David Cameron is facing criticism from British Muslim organisations who say a section of the prime minister's speech at the Conservative party conference on Wednesday appeared to single out Islamic supplementary schools — known as madrasahs — and implied the schools are teaching students to hate other faiths and social groups.
During his speech, Cameron announced a proposal to give the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), more powers to inspect all religious schools that operate during evenings and weekends, if they were suspected of teaching inappropriately. All religious schools that teach children "intensively" would also be forced to register to ensure greater scrutiny.
But members of Muslim organisations expressed concern about Cameron's comments about students attending madrasahs "having their heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate."
"There is nothing wrong with children learning about their faith whether that was in madrasahs, Sunday schools or Jewish yeshivas," Cameron said. "But in some madrassas, we've got children being taught that they shouldn't mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people".
Muslim Council of Britain, one of Britain's largest Muslim organisations, issued a statement following Cameron's speech saying "we are concerned at the Prime Minister's targeting of the supplementary schools. It is neither Islamic, nor prevalent in madrassas to be isolationist or to preach hate of other faiths. We would hope that these serious allegations can be substantiated and the evidence brought forward, so that appropriate action can be taken."
The MCB also said that the government needed to acknowledge the contributions made by Muslim communities in the UK, adding that Muslims "have a religious duty to act for the common good of society."
Muhbeen Hussain, the chairman of British Muslim Youth, criticised Cameron for failing to reach out to young Muslims in a positive way.
"He mentioned multiculturalism in the speech, but he appeared to just focus on Islam and Muslims," he said. "He singled out Muslim schools and Madrassas, not Christian schools or Jewish schools. And when he spoke about forced marriage, he did so in the context of Islam and Muslims, even though this is a huge problem that faces many cultures all over the world."
According to the Conservative party, nearly a quarter of a million students are said to be attending a religious supplementary school. While most of these are not formally regulated in comparison to full-time schools, last year, a voluntary code of conduct for madrasahs was drawn up by the then Education secretary Michael Gove.
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Siraj Datoo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hussein Kesvani is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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