim Parents Association. Another director of the MPA, Shahid Akmal, is chair of governors at Nansen Primary School, where Mr Faraz has recently been made deputy head. Mr Alam himself is chair of governors at Park View, one of the other schools allegedly targeted for infiltration.
Last week, The Telegraph described how a senior teacher at Park View praised the notorious terrorist ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki in school assemblies and used school facilities to copy Osama bin Laden DVDs. The school also hosted an extremist preacher in its Year 10 and 11 assembly. It has now emerged that Lindsey Clark, the successful non-Muslim head of Park View, is to retire. One of the candidates to succeed her is the senior teacher who has praised al-Awlaki.
The other organisation that links most of the key characters together is a body called the al-Hijrah Trust, which runs what its website calls a “training academy” for Muslim parents to “empower the community to ensure our needs are met” and “get more Muslims involved so that they can influence the education of their children”.
Mr Alam, it turns out, is the director of this training academy and was until recently a trustee and secretary of the al-Hijrah Trust. Razwan Faraz used to work there. And Shahid Akmal was the chief executive of the al-Hijrah Trust. Waseem Yaqub, another key figure at al-Hijrah, was seconded as a “consultant” to Saltley, yet another school allegedly targeted by extremists, at around the same time as the respected non-Muslim head teacher, Balwant Bains, was removed.
Solicitors for Mr Yaqub insisted last night that he had no involvement in the head teacher’s departure. Saltley under Mr Bains, by the way, was another successful school, graded “good,” the second-highest Ofsted rating, last year.
Al-Hijrah, as it happens, runs its own school, too – a specifically faith school, though still state-funded. This school appears to be the model that the “educational activists”, Mr Alam and the Muslim Parents Association want the others to follow. Alas, unlike the highly successful secular schools involved in this story, the al-Hijrah School is not a success. Last December, it was graded “inadequate” by Ofsted, the lowest rank possible, and placed into special measures.
Amid what Ofsted called “too heavy involvement” by governors in the day-to-day running of the school, it has gone through three head teachers in the past 18 months. Al-Hijrah’s response, by the way, was to take (unsuccessful) court action to stop the inspectors’ report being published.
The Sunday Telegraph has seen numerous emails from Muslim parents at al-Hijrah deeply concerned about the direction of the school. In reply, Mr Yaqub, who is also the chairman of governors, dismissed them as “shaitans [devils] running out to make mischief”. In their emails, the parents also express deep concern about the payment of £300,000 a year in public money from the school to the al-Hijrah Trust.
Solicitors for Mr Yaqub said last night that this money was rent for the school premises, under a formal tenancy agreement of which the local authority was aware. But parents who have spoken to The Sunday Telegraph claim that some of it has gone towards initiatives such as Mr Alam’s “training academy” for Muslim parents. Mr Alam did not respond to repeated phone and text messages asking for comment.
What appears to be happening in Birmingham may also have a national dimension. As well as his role in the city, Tahir Alam is a senior activist in the Muslim Council of Britain, in which capacity he “caution[ed] against advocating that desegregation [in schools] should be actively pursued”, and stressed the “obligatory nature” of the hijab for Muslim women and girls.
Mr Alam is also vice-chair of the national Association of Muslim Schools (AMS), another organisation that has flirted with hardliners. The AMS’s last annual conference included platform speeches from Akram Khan-Cheema, who describes Islamic schools as “one of the most important factors that protect Muslim children from the onslaught of Euro-centrism, homosexuality, racism and secular traditions”; and from Farah Ahmed, who has attacked the National Curriculum for its “systematic indoctrination” of Muslim children “to build model British citizens”, and criticised “attempts to integrate Muslim children” into British society as an effort “to produce new generations that reject Islam”.
The best thing about the Birmingham story, however, is the role of Muslim parents. In many of the schools involved, they appear to have opposed the “Islamisation” agenda and vigorously supported broad, high-quality education for their children. Given the choice between outstanding secular education and mediocre religious education, most Muslim parents, like any other parents, will choose the former.
The indispensable job of those dismissed as “babysitters” – Ofsted and the Government – is to ensure that Muslim parents still have that choice.
Andrew Gilligan is London editor for the Sunday Telegraph.
March 16, 2014
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