The UK is Putting Women at the Forefront of the Fight Against Religious Extremism

The United Kingdom has been in the center of controversy surrounding the spread of Islam in Europe for decades: from the Salman Rushdie affair to Malala Yousafzai’s tragedy, the country has at once fostered dissidents of Islamic nations and at the same time absorbed massive swaths of immigration from them.

And at a time when Islamic extremism is rife, the UK has turned to women to help combat violent ideologies.Kristin Aune, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations at Coventry University and Co-author of 'Reclaiming the F Word: Feminism Today' says the government has been putting a lot of money into Muslim women’s groups in the UK, and in 2008, an all-Muslim-women’s advisory board was founded to tackle the same issue. Why is it that the government has decided that women are the best equipped to lead the fight against religious extremism?
For one thing, the current (male) leaders have not been doing too good a job at it. For another, women’s heavy and historical influence in the home is a major factor in promoting safe communities. Aune, who emphasizes there are many sociological, psychological and economic aspects that go into the making of a terrorist, agrees that family life is the greatest influence. Huda Jawad, formerly a Programme Director of a grassroots Muslim rights group in the UK called Forward Thinking, told the BBC that women have always been at the forefront against extremism “as no mother would want her son to become a suicide bomber.”   Earlier this summer, a letter detailing a plot to take over the British school system and institute Islamic ideals was leaked to the BBC. The letter- the validity of which is disputed- called for its recipient to make fake, public accusations of teachers’ religious favoritism for Christianity, and to prompt the removal of authorities who would be resistant to the pivot toward Islamic education.  "We have an obligation to our children to fulfil our roles and ensure these schools are run on Islamic principles,” the BBC reported it read.   Whether the letter was a hoax or not, it ignited a government study into the practices at Muslim-majority schools in the UK, particularly in the city of Birmingham. The study found strict Islamic ideals were being enforced in an organized and deliberate fashion in a handful of schools. It found routine cases of rejection of evolution, intolerance of LGBT people and the enforcement of sex segregation. In one case, the study revealed a respected teacher had expressed adoration for Al Qaeda terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki at a school assembly. Another teacher declared the world’s problems could be solved by a global Islamic state under sharia law. The researchers did not find any direct threats or calls for violence,  but concluded that in this culture of intimidation, teachers would fail to challenge extremist views. To combat the potential for religious extremism and promote moderate ideals, the British Department for Education has proposed enforcing two different religions be taught at any school teaching religion at the GSCE level- around age 16. So in this perfect storm of a confrontation between the Islamization of Europe and secular Western ideals, teachers in Britain are handed the fragile responsibility of enforcing moderation.  And in the UK, as in the U.S., 87 percent of teachers are women. In this case, instructors and administrators of all religions will be forced to step outside of the teachings of their upbringings in order to see the bigger picture- or at least, to instill a value for nationalism over theism or the traditions of their home countries. Saiyyidah Zaidi is the founder of Working Muslim, a group that acts as a bridge between employer and Muslim women employees in the UK. She says that though it might be difficult for a religious teacher to teach another faith, “at the end of the day, you have the requirement to do a job, to teach something.” Aune says teaching a religion different than your own would be challenging only for conservatives. “I think most mainstream religious people would welcome this because they will think there’s nothing to be scared of in finding out about another religion. It might make you more effective in explaining why one religion is superior to the others. A teacher should be comfortable pointing out the different views and the common points,” she says. “I agree that teachers may feel personally challenged by this, but it is their duty.”