BBSI GUIDANCE ON MADRASAS DURING LOCKDOWN UK 2.0
From the exec summary of BBSI-G10 – Published on 8 Nov 2020
There is latitude within the current wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. This may change if the regulations change. Madrassas should consider on their own facts whether this is the case for them, and liaise closely with their local authority and the police, as well as ensuring that the education can be delivered safely. Online education should carry on where possible.
A more detailed discussion:
The importance of education in our religion cannot be understated; the very first revelation received by the blessed Prophet (صلى الله عليه و سلم) was to ‘read’, and the Quranic verses and hadiths about the merit of seeking knowledge are too plentiful to mention. This importance, not merely to the education of children (and adults), but also in terms of secondary benefits of freeing up parents and carers to seek work and income, as well as rest and respite, has also been recognised by the government.
Safety remains the key consideration. As with prayer and opening places of worship, our position is that cessation of such activities as congregational worship or education can only be countenanced because of an over-riding preventative (mani’) – here, maintaining the health of attendees and the community in general. As such, our position is dependent upon whether or not the preventative measures will actually achieve this end. It is recognised that we now know a lot more about the virus than we did six months ago, especially in terms of who is affected, how it spreads and how to mitigate transmission.
In this, we rely on expert opinion, who now indicate that such gatherings are safe enough to be allowed. Hence a major difference between the first and second lockdown is that places of education – schools and universities – are open this time. However, this blanket permission has not been extended to out-of-school settings, such as madrassas.
The BBSI fully recognise that religious education is just as important as (if not more so than) mainstream education, and continue to advocate for this position in the forums in which we are involved – although it should be noted that our taskforce does not advise directly on the question of education. This is the responsibility of Department for Education. Our position is that, given that education is important and schools are deemed safe enough to be open, madrassas should also be open as long as: (1) educational gatherings are deemed safe by the Public Health experts, and (2) they are sure that they can follow the government health and safety guidelines.
However, there appears to have been significant confusion about whether madrassas can in fact remain open during this period of lockdown. This confusion is caused, it seems, by the apparent contradiction between the government guidelines and the wording of the legal regulation. In the most recent update, including the legislation that has been passed in parliament, it is apparent that the default position is that madrassas should not be open, except in particular exceptional circumstances: that they are providing “necessary and reasonable” “education”. The regulation is silent on what this means, and leaves the determination of whether this is the case up to interpretation by the providing bodies; the guidelines on the other hand provide examples which do not appear to be restrictive (ie: there may be other examples). The most important of these is that if the madrassa is providing an essential child-care service to parents who have to go out to work or study.
As such, this is a legal test which each madrassa will need to look at on its own facts. It should also be noted that this may well be resolved one way or another in updates to either guidance or regulations, and that ultimately it is the local authority that will determine how the rules are to be interpreted and understood. Our advice, therefore, is to liaise closely with the Local Authority and Police, and provide clear examples of the types of permitted activity occurring on one’s premises. In summary, there appears to be latitude within the wording of the guidance and regulations for madrassas, including in places of worship, to remain open for ‘reasonable and necessary education’. What precisely this entails should be a matter for discussion between madrassas and the local authority, unless and until the ambiguity in the central guidance is resolved.
We will continue to advocate for the importance of religious education, as we are advocating for the centrality of places of worship and communal prayer. We would also encourage the use of online education where possible, and remind all of the importance of containing the spread of the virus, especially in our community which has been affected in an outsize way.