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Education, Islam and a hint of Orientalism

My interest in the world of Islam is new and it forms a part of two very different agendas. The first is geo political. Whatever you think about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan you have to conclude that both were an intelligence debacle; certainly at the governmental and military level but also at the level of the media and the electorate. Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged as much in a recent interview with Al Jazeerah. He has come a long way in a short time.

At an entirely different level I do work in Education which brings me daily into close contact with the Muslim community in Nottingham. When I put together the hundreds of conversations I have had with the children and with their mothers and sometimes with their fathers the conclusion I draw is that the children wish to explore and their parents are happy for them to do so. I think the parents are content because they believe, in 90% of cases correctly, that the children will always see Islam as what Martin Luther called “Eine Feste Burg” , a sure refuge in time of trouble.

For somebody from the West to see an eight year old child voluntarily fast most if not all of the days of Ramadan is a humbling experience. Who knows what this discipline might not achieve in the fields of finance or molecular biology or public administration.
Or more importantly still how might these beautifully clothed children not serve the greatest purpose of all; the pursuit of truth. For “God is a spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”. Wilfred Owen was as fine a poet as you could hope to encounter and he wrote "I went hunting after the wildest beauty in the world…. The truth untold".

A query about Music and Islam first brought me into contact with the work of Edward Said. With Daniel Barenboim he founded the East West Divan orchestra, made up of equal numbers of Jews, Muslims and Europeans and in my view a beautiful inspiration to the tolerant.

But of course he also wrote “Orientalism”. This is not the place to assess whether Said’s heart clouded his view of recent World history. It remains on any assessment a work that grew out of a life of immense scholarship. In the poem “September 1st 1939” WH Auden wrote “We must love one another or die”. I would recommend the work of Edward Said to students I teach because I think this was his belief also. He combined scholarship with commitment and compassion. He was prepared to leave Ivy League New York and walk in the rubble of Gaza. A Christian himself he was fervent in his defence of the rights of Muslims throughout the World. 

Ken Mafham is a Muslim Insitute Fellow and a Town Planning Consultant with 40 years experience. His work has taken him to Mauritius, Bauch State Nigeria , Merseyside and the East Midlands. He has also taught lessons to 30-40 individuals a week for the last fifteen years, from Year 1 to A level. This leaves little time for hobbies but he does like to play the violin and sing. Not both at same time though.