Temples of learning

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How far should universities go to accommodate the demands of religious groups, asks Alex Klaushofer.

Times are certainly changing for the devout on Britain's campuses. According to many leaders of religious communities, higher education institutions are striving to meet the faith needs of their students like never before, providing places of worship, food that accords with religious observance and timetables that take account of holy days.
The Rev Jonnie Parkin, an Anglican chaplain with a multi-faith brief at De Montfort University, detects "tremendous progress over the past ten years".
He describes how the broader cultural shift that has taken place in public life, which accepts religious affiliation as part of identity, has come to permeate university life.
"De Montfort is a secular institution. That doesn't mean being hostile to faith; it means not being dominated by one faith over another," he says.
"It's about creating a cultural environment where people can confidently express what they are and what they believe without being demonised."
Baroness Uddin, the country's leading Muslim female peer, agrees. "Overall, universities have become much more in the forefront of catering to the faith needs of students," she says. "Ten years ago, it wouldn't have occurred to me that Muslim groups would ask for prayer rooms."
Muslims - the country's largest ethnic minority faith group - have benefited particularly from this new climate. According to Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, it has reversed the educational fortunes of Muslim women. "About six years ago, there were hardly any girls going into higher education," he says. "This was largely because parents were still concerned about losing their daughters to the West. The girls came to our schools and, after 16, they went back to the kitchen."
But, with the help of a campaign targeted at parents and imams, the picture is now very different. "Ninety-five per cent of our girls are moving on to further and higher education," he says. "Girls coming out of faith schools are sufficiently developed in their faith identities and values. Parents feel at ease in sending them to universities, even though there are no single-sex universities or teaching."
The result, Uddin claims, is that young Muslim women in higher education are flourishing. "These women are going through a process of emancipation,"
she says. "Among the exceptional students, there are more young women than men."
Doubtless, much of the reason for this greater participation lies with the way universities are responding to the needs of an increasingly confident and vocal constituency. "Muslim students have become much more assertive about their rights within higher education," says Leslie Wagner, former vice-chancellor of the University of North London. "The university has become a more religion-friendly environment to Muslim students. Instead of saying 'we want you to provide higher education in our environment', they (Muslim students) are saying much more: 'We want you to replicate our environment within your institution'."
But there is one religiously based requirement that mainstream higher education cannot meet sufficiently: the demand from some orthodox groups for the segregation of the sexes. According to Melanie Danan, policy manager at the Interlink Foundation, a voluntary organisation that works with the Orthodox Jewish community, the lack of single-sex provision keeps female members of the Charedi community from going to university. "All settings are single gender from a young age, so people would be reluctant on that front," she explains.
The pattern of education for such women is to leave school at 16, go to a seminary and then, if inclined to further study, do an Open University degree. Consequently, Danan continues, "there's an under-qualification within the Stamford Hill community in London. There's a dearth of secular qualifications, especially in areas such as social work and midwifery."
MST College in Hendon, which offers Orthodox Jewish women a one-year undergraduate degree in a single-sex environment, is one exception. Judith Nemeth, its dean, says: "The reason we exist is because there isn't provision. Our girls have no option - it's this or nothing."
The only other solution is to move provision out of a traditional university setting and into an Orthodox environment. Danan says. "In-house would probably be a good way, by bringing the course within the community.
There are examples in Israel and in the US where the strictly Orthodox community runs courses within that community."
Wagner, who is also a Jewish community leader, explored this option when he led UNL in the early 1990s but he found it unviable. "We couldn't do it - not because of any principle, but because the numbers didn't match up," he says.
Ultimately, he argues, the lifestyle required by religious orthodoxy means opting out of mainstream higher education. "That's a choice people have to make if they want a professional qualification. If it's too difficult, there is always the OU option," he says. Rabbi Julia Neuberger, president of Liberal Judaism, shares this view: "It's basically their choice. That's the best you can do."
The issue illustrates how the debate about multiculturalism that is preoccupying British society enters the university campus: how far should society, in the form of higher education institutions, go to accommodate minorities, and what compromises should minorities make to adapt?
Talk to devout Muslims and most will admit that although single-sex education is preferable according to the tenets of their faith, its absence is not an over-riding concern. "I don't think there's any ground for objections from Muslims. It is entirely contrary to Islamic thinking for them to withdraw because of mixing with the other sex," says Dawud Noibi, a professor and a consultant for the Iqra Trust, an Islamic education charity. "To be educated is a binding duty on Muslims."
Extreme views do exist, he admits. "There are young Muslims who say it is not acceptable to attend mixed universities, and for this reason they are propagating the view that people should withdraw from universities," he says. "But we have strongly advised them against going down this route."
Although a bit of give-and-take from both sides - a willingness to integrate from the Muslim community and an effort to accommodate their needs from higher education institutions - has clearly helped Muslim students, there is some feeling that the needs of other faith groups are less well recognised.
"There is a sense among Sikhs and Hindus that Muslims have a higher profile and get more concessions made to them," says Eleanor Nesbitt, reader in religions and education at the Warwick Institute of Education and author of a faith guide on Sikhism for the Higher Education Authority. "It's true that Muslims have been more demanding of space."
Yet although Sikhs are the fourth-largest faith group in Britain, she says relatively little is known about their faith, with the result that blunders are likely. "There's always a risk, with the best will in the world, of people taking an inappropriate step," she says. For example, she says: "It wouldn't be acceptable to Sikhs to keep the Sikh scriptures (the single volume in the original language) on a bookshelf, as the Sikh practice is to show respect by housing them in a particular way."
These sorts of issues pose questions for institutions trying to be faith-friendly, but some of the trickiest conundrums arise from the social milieu beyond an administration's control.
Last term, Nesbitt found herself on the receiving end of confidences from a Sikh and a Hindu student that they were uncomfortable with the drinking culture that prevailed on campus. The Sikh, a rugby player, gave up his sport as a result. "Somehow or other in universities it needs to be made clear that, just as you can come out as gay, it's OK to come out as someone who doesn't drink alcohol," she says. "But how to do that as an institution, I don't know."
It was this kind of concern that prompted the HEA to publish a series of faith guides, which it has sent to every higher education institution.
"Some of the trickiest things were to do with fieldwork, especially for geologists and geographers," says Simon Smith, associate director of the HEA's Philosophical and Religious Studies Centre. "You do the fieldwork during the day and you sort out the findings at the pub in the evening.
That wasn't something all students were comfortable with."
Change in this area is likely to occur as a gradual shift in attitudes, as staff become more aware of what does and does not work for a diverse, multifaith student body. "A lot of it is down to reflective practice,"
Smith says. "I think people want to ask the questions, but they haven't necessarily known what the sensitive issues are."
Parkin, who is setting up a new model of multifaith chaplaincy at De Montfort, agrees. "The big challenge for univer-sities is being able to take the insights of what the university has discovered through research and being able to apply that to itself as an institution," he says.
Students are doing their bit, too. De Montfort is also home to a new student-led interfaith body, act IF. "The idea is to bring people of different viewpoints together," says Mel Gould, a student community worker involved in the project.
Not everyone is happy with the growing trend to provide multifaith space.
"We think it's another recipe for division and religious warfare on campus," says Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society.
"The number of people who are involved in religion on campus is very small, but they are vociferous. I think it's got completely out of control."
But others point out that the economics of higher education are helping to ensure that the trend continues. "Universities are grappling with the issue of faith provision," says Alexander Goldberg, community issues director at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "Many are funded by large numbers of international students who have a lot of faith needs. In pure market terms, they have to provide for them."
'Muslim girls are leaving faith schools sufficiently developed in their faith identities and values. Parents feel at ease in sending them to university, even though there is no single-sex teaching'
Source: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=208072§ioncode=26

Religious leaders back Guildford Muslim centre


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By Stephanie Jones-Berry
September 23, 2011

LEADERS of different faiths in Guildford have united and spoken out to back the idea of a Muslim centre in the town.
Representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths have urged borough council planners to help address the fact that there is no place – other than the university – for the Muslim community to meet and pray in Guildford.
Last week, plans to set up a Muslim cultural and educational centre went to appeal – following a rejection by the borough council last year because of a lack of parking at the proposed site on Recreation Road.
The Rector of Holy Trinity and St Mary’s Church in Guildford, Reverend Robert Cotton, said he felt planning and not faith issues had hampered the process of the application so far.
He said: “It is important for the borough council to work positively with the Muslim community to find a solution to this situation.
Rev Cotton wrote in support of the application last summer along and around 30 members of his congregation added their signatures to his letter. He said: We recognise our community will be a happier, healthier and a more admirable place when there is a dedicated site within Guildford that acknowledges the contribution and culture of Muslims.”
Dr Husni Hammuda, who gives Friday sermons for the Muslim congregation at the University of Surrey in Guildford, said there is a lack of space for the ever-growing Muslim community within the borough and added that student numbers had risen over the last 10 years.
“We used to have a home for Friday prayers at the university and it used to be sufficient for around 200 people,” Dr Hammuda said.
“Now the number is 500 and even the biggest hall at university is struggling to take the numbers of people.
“Guildford is in need of a place for Muslims and we want Guildford Borough Council to help give us a solution.
“If there is a problem with that application, where is the solution?”
The Jewish chaplain at the University of Surrey lent his voice in support of a Muslim centre in the town and said he felt a town with Guildford’s county town status should be working with its religious minorities.
“My basic point of view is there is a need for a more permanent place and the planners should be should assisting the community and its leaders to develop a suitable place to worship,” he said.
“My understanding is the local Muslim community is happy and willing to develop their own site.
“I think the council should be assisting those who have religious needs for a place for worship – it is a significant community in the town.”
Osama Khan, Muslim Chaplain and senior tutor in accounting and finance at the University of Surrey, said he knew of many Muslim families in Guildford eager to have their own formal space in Guildford.
He said he was saddened that planning permission had been declined twice by the council.
Cllr Tony Rooth, leader of the council, said the organisation does not have a duty to provide accommodation or sites for any religious groups or faith.
He added, however, that the borough did have a “long term commitment to support equality of opportunity” for all residents.
He said: “Where local community groups identify sites, we can offer advice on their suitability.
“We welcome involvement from our whole community in future plans for the borough and treat all planning issues in a consistent and fair way.”

Original source: http://www.getsurrey.co.uk/news/s/2100313_religious_leaders_back_guildford_muslim_centre

Football results as FA tackles antisemitism

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By Marcus Dysch, July 7, 2011

A Football Association initiative will tackle antisemitism and Islamophobia by encouraging cross-community matches, interfaith tournaments and grassroots education.

Faith in Football had its inaugural meeting at Wembley Stadium and will be chaired by Alex Goldberg of the European Centre for Jewish Leadership and the Faiths Forum for London.
Southport Hebrew Congregation's Rabbi Zevi Saunders, who manages MJSL side Crumpsall FC, will also work as part of the coalition.

Its establishment follows recommendations made by an FA commission into antisemitism and Islamophobia three years ago presided over by MP John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

Faith in Football wants to organise cross-community tournaments at stadiums around the country with finals taking place at Wembley.

There will also be efforts to develop football in religious communities. Education sessions will be run at
learning zones at Wembley and other stadiums.

"It's remarkable that we have a consensus within this group that football can promote social action and break down barriers between people of different faiths," Mr Goldberg said.

"Collectively we have a responsibility to tackle faith-based discrimination in the game and a need to bridge the gap between football and religious communities where football has not been played in a structured way."

Football Association equality co-ordinator Jonathan Mills added: "We have been working closely with John Mann on a whole-football approach to tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia. This working group is certainly a step in the right direction in promoting unity between people of different faiths."
The Three Faiths Forum, the Metropolitan Police, the Muslim Women's Sports Foundation and the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign are among organisations working with Faith
in Football.

Its next meeting will take place in September in the Midlands, but sub-groups have already started work in communities around the country.

Source: http://www.thejc.com/community/community-life/51339/football-result-fa-tackles-antisemitism

Faith in Football


FA
Monday, 27 June, 2011
Working group set up to help tackle anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

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On the 22 June, The FA held the inaugural meeting of the Faith In Football Working Group at Wembley Stadium.

The group, chaired by Alex Goldberg from the Faiths Forum for London and the European Center for Jewish Leadership, met to agree a set of principles by which the group would work together; and use the power of football to break down barriers between people of different religious denominations.

The meeting was attended by Alison Vaughan (Kick it Out), Butch Fazal (Luton SFC and FA REAG Member), Majid Lavji and Lee Owen (Asia Europe), Sukhvinder Cheema, Rimla Akhter (Muslim Women Sports Foundation and FA REAG member), Rabbi Zevi Sanders (Southport Hebrew Congregation and Manager Crumpsall FC), Aisling Cohn (Three Faith Forums) and Abdal Ahmed (Osmani Trust) and a representative of the Metropolitan Police Safe Neighbourhood Teams.

Over the next 12 months, the group will be setting up a number of tournaments and competitions across the country at high profile stadiums and raising good practice around Faith In Football as part of The FAs Get Into Football campaign. The group will also work closely with Kick it Out as part of the Kick it Out Weeks of Action campaign as well as holding education sessions at Wembley stadium.

Alex Goldberg said: “It's remarkable that we have a consensus within this group that football can promote social action and break down barriers between people of different faiths. Collectively we have a responsibility to tackling faith based discrimination in the game, particularly Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and a need to bridge the gap between football and religious communities where football has not been played in a structured way. Clearly, The FA is moving in the right direction in addressing these issues and moving this important agenda forward.”

Butch Fazal of Luton SFC, added: ”It’s a piece of work that is critically important and by raising awareness through this group and educating others, we can begin to challenge Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism.”

Alison Vaughan, Campaign Manager for Kick it Out, said: ”It is really important that we recognise good practice in this area of work, and through our Weeks of Action programmes, we can encourage education and raise awareness around this topic in schools and pull together regional seminars to debate and discuss the topic further.”

Rimla Akhter of the Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation commented: ”It is equally important to educate the adults and parents as well as young people.”

Finally, The FA's Equality Co-ordinator Jonathan Mills said: “Over the past couple of years, The FA has been working closely with John Mann MP on a whole football approach to tackling Anit-Semitism and Islamophobia. This working group is certainly a step in the right direction in promoting unity between people of different faiths.”

The group will meet again in September in the West Midlands, if you would like to get involved please contact Alex Goldberg
alexander@jdceurope.org or Jonathan Mills jonathan.mills@thefa.com

Boris Johnson keeps faith with social links

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Around 300 people from London's religious communities explored ways of co-operating on social projects at a conference hosted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson on Tuesday.

The event was organised by Jewish philanthropist Maurice Ostro, vice-chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews and chief executive of the Fayre Share Foundation, in conjunction with the Faiths Forum for London.

Alex Goldberg, co-chairman of the forum, said its purpose was to "get faith leaders, business and local government together to look at ways we can collaborate in a time of economic downturn".
He added: "We feel that faith communities, which have always had the power of innovation and volunteering in the social field, can be a driving force for good for London."

Jewish delegates ranged from Mitzvah Day founder Laura Marks to Melanie Danan of strictly Orthodox charity, the Interlink Foundation, and Daniel Raphael Silverstein, organiser of Muslim-Jewish dialogue for young people.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has become one of the first contributors to a new "social financed bond" launched by the forum. It wants to raise £500 each from 500 religious institutions to fund small grants for welfare projects.

Source: http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/44970/boris-johnson-keeps-faith-social-links

Olympic goals of community

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By Robyn Rosen

The Jewish Committee for the London Games wants to be the first recipient of an Inspire mark, making it an official London 2012 brand.

Guests at the committee’s first seminar on Tuesday were told that it had applied to the programme as a project inspired by the Games.

The committee was founded by the London Jewish Forum, Maccabi GB, UJIA and Lord Janner to promote communal involvement in London 2012 activities.

Among the 50-plus people at the seminar were Ephraim Zinger, director of the Israeli Olympic Committee, and representatives of volunteering charities.

London Jewish Forum chief executive Alex Goldberg said the Inspire mark would add “kudos” when attempting to attract funding for projects.

UJIA chief executive Douglas Krikler discussed educational ideas and there were suggestions for programmes in Jewish schools, a Limmud-style conference where visitors could learn more about Jewish culture and tours of Jewish London.

BBYO director Phil Peters said British pupils visiting Israel would have the opportunity to meet some of the nation’s Olympic hopefuls.

“Young people are very passionate Zionists in this country,” he said. “We have a great opportunity to engage young people who don’t find such a connection in some of the other more educational things we do.

“Over the build up to the Games, we want to engage with the athletes in Israel and are looking at ways the groups of tours going to Israel can meet the athletes, as well as when they come here.”



Source URL: http://www.thejc.com/community/community-life/26255/olympic-goals-community

Mayor's £50,000 to aid Jewish sports

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by Reporter

London Mayor Boris Johnson has announced a £50,000 grant to the London Jewish Forum to be spent on promoting mainstream integrated sports in the Jewish community.
The grant is part of £2.4 million funding from his Olympic Sports Legacy programme, for 18 projects across the capital to help increase participation in sports.

The London Jewish Forum, on behalf of the Jewish Committee for the London Games (JCLG), will now raise another £50,000 to match the grant for its Enable programme, which aims to promote disabled and non-disabled integrated sports.

Adrian Cohen, chairman of the London Jewish Forum, said: "We are delighted that City Hall has offered £50,000 for a very exciting project, which offers the chance to make a real difference for the community against the backdrop of the London Games.

"The funding is contingent on an element of matched funding by the community and we are currently discussing the grant with potentially interested donors."

Alex Goldberg, from the JCLG, said: "This is part of our plan to ensure the legacy of the Paralympics and Sir Ludwig Guttmann, the German Jewish refugee who founded the Paralympic Games."

Working with 12 delivery partners, including Jewish Care, Norwood, Kisharon and Jewish Blind and Disabled, the JCLG plans to spend the money on three projects over two years, including three integrated sports events, one of which will be directed at the strictly Orthodox community.

Mr Goldberg said: "City Hall is interested in those who don't do much physical activity. There is a lack of facilities in religious communities."

The funds will also be used to train 50 community professionals and volunteers in disability sports at Stoke Mandeville and create a manual on integrated sports for Jewish schools and youth clubs.

"There is some level of disabled sports in the Jewish community, but there is very little in the way of integrated sports," Mr Goldberg said.

"We identified a lack of knowledge in the community and we hope by training people, they can use this in the years ahead and put on disabled sports activities, utilising equipment and events."