Sameea Jonnud, Aldershot
When David Cameron wrote his article in The Times about English lessons for Muslim women it grabbed the headlines, often accompanied by a photo of a veiled Muslim woman. If the intention was publicity it certainly succeeded.
Let’s look at what he said. Any initiative that helps non English speakers learn the language is a good thing and the fact that the Prime Minister focussed on women shows there is a need for this. Many women coming to live in this country may be mothers who stay at home and bring up their children rather than go out to work. Just for this reason they are usually the parent with links to school and without an understanding of English they’re unable to communicate with schools. And even with their own children in some cases, especially as their children grow up in an English speaking environment.
In general men coming to this country may learn English more quickly just due to the fact they are more likely to be out working and thus interacting with English speakers.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Association has always encouraged education for everybody and the women’s auxiliary specifically helps its members to become educated in both religious and secular knowledge. Local branches throughout the country help members to find English courses if they need them and this is a programme that is emphasised.
Despite there being members whose first language is not English, all our events and meetings are conducted in English specifically because it’s the language of this country.
Loyalty to country is something actively promoted by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and this includes understanding the language because without this people can’t involve themselves in their local communities and make a positive contribution to schools, charities etc.
So in the case of the importance of English lessons the Prime Minister is echoing Ahmadiyya Muslim sentiments and it will be good to see the effects of positive action.
Some Points of Concern
Firstly the Prime Minister referred specifically to Muslim women and it is not only Muslim women who may have the need to be taught English. Maybe the offer of English lessons should be for all those who need them – men as well as women. Secondly that if the woman does not learn English she could be deported; hardly fair to her and any children she is forced to leave behind.
The Prime Minister also referred to segregation in public meetings along gender lines. This is an issue which should not be made a point of law as Britain has long given people freedom of choice and any ban would limit this. If women themselves demanded a ban it could be considered but until Muslim women themselves are asked any law against segregated seating would actually just be a law which forces women into something they may not want. Isn’t it better to have Muslim women attend meetings rather than stay at home because they don’t feel comfortable? I would argue it is more important to have the participation of women than the illusion of freedom which forced non segregation would give.
The Prime Minister followed up his article by mentioning a possible ban on the niqab in public places. This is a dangerous step on a path to curtailing the freedom of Muslim women and would only create divisions by alienating some Muslims. That is why where identification for security purposes is not an issue a ban is unnecessary. Ahmadiyya Muslim Association women have a standard of veil which includes the full covering of the head but not the face. However as we live in a free country women who choose to wear a full face veil should not be forced to stop by law.
As A Matter Of Fact
As a matter of fact it is evident that help should be given to a Muslim woman if there are aspects in her life which can be improved. However until and unless Muslim women are consulted about their wishes any issues such as segregation and the veil should not be forced by law.