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Posted on Jul 8, 2016

Unpacking the Trojan Horse

Unpacking the Trojan Horse

 

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Two global Islamist movements – Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood – speak for an extremely small proportion of British Muslims, but have managed to obtain considerable influence over educational institutions and public understanding of British Islam. This paper examines Islamist attitudes and behaviours towards girls’ education and gender equality in Britain. We will examine these networks’ public statements and private practices, the manner in which these attitudes fit into British Islam as a whole, and attempt to answer how it is that relatively insignificant political movements have exerted such a powerful influence over the lives of British Muslim girls.

An analysis of the attitudes displayed by British political Islamic groups towards girls’ education and women’s rights demonstrates that British Islam is not one homogenous bloc, but a diverse community of differing religious sects and political movements. Although prominent Islamic groups aligned with Jamaat-e-Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, are largely responsible for setting the standards by which British Muslims are taught in schools, surveys indicate that as few as 4% of British Muslims believe such groups represent their views. Islamist publications on the education of Muslim children are reliable for our research question precisely because they seem an unreliable means to gauge the prevalent attitudes of British Muslims.

What has caused the disparity between the liberal ambitions of many British Muslims and the hardline ideals of Islamist community leaders? Certain aspects of gender inequality within British Islam perhaps came about as unintended consequence of Britain’s multiculturalism doctrine, which, the academic Lorenzo Vidino writes, “traditionally relied heavily on community leaders who act as trusted intermediaries between the community and the state, to whom the latter can delegate the administration of various services.” By virtue of their political nature and ambitions, certain Islamist movements – able to organize themselves in a manner with which traditional cultural Muslim groups could not compete – were perceived by the authorities as community representatives, and thus became the bridge between government and Britain’s Muslim citizens. Consequently, gender inequality has been painted, in the eyes of others, as a problem of the entire Muslim community.

Although a large body of scholarship has already examined the conditions for Muslim women in Britain, these writings generally refer to a single Muslim or South Asian community. The debate over gender equality within British Islam should, in fact, be far more nuanced. Moreover, the varying approaches towards gender equality pursued by different British Islamic movements suggest that, because of the manner in which Britain’s Muslim community is organized, the much-discussed issue of apparent gender inequality within British Islam is not necessarily a theological question, but rather a political problem.

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