Islam as a 'second faith' in Jewish schools

Muslim and Jewish schools in Britain are planning to teach their students the other's religion.

Hillel Fendel ,

Muslim women in burqa face veils (illustration)
Muslim women in burqa face veils (illustration)
Serge Attal/Flash 90

Britain's Association of Muslim Schools said it will ask its member schools to teach Judaism as a second religion.

The surprising announcement came just days after Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis – Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the [British] Commonwealth of Nation – recommended that Jewish schools provide lessons on Islam. Several Jewish schools have already committed to take up the Rabbi's recommendation.

Both recommendations - that of Rabbi Mirvis and that of the Association of Muslim Schools (representing 130 schools) - came as a result of a newly-announced government requirement that religious schools use 25% of the time in which they teach religion to teach a second faith. Rabbi Mirvis originally opposed this requirement, but faced with no choice, issued his non-binding recommendation that the second religion in Jewish schools be Islam. He said that Islam was a "poorly understood" religion.

The obligation to teach the second religion is now a prerequisite for students to receive a General Certificate of Secondary Education in religious studies.

Jewish News quoted Ashfaque Chowdhury, head of the Association of Muslim Schools, as opining that "amongst Abrahamic religions Islam and Judaism are most similar.” He said he hopes that the teaching can be complemented "by visits to each other’s schools and joint activities between students. We feel it will contribute to community cohesion, British values and interfaith relations."

Chief Rabbi Marvis called the Islamic decision "extremely significant.’’ European Jewish Press reported that Rabbi Mirvis added, "We often talk about tolerance and understanding between communities as an ideal, but education is the vehicle that will get us there. It is so important that every child learns from a young age that all people are created in the image of G-d, no matter what their faith or ethnicity, and it is my hope that other Muslim schools will follow their lead.”

Rabbi Mirvis, who is also the Associate President of the Conference of European Rabbis, has a rich history in interfaith work. As Chief Rabbi of Ireland, he was President of the Irish Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) from 1985 to 1992, and dialogued with Church leaders in the UK at Windsor Castle and Lambeth Palace. His official contacts with Muslims include the hosting – for the first time – of an imam in a United Synagogue house of worship. He has also led a delegation of his community members to the Finchley Mosque.