LONDON - Creating a safe environment for Muslim students in Bradford, a leading Islamic organization has introduced new guidelines for religious schools (Madrassah) in the northern British city.
"It's very important to have these safeguarding policies because you know your children are safe," Azhar Farooq, a Bradford Muslim father who sends his child to the classes at the Jami'at Tabligh-ul-Islam Mosque, told the BBC on Tuesday, April 2."The teacher gives a monthly report on my son's progress and it's a similar environment to mainstream school."
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The umbrella Council of Mosques in Bradford has issued guidelines, themed Children Do Matter, for madrassahs operating in the city.
The guidelines include recommendations for more parental involvement, a structured learning system, criminal record checks for staff and more women involvement with the schools.
"These guidelines will ensure the safety of children, as well as helping staff to deal with any problems that may arise, said Mohammed Rafiq Sehgal, the senior vice-president for the Bradford Council for Mosques and chairman of its safeguarding working group.
"It will certainly enhance public confidence in our institutions."
Leading the way, the Jami'at Tabligh-ul-Islam Mosque was one of the first institutions taking up the guidelines.
"We're talking about almost 10,000 children in the district who need looking after," said Sehgal.
"Although the majority of religious establishments have an excellent track record of care, we feel that some need more support."
The guidelines follow revelations by Radio 4 on alleged abuses in a number of madrassahs in Britain, prompting calls for formal regulations of religious schools in the country.
More than 250,000 Muslim students attend madrassahs every day for studying the Noble Qur'an.
There are 400,000 Muslim students in British schools, according to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).
About 7,000 state schools in Britain are faith schools - roughly one in three of the total - educating 1.7 million pupils.
Of the 590 faith-based secondary schools five are Jewish, two Muslim and one Sikh - the rest are Church of England, Roman Catholic and other Christian faiths.
Peace of Mind
The new guidelines were widely welcomed by children and teaching staff.
"Children are happy here because there's no bullying," student Tanzeela Kosser says.
Eleven-year-old pupil Mohammed Waleed says he enjoys coming to the mosque, describing his time there as "more of an after-school club" than anything else.
He also says he feels safe because "there are security cameras in place".
Teachers at Bradford's Jami'at Tabligh-ul-Islam Mosque also praised the guidelines, which have been in force.
"We've done training in safeguarding and child protection and I've benefited from it quite a lot. Naheed Kosser, the mosque's only female teacher, told the BBC.
"It actually shows you how to look after kids and it's created a great place to learn about Islam."
Staff members say encouraging a safe environment has led to an increase in the number of children coming to learn.
"The attendance has definitely increased by about 30%," Adnan Ahmed, who teaches a class of young boys, said.
We've got to the point where we can't enroll any more students."
Ahmed opines that changes have also improved morale among pupils, creating a better learning environment.
"It's because of the communication and understanding we've got with the children," he explained.
"Now when we give them homework they do it - whereas before they never had any interest."
Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million.
The majority of the multi-ethnic minority has Indian, Bengali and Pakistani backgrounds.The 2011 census showed that the proportion of Muslims rose from 3.0 percent to 4.8 percent, becoming the fastest growing faith in Britain.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net