OK, now that I have your attention, I thought I'd share with readers some notes I took from a workshop led by Dr Tariq Ramadan in Melbourne in January 2005. That way I can throw these hand-written notes away and move one tiny step further to having an office free of all this junk!
I made some reference to this workshop in an article in The Age ...
The Age reported (February 25, 2008) that more than 200,000 children - almost 40 per cent of
non-government school students - attended a religious school outside the main Catholic, Anglican and Uniting systems. Some are taught creationism as part of their science studies. A teacher at one small Christian school was quoted as saying that evolution was taught as a theory. This is exactly how I was taught about evolution by my year 9 science teacher at a Sydney Anglican school.
Another critic of faith-based schools, psychologist and educationist Louise Samway, believes faith-based schools are leading to a whole lot of disparate sub-groups that are suspicious of each other.
Such views are not limited to supposedly more secular professionals. In January 2005, I was in Melbourne at a workshop led by Swiss Muslim scholar Dr Tariq Ramadan. Now you'd expect that the grandson of the founder of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood), the Arab world's
largest Islamist movement, would support Muslim minorities establishing their own schools.
Dr Ramadan, however, suggested that the whole idea of Islamic schools was problematic as it implied that secular schools were somehow less Islamic or even anti-Islamic. He asked participants to consider whether the long-term process of mainstreaming their faith in Australia was being helped or hindered by having their children attend schools open only to Muslims. Dr Ramadan also insisted
that learning mathematics and sciences were just as much a requirement of religion as learning how to read the Koran in Arabic.
Anyway, here are just some of the notes from that session, divided into numbered paragraphs.
 In any discussion on Islamic independent schools, a number of key questions need to be asked. What exactly is "Islamic" education? What is an "Islamic" school? Why do some Muslim parents insist on sending their children to an "Islamic" school? Why do other (equally) Muslim parents choose not to send their children to an "Islamic" school?
 And there are other questions. Like this one: What steps do Muslim independent schools take to provide a broad-based education instead of just providing an allegedly more sheltered "Islamic" environment?
 Genuine spirituality equates to living with an understanding that we have a creator and a spirit. This should make us far more universalist, wholistic and ecumenical in our outlook.
 Genuine Islamic education encourages and harnesses such spirituality. Islamic education makes time for sport and leisure activities, especially organised structured sport. It encourages students to become involved in their local communities, including charity and welfare work. It doesn't discourage Muslim young people from involvement in popular culture such as fashion.
 True Muslims won't shut themselves off from people who don't necessarily share their faith. We take the initiative to get to know our neighbours. In our dealings with people, we focus on similarities and not differences. We are also not afraid to use local facilities and infrastructure (e.g. community centres) for religious and cultural activities, and are happy to participate in activities organised by our Christian, Jewish and neighbours of other faiths and no faith in particular.
 Our children will have little or no attraction to Islamic "culture" unless it is part of and comfortable with mainstream culture. We should start looking at Islamic culture as being anything good in any culture.
 One important step to make Muslim cultures mainstream is to contact local museums and encourage them to bring collections from nominally Muslim countries and communities.
 Not all Muslim independent schools are the same. Some are isolationist, protective and quite scary. Others encourage their students to participate in the wider community. We need to support the latter.
Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf