Communication is the key Premium04 January 2017 | by John Cosgrove
With increasing numbers of non-Christian children – Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists – attending Catholic schools, it is vital to maintain a dialogue with parents about their religious views
It was already dark on a cold evening in January when the 18-year-old sister of one of our pupils left work and set out to walk the short distance home. After only a few hundred yards, her path took her through an underpass beneath a main road. There, a man was waiting with a knife. At around half past six, a jogger found the girl’s lifeless body bleeding on the ground.
A young woman’s future was brutally snatched away; a family was ripped apart. The murderer, it turned out, was a former boyfriend, and for the local community this only added to the shock and horror. Our playground became a ferment of rumour and near hysteria, and, in the midst of such tragedy, we were challenged to make the love of God real for our children – to provide them with comfort, reassurance and a measure of healing. But there was a complication.
The family at the centre of these awful events were Muslims, and I knew too little about Islamic belief and practices to be confident that we could respond without the risk of adding to the family’s distress. To my shame, as head teacher of a school with a significant minority of Muslim pupils, I did not even know if Muslims pray for the dead.
Figures published late last year by the Catholic Education Service (CES) show that in 2015 our schools were teaching just over 24,000 Muslim pupils. The BBC website reported this under the headlines “Muslims pick Catholic schools” and “Muslim families sending children to Catholic schools”, both of which are exaggerations. There are about 600,000 Muslims of school age in England, so those accommodated in Catholic schools represent less than 5 per cent of the total. The CES statistics reveal that in total there are 823,000 pupils in Catholic schools in England, of whom 3 per cent are Muslim.
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