Some parents relied a fear driven by news of foreign terrorism and a dislike of religion – there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a dislike of faith – but depriving a child of an enriching educational experience based on the former is not the way forward – especially when it seeks to challenge negative perceptions of Muslims
One parent told the Daily Mail she wanted her son to stay in school ‘learning Maths and English’ rather ‘than risk being shot’: “I did not want him to go because they are a violent religion and many of them have guns”.
But the odds of such a violent act occurring at any mosque in Britain is insignificant and does not warrant fear. The Lord Mayor of Exeter rejected any safety fears and praised his Muslim community.
Nor was the trip just to Exeter Central Mosque. The 91 students (from Years 3 to 6) will also visit a cathedral on May 7. Both visits offer the express intent of furthering their understanding of both Christianity and Islam. Students are presented with a chance to ask questions and observe congressional prayers. For many, it would be their first trip to a mosque (and possibly a cathedral). Staff will also ensure students wear long sleeves and trousers and remove their shoes before entering the mosque.
The school follows the Cornwall Agreed Syllabus for RE. It offers students a chance to learn about Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Islam through school trips, external speakers and classroom teaching.
One act of failed terrorism in 2008 should not stop individuals from visiting and interacting with Exeter’s Muslim community.
The last census revealed that Cornwall has pockets of self-identified religious minorities. Just 0.2 per cent of Cornwall’s population (532,273) is Muslim. Scope for positive and day-to-day interactions are limited. So the chance to visit individuals of other faiths and ethnic backgrounds takes on a greater necessity.
Other parents did embrace the news: “I did not even realise it was an issue. I was delighted my child had the opportunity to experience another culture in their ways of worship.”
Yet, one unnamed parent alleged that students were ‘singled’ out in assembly but staff maintain it was simply a wider discussion of the issues in a special assembly. The headmaster spoke directly to parents about their fears.
A majority of students will still make the trip on May 7. But a positive event is generating headlines for the wrong reasons.