The Jewish school with Muslim students
It's infant prize day at King David School, a state primary in Moseley, Birmingham, UK. The children sit cross-legged on the floor, their parents fiddling with their video cameras. The head, Steve Langford, is wearing a Sesame Street tie.
A typical end-of-term school event, then. But at King David there's a twist that gives it a claim to be one of the most extraordinary schools in the country: King David is a strictly Jewish school. Judaism is the only religion taught. There's a synagogue on site. The children learn modern Hebrew - Ivrit - the language of Israel. And they celebrate Israeli independence day.
But half the 247 pupils at the 40-year-old local authority-supported school are Muslim, and apparently the Muslim parents go through all sorts of hoops, including moving into the school's catchment area, to get their children into King David to learn Hebrew, wave Israeli flags on independence day and hang out with the people some would have us believe that they hate more than anyone in the world.
The Muslim parents, mostly devout and many of the women wearing the hijab, say they love the ethos of the school, and even the kosher school lunches, which are suitable because halal and kosher dietary rules are virtually identical. The school is also respectful to Islam, setting aside a prayer room for the children and supplying Muslim teachers during Ramadan. At Eid, the Muslim children are wished Eid Mubarak in assembly, and all year round, if they wish, can wear a kufi (hat). Amazingly, dozens of the Muslim children choose instead to wear the Jewish kipah.
At the prize morning Carol Cooper, the RE teacher, says: "Boker tov," (Ivrit for "Good morning").
"Good morning Mrs Cooper," the children chant in reply. The entire school, Muslims, Jews, plus the handful of Christians and Sikhs then say the Shema, the holiest Jewish prayer, all together.
The Year Four violin club (five Muslims, two Jews) play "Little Bird, I Have Heard". Just as many prizes are being distributed to Hussains and Hassans and Shabinas as there are to Sauls and Rebeccas and Ruths. In fact, if anything, the Muslim children have beaten the Jewish ones. Thus does the Elsie Davis Prize for Progress go to a beaming little lad called Walid, the religious studies prize to a boy called Imran wearing a kipah and the progress prizes for Hebrew, to a boy called Habib and a girl called Alia.
Times being as they are, King David doesn't advertise its presence in a city where its pioneering multiculturalism could raise all kinds of unwelcome attention. There's a discreet signboard outside that reveals little about the school's unique nature. There are watchful video cameras high up on the walls, plus two electronic gates to pass through. Sadly, it is, to a significant extent, says Laurence Sharman, the (Christian) chairman of the PTA, "an undercover school".
The Muslim parents, however, are only too keen to talk in the playground about what might be seen by some in their communities as a controversial schooling decision.
"We actually bought a flat in the catchment area for the children to come here," says Nahid Shafiq, the mother of Zainah, four, and Hamza, nine, and wife of Mohammed, a taxi driver. "We were attracted by the high moral values of the school, and that's what we wanted our kids to have. None of us has any problem with it being a Jewish school. Why on earth should we? Our similarities as religions and cultures are far greater and more important than our differences. It's not even an issue.
"At the mosque, occasionally, people ask why we send the children here, but there is no antagonism whatsoever, and neither is there from anyone in our family. In fact, it was a big family decision to try and get them into King David. This is the real world. This is the way real people do things in the real world. All the violence and prejudice and problems - that's not real, that's just what you see on the news."
Fawzia Ismail (the mother of Aly-Raza, nine, and Aliah, six) is equally positive. "My nephew came here and my brother showed me the school, so it's a bit of a family tradition now. We're very, very pleased with the school. It's so friendly. All the kids mix and go to one another's parties and are in and out of each other's houses. They teach a bit about Israel, but we don't have any problem with that. There are such similarities between our people and our societies."
Irum Rashid (mother of Hanan, nine, and Maryam, four) says that a lot of people in Small Heath are considering moving to Moseley because of King David. "It's a very happy school, the behaviour is fantastic, the food is great - because it's kosher - and so are the SATs results."
But what about learning Hebrew and the Jewish prayers? "I think it's great. The more knowledge, the more understanding," says one of the mothers. "They learn all they need about Islam at mosque school. Actually, the kids often sing Hebrew songs in the bath, which is a bit confusing because we speak Gujarati at home, but I think it's great."
The Jewish parents and teachers I speak to are just as enthusiastic. "You know, in these difficult times in the world, I think we show how things should be done. It's really a bit of a beacon," says one teacher, whose three children all went to King David and ended up at Oxford University.
Parent Trevor Aremband is from South Africa. "In Johannesburg, we have Jewish schools, but they're 100 per cent Jewish, so we were a bit shocked when we first came here. But the integration works so well. It's clearly the way to go in today's world. My son is eight and has loads of Muslim friends."
The most important thing, I am told repeatedly, is that the cross-cultural friendships forged at King David last a lifetime. I hear a conversation about how a Rebecca is going to fly over from the States for a Fatima's wedding. I am told about a pair of lads, one Jewish, one Muslim, who became friends the day they started in the nursery, went to senior school together as well as to university and are now living close to one another with their wives and families and are currently on holiday together.
King David was not designed to be such a beacon of inter-faith cooperation and friendship. Founded in 1865 as The Hebrew School, it was 100 per cent Jewish until the late 1950s.
Then two things began to happen: there was a growth in the Muslim population in middle-income areas such as Moseley, and a shrinking of Britain's Jewish community, especially outside the main centres of London and Manchester. Muslim children started coming to the school in the early 1960s, but the current position, in which they are in the majority (Jewish children comprise 35 per cent, Muslims 50 per cent, Christians, Sikhs and other, 15 per cent) is very new.
"One of the things that surprises people about this school," says Langford, "is that it's not an especially privileged intake. Half of our kids have English as an additional language. But the amazing thing is how well it all works. We have a new little boy here from China, whose only English a few weeks ago was to ask for the toilet. He now speaks English - and can say the Shema perfectly.
"If you gauge success, for instance, by racial incidents, which schools always have to report to the LEA, we have at the most one a term. And that can just mean some harsh words with a racial slant used in the playground. At multicultural inner city schools where I've taught, there will be far, far more than that, possibly one or more a week."
In terms of SATs and Ofsted inspections, King David has also shone. It is rated as good - the second highest possible ranking - in all areas, and Ofsted made a special mention at the last inspection of the integration between children of different faiths and races. In the recent SATs results, the school also came in well above the national average in all subjects.
Steve Langford, a Warwick University economics graduate, is himself a bit of a paradox. He is Church of England on both parental sides and only became interested in Judaism when he worked in a Jewish summer camp in Massachusetts in his gap year. His interest paid off when he got a teaching job a King David. Now he is learning Ivrit at evening classes and goes to Israel for holidays.
The Rabbi of Birmingham's Singers Hill Synagogue, one of the financial backers of King David, is proud of Steve Langford and of the school's extraordinary interfaith record.
"King David School is amazing," says Rabbi Tann. "The reason I think it works well is that racism is engendered entirely by adults. Children don't have it within themselves. Their natural mode is to play happily with everyone. It's only when adults say, 'Don't play with him, he's black, or don't have anything to do with him, he's Muslim, that troubles begin.'
"We never have any racial or inter-faith problems at all. Not ever. In 20 years here, it's simply never happened in any significant way. We teach that if you don't like someone, you avoid them. Don't play with them. Go to the other side of the playground. I believe that if more people followed the lead of King David School, we'd have a much more peaceful world."
Jonathan Margolis is a investigative reporter for The Independent
Topics: Jews Values: Education
Alhumdulillah that these children and their families coexist so well. I would prefer my child not wave the flag and I am not sure what are the words to the prayer, but anything that does not take us away from our deen is alright.
It's about time you go back to your roots...you need to start by visiting www.jewsforallah.com
Br Hudd & sr Tanweer: Kudos to you and shame to self hating Muslims as far as we are concerned our Awlia are Muslims so alhamdulillah we are on the same page...
A true Muslim never demeans his faith: Pure tawheed!
1. Will members of the Jewish faith send their children to Islamic Schools?
2. Will members of the Islamic community welcome students from the Jewish community to attend their schools?
The Jewish community is a SMART community. They are not a stupid people and demand respect for what they have accomplished. Note, that I did not say a righteous or a good people...just as we muslims are not a righteous or a good people. Both societies are in error and need correcting.
If a real cultural exchange takes place, then I am all for it. However, I cannot imagine either society will do anything to truly meet each other on even terms. Why? People want the upper hand...Muslim and Jew alike.
The parents on the surface may have good intentions, but I am not fooled. No one wants to be a looser, so they think they can become winners by joining in partnership with those they preceive as winning. But, we all know only those who love allah(swt) will be the rewarded, whether they are muslim or people of the book.
Don't the Jews in the UK read about the horrific attacks made on them by Muslims there? Oh, wait, I forgot just how many self-hating Jews there are.
This would be merely sad if it weren't so dangerous. "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it" by which I mean the Nazi-Islamic connection is alive and well. Now it is thriving throughout Europe and the UK.
Thank God for the USA and Israel!
AM YISROEL CHAI!
As long as they learn to treat others with respect and compassion, forgive others their faults and represent monotheism to the best of their abilities they will be a force for the betterment of humanity, Muslims included, beyond anything books or websites can accomplish. This is something the author hasn't discerned clearly and by the tone of some of the comments, many Muslims as well. Dua isn't accomplished by self isolation and racism.
Just one respectable Muslim, that can articulate the ethical ideal of treating others as they would wish to be treated, and thereby get others to think about the plight and rights of the Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghanis, Bosnians, Algerians, ... will put the ill willed in a bind.
We live in a time where Muslims are brainwashed against their own teachings, it is important for us to unify not amongst Jews (who are taking over our lands and beliefs), but amongst ourselves before we tackle issues of prejudice and discrimination that govern our world today.
Allah forgive us.
Our kids are our investment for the future, please take care of them
From your Brother in Islam
Inshallah we can all learn from this.
Before pointing the finger at other people look in the mirror because that's the real problem. As muslims, jews and human beings we need to stop trying to control others and learn to control ourselves. It's good to know that there is a school that allows kids to be kids with no stupid divisions.
I doubt this to be true otherwise they are all jewish they just split themselves on jewish and moslems and...
Arrassoul Salla Allah Alaihe wa sallam spoke in hadith about the jewish of his Ummah, I don't recall alhadith, but the question: is it about their time to appear? Allah knows the best.
laa hawla wa laa kuwwata Ellaa be Allah Alalay Alazeem. are they making fun at Allah? do they not learn from the consequences of the people before us?
Yaa Rabb, laa tuwaakhidnaa bemaa fa'ala assufahaa'a minaa, Ameen
Can we open a few more in entire world please. especially in Usa and palm Springs area?
My congrats to the principal, teachers and entire community.
The actions in this article is what this verse for Qur'an is all about:
22:17 Those who believe (in the Qur'an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the sabians, Christians, Magians, and Polytheists,- Allah will judge between them on the Day of Judgment: for Allah is witness of all things.
This is GREAT news...and makes me feel good inside that the religion of man is not totally currupt, bankrupt and stolen by evil, hate-filled, point-missing nomads who now have oil money.
Raising Israeli flags and celebrating the destruction of Palestine or the so called Israel's independance day? as if Israel existed before 1948 to fight for its independance? Weird!
I have a question for those of us that changed their skin color. Are Jewish parents in the UK ok with the idea of sending their children to Islamic schools, chanting Islamic Anasheed, reciting Alma'atoorat or Alfatiha & learning Arabic, raising the Palestinian flag & mourning Alnakbah of 1948?
Nice one from the jewish community
waving Jewish flag and Saying their Prayer.
saying their prayer is a Haram for those Islam kids. and i can't imagine how their parents allow their muslim kids to say Jewish prayer..
and why should they (islam childre) wave their flags? do their parents really happy that our Muslim Brothers' Land are occupied by those Jews>?
Funny, lot of muslim groups in UK are clamouring for separate schools for muslims with education in local languages (e.g., Urdu) and they want strict sex segregation in their schools.
religious tolerance and social acceptance in the society. These
kids will never be intolerant to other ethnic back ground rather
they will have more respect for each other. The only thing I think
is that year the kids can practically see only one side of the coin
that holy Jew religion but it would have been excellent had their
been some opportunity for Muslim student also to exhibit and or
display their faith to their Jew friends. It would have developed
further understanding and avoid an misconception about each
other. Nevertheless it a glaring example and many more school
should take it as an example to build a better peaceful world.