World Religions

Religious Education and the Teaching of Islam

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Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi, UK

The teaching of Religious Education (RE) has been compulsory in UK schools since 1944. During that time the subject has undergone a significant shift, from a purely confessional form in which children were instructed only in Christianity, to a more inclusive approach that requires covering major world faiths as well as non-religious perspectives.

Particularly in the last few years, with an increase in common misconceptions about Islam such as about the status of women and the true meaning of jihad, and rise in Islamophobia, educators have felt a need for a better understanding and teaching of Islam to equip young people with the knowledge, insight and skills needed in a multi-faith society. Islam is the second most popular religion of study in GCSE Religious Studies nationally, after Christianity. Historically, many Muslim beliefs, teachings and practices have been taught from mainly Sunni and Shi’a traditions, however as part of the diversification of RE curriculums around the country, teachers are also exposing students to other denominations and worldviews within each religion.

With the growing awareness of Ahmadi Muslims in the UK, RE organisations, examination boards and publishers are enabling more opportunities for children to learn about Ahmadiyya Islam. For example, awarding bodies who set GCSE and A level examinations will credit student answers citing Ahmadiyyat in questions about Islam; national organisations such as the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) have been running teacher training events covering the teaching of Ahmadiyya Islam; many textbooks now include references to Ahmadi Muslim beliefs; and the AQA examination board has specified Ahmadiyya on its schemes of work on Islam. Following a drive by the UK Ahmadiyya Community’s External Affairs department, Ahmadi Muslims are now also represented on a number of Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education (SACREs) across England, who oversee the provision of RE in local authority schools in their respective areas.

These developments and the growing interest in the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community have paved the way for a historic interview by REtoday magazine, with His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Launched in 1984 REtoday is the UK’s leading RE publication and is published every four months. It is the principal go-to place for RE teachers for subject knowledge, resources, classroom ideas, feature pieces and academic research. It has a print readership of 10,000. Previous editions have included interviews with other religious leaders (such as His Holiness the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury), politicians and key influencers.

The interview with His Holiness took place on Monday 27th February 2023 at Masjid Mubarak in Tilford, Surrey, and was conducted by Mr Lat Blaylock, then REtoday editor and a prominent RE advocate in the UK.

A wide range of topics were covered, from His Holiness’s time as a headteacher in Ghana, the importance of girls’ education and tackling negative stereotypes about Muslims, to the Holy Prophet’s (sa) commitment to peace, young people’s experience of prayer, care for the environment and service to humanity. His Holiness also recommended particular books for RE teachers to read to help them develop their knowledge and understanding of Islam.

You can read the full interview here.

About the Author: Waqar Ahmad Ahmedi is Head of Religious Studies at a school in Godalming, Surrey. He also serves on the Editorial Board of The Review of Religions.