A leading Irish Muslim has called for a radical change to the Irish education system to accommodate children with Islamic beliefs.
Spokesperson for the Islamic Cultural Center in Clonskeagh, Co Dublin and a lecturer at the Mater Dei Institute and Trinity College, Dr. Ali Selim has called for a “a revolution of inclusivity” and “an upheaval in Irish educational perspectives” in his new book “Islam and Education in Ireland.”
Selim writes that change is necessary to accommodate the needs of a society that is “home to a variety of Christian denominations, as well as people of other faiths and of none.”
In his book he points out that “Muslim festivals are neither celebrated or marked in the calendar in Irish schools.”
He suggests that these days should be taken off by Muslim children and adds that Irish schools could raise “funds for the poor and the needy” during Ramadan, the month of fasting.
With regard to the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) program currently taught in Irish schools, Selim says there are “crucial differences” for those of Islamic faith. He points out that Islam forbids premarital and extramarital sexual relations, while the RSE sees sex outside wedlock as a normal practice.
He also writes that there is “a clash of values” when it comes to the “traditional ways of teaching PE [Physical Education/Gym class]” in Ireland. Selim explains that in some Irish schools “under the guise of health and safety, Muslim girls are obliged to take off their headscarves for PE classes, which is not acceptable to them.”
He claims that if the schools were “persistent” with this rule they should “employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. "They should also not be visible to men while at play.” He adds that female Muslims should not have to change their clothes in a communal area.
Selim writes that while some Muslims would see music as prohibited if it “is performed using non-tuneable percussion instruments such as drums, most Muslims will have no problem.”
He adds that any “physical contact between members of the opposite sex who can be legally married is forbidden in Islam” and that “gender role-reversal is not permissible.”
He went on to say that acting “in a way that may arouse sexual feeling or give sexual hints causes objection.”
It’s estimated that there are 65,000 Muslims in Ireland today, up to 20,000 of whom are of school-going age (under 18).
Selim says, “Gaining admission to Irish schools is a challenge for Muslims.” And writes that this is “legal discrimination” under section 15 of the 1998 Education Act, which allows schools give preference to pupils on faith grounds.
He gives the example of a Catholic boys’ school in Dublin which holds the policy: “Non-Catholic enrollment will only be considered in the event of being undersubscribed.”