ISIS for Secondary RE teachers: A deeper look at Islamist/modernist reform

Of interest to RE teachers in Secondary schools looking for vital background insight into modernist reforms in the Muslim world and their connection to media-hot Islamist movements such as Isis, my most recent paper “Islamising the State – The Last Oxymoron of 19th Century Reform?” has just been published. (For academics on ResearchGate, follow related publications there. For those without a Research gate pass, a public version is available in PDF below.)

When teaching Islam in RE, the question is often: how to tie the relatively peaceful accommodation of hundreds of sects from within most of the world’s religions (including Shia’s and Yazidis) and a leading role in science and philosophy seen the pre-modern Islamic sultanates to the wanton mass-murder in the name of the “Islamic state” our students witness on TV on a daily basis?

This paper presents an introduction to the context of education in the Middle East since the 60s, then explores the related trends in the post-1977 movements to “Islamise” contemporary knowledge and education and their inherent ontological and epistemological difficulties. Both are in themselves interesting for general philosophical reasons alone.

Mapping their connection to the historical attempts at modernising Islam and to contemporary political Islamism, it proceeds to explore some of the social and political implications of attempting to Islamise Western institutions, closing with a discussion of the Islamisation of the state construct and the takeover of the state by Islamists in Egypt, based on W. Hallaq’s recent critique of the idea of the Islamic state: The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament.

“If (…) sovereign will is the new god,

then there is no god but the state.”

Wael Hallaq, The Impossible State: Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s Moral Predicament

The other side of Islamisation

Usually perceived as an attempt by radical Muslims at taking over Western institutions (including schools in the UK), the reverse impact of “Islamisation” is a rarely understood phenomenon: Rather than turning the tools of secular humanism – including its language, ideas, political institutions and financial instruments – into a tool to promote Islam, it has created an unintended utilitarian version of the religion.

Indeed it is one of Hallaq’s main points that by making everything (from mass murder to democracy depending on your needs) halal at the flick of a switch, modernised Islam has nothing to offer a world already regulated by expediency and wanton opinion.

A very interesting point to spice up in the often knee-jerk classroom discussion about secularisation; what use is a religion aping the utilitarian nihilism of science and technique that is destroying all life on the planet? The impact here on the Ofsted concept of “learning from religion” in schools should be obvious.

Content “Islamising the State – The Last Oxymoron of 19th Century Reform?” 

  1. Introduction. 3
  2. Key developments in education in the Arab world since the 60s. 3
  3. The Islamisation movement. 6
  4. Islamism and Islamisation. 14
  5. The social and political impact of Islamisation. 15
  6. The impossible state of Islamisation. 19
  7. References. 24
  8. Bibliography as submitted to Copenhagen University April 5, 2014. 27


GO: ResearchGate


[for peer review and comments]


OR: Just read in your browser

.lille pdf

(A related publication on Student-Centred learning in the Gulf is available here).

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New CPD event at the IoE: Book now for “Islam in RE”

Following our successful open event at the IoE in July, we are very pleased to announce that the we shall be presenting our full-day course Islam in RE: Religious Literacy and Controversy through Enquiry to PGCE students at the Department of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment at the Institute of Education in London.

We have arranged with the department to reserve a limited amount of seats to to secondary teachers in RE and humanities. The session is scheduled to take place on Friday 21 November 10am- 4:30pm a the Institute of Education, London.

£200 per external attendee. Price includes lunch and refreshments. Please contact us by mailing to book your place.

“The  Department is a world-leading centre for geography, business, mathematics, history, RE, citizenship and science education. The Department hosts top-rated initial teacher education programmes, innovative MA courses and a wide range of continuing professional development opportunities. “

- Department of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment homepage


Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy through Enquiry facilitates the best practice outlined in Ofsted’s RE report Realising the Potential and the Cooperative Learning classroom management techniques demonstrated can be utilised immediately with no change to materials or lesson plans and are transferable to other religions and topics.

I would definitely like to have more of this. It combines social skills with content and I think it encourages students to be more independent.

- Jo Taylor, RE coordinator, Chestnut Grove Academy

Islam in RE, Institute of Education, London, July 22, 2014


Therefore this is a teaching program also of interest to members of Ofsted, SACREs, exam boards and Department of Education as well as tertiary practitioners in RE and related Humanities subject areas engaged in Islam and in the future role of Religious Education in relation to SMSC (Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural).

Read about related previous events.

Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy Through Enquiry

Full day CPD Course, Friday 21 November 10am- 4:30pm

Institute of Education, London

20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, Room 802

Further details to be disclosed. Receive updates on twitter.

£200 per external attendee. Price includes lunch and refreshments. Please contact us now by mailing to book your place as places are limited.

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Cooperative Learning and the 21c British Muslim

Seminar follow-up

Thank you to participants – external and internal – at Harrow Primary School; a very engaged crowd of teachers, fresh from the holidays and eager to start a new year.

“…allows children to learn from and respect each other’s views.”

 -Noor, Harrow Primary

This 3 hour Interactive Seminar introduced units from our new course “21c British Muslim: The Solution?” This new 6 hour CPD course is tailored to meet unique requirements Muslim students in the UK have in relation to Social, Moral, Spiritual and Cultural education. As such it serves private Muslim schools and state schools with a substantial amount of Muslim pupils. Units presented yesterday included:


According to Lesson Objectives, students doing this unit in class will:

  1. …define a range of values and activities through negotiation (What does “wearing a cap mean? What’s a cap? Who wears caps? What’s the signal it sends?”).
  2. …define which values and activities are “Islamic,” “English” or both.
  3. …negotiate the meaning of these terms in each case
  4. …through negotiation precisely define which aspects of values and activities that are “Islamic” or not.

The Unit includes multiple variations such as what is British vs. Christian, Ethnic vs Islamic.

“We could play around (this) and use it for every subject…”

Zainab, Harrow Primary


According to Lesson Objectives, students doing this unit in class will:

  1. discover which areas of Islam are focused on by non-Muslims
  2. discover which are seen as positive and negative by non-Muslims
  3. reflect on reasons for these opinions

- and bring to bear a number of “hard” skills:

  1. use skimming and scanning techniques
  2. identify key points in a text
  3. effective note taking
  4. Prepare an oral summary by recapping and restructuring information to promote understanding and memorization.



In teams: What is this?




According to Lesson Objectives, students doing this unit in class will:

  1. …reflect on the practical relation of Muslim inventions to today’s technology (connected to various subjects).
  2. …discover the greatness of Muslim intellectual heritage and civilizational contributions.
  3. …feel pride and a sense of worth and self-respect.
  4. …perceive that Islam historically has promoted scientific and technological discovery and enquiry.
  5. …relate the above to the current situation of Muslims in the UK.
  6. …reflect on what this means to their own future lives as Muslims in Britain.
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21c British Muslim: The solution?

- a 3 hour Interactive Seminar, London, August 29, 2014 *

This seminar for teachers working with Muslim pupils in Primary and Secondary is a unique chance to assess key elements of Werdelin Education’s new flagship course, 21c British Muslim: The solution? to be rolled out nationally over the coming academic year. This upcoming full day CPD course is a logical extension of our successful Islam in RE: Religious Literacy & Controversy through Enquiry CPD course, first trialed at the University of East Anglia and presented by Dr Mike Diboll of the Institute of Education.

The August seminar presents Cooperative Learning as the tool to effectively facilitate authentic identity and community bridge building for Muslims in 21st Century  Britain through enquiry-based learning.  Participants will discover best practice rationales and be provided with CPD materials that will only be made available to the rest of the country from October.

“…scalable, encourages team building and mastery of knowledge easily.”

- Ehsan Choudhury, English History and Computing/ICT teacher, Manara Academy, Leicester CL Primer, 17 July 2014

In fact, 21c British Muslim: The solution? is nothing short of a manifestation of the ideas presented in my talk “The Student/Centred Classroom & the Self-Centred Student” at the British Association for Islamic Studies at Edinburgh University in April. Attendees at my previous seminar at June’s Islamic Education Conference in London will also recognize the red thread: that, as members of the biggest and most visual religious/ethnic group in this country, Muslim educators need to pick up the gauntlet and take part in addressing cohesion issues of multicultural society.

The full 21c British Muslim: The Solution?  is to be taught in 3 modules.


Primary objectives of Module A (Cross-cultural literacy):

  1. provide teachers with tools to achieve historical/cultural/social literacy through enquiry
  2. present relevant high level materials on contributions to British and Western society of the Islamic World
  3. demonstrate a series of fully transferable and scalable enquiry exercises into the above and of British and Western contributions to the lives of modern Muslims.


Primary objectives of Module B (Current and future British Muslim identity):

  1. demonstrate a series of fully transferable and scalable enquiry exercises into Muslim identity in 21st century Britain based on acquired historical and cultural literacy
  2. manage safe enquiry into controversial areas of  negative Muslim stereotyping, such as gender issues, jihad, sharia law  and the effects of  Eastern Cultural differences.


Primary Objectives of Module C (21c Skills & Cooperative Learning):

  1. What are  21st century skills?
  2. How are 21st century skills implemented in social, business and academic arenas?
  3. How and when should these skills be taught; managing enquiry through Cooperative Learning.


“…a brilliant opportunity to showcase the amazing philosophy of education and bring it into the present.”

- Ms. Fozia Reddy, Headteacher, Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, London

Healing Fractures, Islamic Awareness Week, Norwich, March 17, 2014

Secondary objectives

As the seminar progresses participants share reflections on method and content; on the role and impact of citizenship and SMSC in schools and society at large; the role of Muslims in historical and contemporary society; and the role of the teacher in enquiry-based learning.

Please contact Sasha Walters by mailing to book your place.

* The seminar takes place at:
Harrow Primary School, 80/82 Gayton Road, Harrow HA1 2LS
October 29, 2014 9.00-12.30
Price: £40
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“ In terms of globalisation there is a lot one can learn from this seminar.”

- Conleth  Buckley, teacher & trainer, British Council

Healing Fractures, Islamic Awareness Week, Norwich, March 17, 2014

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Islam in RE; follow-up

This post is specifically of interest to participants of the two pilots of “Islam in RE; Religious literacy and Controversy through Enquiry” in the University of East Anglia and the Institute of Education. Please find a list of the CLIPs available for download here (a password has been provided to you by mail). In the public eCL newsletter library, you will also find a  detailed  description of Catch-1-Partner and the many variations on this CLIP. Being a bit of a visual learner myself, I’ve conjured up a mindmap that shows the variations graphically. All as PDF. For more on the method, search for the key words “NHSG” and all posts filed under “workshop.” Team 1 IoE During the IoE course, I focused a great deal on using Cooperative Learning as a tool to provide a safe environment for enquiry. Mostly in relation to the students, but as teachers, we potentially put our jobs on the line by approaching poisinous topics; it only takes one pupil’s comment out of context to his parents and the school head gets a call about bigotry or liberal indoctrination, as the case may be. Therefore, the afternoon module included a section on using Cooperative Learning as shield  between the teacher and controversial content being discussed. You will find a great deal of reflections on this in posts mentioned below. Also, the concept is discussed, albeit in the context of ESL, in the newletter eCL#2: The Teacher is a Ghost.

“There are many CLIPs I intend to incorporate into my teaching … a fully engaging approach.”

Hannah Hunter, RE teacher, Queensmead School, London

“Islam in RE,” IoE, 22 July 2014

That brings me to our  plenum discussion on our own fears of being manipulators rather than guides; the concern of one participant that we may not in fact be facilitating independent thinking and personal integrity, but rather using a staged free thinking process to arrive at specific goals, as outlined by government. The dangers of top-down identity management has been thoroughly discussed in several posts, notablyDeradicalisation; it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are and Deradicalisation#2; “Salvation in this life” based on Mohammad Elshimi’s brilliant presentation at Edinburgh University.  Also see Christian-centred, atheism-centred… or just Student-Centred? Making RE relevant at allas well as a host of other topics. But also, I think any teacher sees sheer treason inherent in  giving the children a false impression of what free thinking is – aside from the dishonesty, the uncertain high-speed future needs real critical thinking, not a tick-box mock-up. I pointed out some of this at the recent IEC conference seminar – more on this later, as I find time.

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Great event; lousy afterparty

Some reflections on Cooperative Learning in the UK

Thanks to the engagement of a very heterogenous group of participants, we had a successful event at the IoE and very positive feedback from RE teachers who were out to make a difference.

However, my joy at the awareness that “Islam in RE” is now ready for national roll-out in September was somewhat dampened in a certain large and well-renowned bookstore just down the road from the IoE main entrance.

Confident that I could saunter into this literary (and stylish) equivalent of a Virgin Megastore and browse a wealth of books on the top floor devoted exclusively  to education, I asked to be pointed to the shelf dedicated to the didactic method called Cooperative Learning. “What? What did you call it Didactic…?” After a bit of waffling about, we got the spelling right. “No, we don’t have anything on that topic.”

I gazed hopefully  down the series of linked rooms with 100.000+ books on education and proposed looking up “collaborative” learning. More typing. “Ah – here it is!” I got ready to follow the lady to the relevant section of shelves and prepare to sit down in one of those comfy leather chairs scattered about flanked by a large handpicked stack , skimming and scanning as if picking out so much candy. Maybe even an original copy of Slavins 1990 classic “Cooperative Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice“…?

No such luck – “Here it is” was literally “Here it is” - It being this book,  whipped out from a pile stashed under the counter:


Whether this 366 page tome of statistical evidence and reflections on various schools of thought is a good book is not the issue here.*

My point is that if I can’t find a single book on Cooperative Learning as a distinct didactic method  a stone’s throw from an institution whose main entrance flies banners boasting its new status as the world’s leading university for education… well, it was a bit of a rude awakening, actually.

But, looking at the bright side: This is a splendidly isolated virgin island; with some really excellent teachers looking for tools to reboot the system. Maybe things are not so bad.

More on the course later, lesson plans to participants en route later in the week. is the business end of

Collaborative Learning in Mathematics: A Challenge to Our Beliefs and Practices is definitely on my reading list; worth commenting more on this in a later post.  Stay updated on twitter.



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