When your son or daughter goes to university it can be a very heart-wrenching experience. But at the same time, this is a moment of great happiness when your hopes for your children are being realised. All the investment and effort spent on getting them through school is finally paying off. You hope and dream that this will be their passport to a successful life.
At the same time, you will worry that they are going to face all kinds of pressures and mix with very different people. You will want to be sure that they can express their Muslim faith with confidence and not be subject to hate speech or isolation. Luckily, universities protect freedom of worship and expression and forbid discrimination and abuse.
Your children will meet other Muslims, nearly all of whom I’m sure will be fantastic people to know and form friendships with. But there will be a tiny minority who have an agenda. We know all too well what the agenda is. It’s about pushing a false version of Islam that glorifies violence and rejects the values most of us share like fair play and tolerance.
Sadly, a small number of students in this country have been seduced by extremists on campus and left to join Daesh in Syria. Thank goodness it’s only a small number. But we share the pain of those families affected and pledge to make sure that young people are protected when they go to university. After all, you want your son or daughter to graduate with a top degree and go on to great things. So do we!
Here’s my five-point plan to make sure your children stay safe at college:
1. Zero tolerance for hate speech or abuse – report it when it happens – don’t ignore it
2. Never be bullied or intimidated into holding an opinion you know is wrong – ask advice from the college chaplain, local imam or parents to get the right answer
3. University is about free speech and expression – students should feel able to think critically and debate issues
4. The law protects freedom of worship – don’t believe anybody who says you don’t have the right to practice your faith, because you do!
5. Tolerance is so important. You may not agree with other sects within Islam but no group should be oppressed or silenced.
Well, anybody who remembers those five points will have an amazing time at college. It should be the best time of anybody’s life. But if things are not working out – always reach out for help. The university or student union welfare office, the chaplaincy or Mum and Dad – they’re all there to give support and encouragement.
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