Reaching Out with Cultural Diversity

It is said: the problems that we face as a global humanity cannot be solved at the same level of thinking which created them in the first place. We understand this to mean that we live in times where we need every single ingredient of outside-the-box, creative and hybrid thinking. Given these collage-like circumstances, why can’t Madrasahs stake their claims to contributing to these creative solutions? Surely, this is very much outside the box, right? Well, this is where we at Olive Tree thrive! Firstly as a grassroots initiative we see much potential in us carving a niche for ourselves to cater to a growing demand for human connection against the odds and divides. Secondly, given our rare expertise in a religion/culture/ideology which is amongst the most misunderstood on the face of this earth, and one that has either been involved or somehow implicated in a significant portion of our global conflict, a huge responsibility is on us to reach out. One of the main areas of our experiences in outreach is in the field of cultural diversity training and education. It is a field we aim to develop and work together with partners in tapping its full potential.

Cultural Diversity Education

As schools continually fine tune their curricula to equip and graduate students with the versatile competencies needed in today’s globalised world, a growing demand exists for exposure to cultural diversity. This is an area we have considerable expertise in and have ambitions to develop and innovate in partnership with like-minded institutions. Our outreach experience in this field has seen our staff directly host over 30 cultural diversity engagements with educational institutes specifically from a total 163 visiting groups (3583 people) over the course of a year and a half tenure at Edinburgh Central Mosque. As education is a core part of our identity as an institution, we have chosen to highlight it in this blog post.

We have seen first hand the profound impact of challenging, changing and questioning perceptions, stereotypes and prejudice through engaged learning exchanges. As you will see when you review the list of institutions we have engaged with, the common factor which made our paths cross was to learn about one another. The institutions ranged from a father wishing to home-school his daughter and therefore help her learn as much about other faiths as she can so she can make her own mind up, to mechanical engineers from the British Army building team cohesion through cultural visits, and from social work students preparing to work with Syrian refugees to trainee ministers learning about other faiths.

Our Position on Education

We shall provide relevant knowledge to the community, using our expertise, experience, facilities and having standards in place ensuring that our service delivery remains exemplary. We can and have delivered multiple lectures, workshops and seminars on various aspects of Islam and Muslims to a wide range of audiences - Muslim and non-Muslim. We regard to our obligations to the community, we want a future generation confident in belonging where they are, and with their religious identity. Learning should be assessed and evaluated. Therefore: structure, assessment and certification are key goals we are striving for as an institution. We are working with practitioners in Scotland to design our courses so that they teach Islam better.

Why does a Scottish institution teach children Arabic and Qur’an (yes, we affiliate ourselves to the land)? Our answer: if we want a generation confident in belonging where they are, and with their identity, we should make sure they have the tools to correctly understand their often misunderstood religion. The Madrasah plays an important role in meeting the students' social needs of being in an environment where they can feel comfortable with their Muslim identity, make friends and learn about the diverse cultures of the Muslim world. We aim to expand the school in terms of class, curriculum, resources and teaching. And whilst catering for the Muslim community, we certainly know full well our obligations to the members of our wider Scottish society. We also want to make sure they have access to means helping them correctly understand an often very misunderstood religion.

Looking into the Future

We have bright ambitions to establish ourselves as a leading grassroots institution in the field of cultural diversity dialogue, education and training. Our work is distinguished by its interdisciplinary and multicultural nature. The privilege of being able to access different social and cultural communities together with our experience and passion of doing so makes us good partners to work with in this - sometimes - sensitive area. As we build upon our reputation and gradually increase the scope of our activities, we aim to be at the forefront of contributing to solving our complex global issues through our out-of-the box way of thinking, working and inspiring positive change.

Photo credits: CAS Trips Europe, September 2017.

Our Educational Outreach Experience

University of Wisconsin: Counselling students visit to learn about Islam and Muslims (July 5, 2016)

CAS Trips: “Building intercultural understanding in Edinburgh.” (Sep. 13, 2016)

University of Edinburgh: School of Architecture (Islamic Art, Sep. 8, 2016), Department of Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies (Oct. 11, 2016), Students attending the courses: ‘Muslims in Britain’ and ‘Religion in Modern Britain’ (Feb. 8, 2017), Postgraduate Arabic Language Studies Department (Feb. 14, 2017)

Edinburgh College: “a group of students on a course helping support units about equality and diversity and values and principles. The course is training for them to become youth and community workers.” (Oct. 6, 2016)

Edinburgh College: Sociology course students, address: social and cultural issues, dispense myths of cultural differences, introduce students to different beliefs, ways of life. Topics: Racialization of Muslims in media, challenge stereotypes … to learn first hand.” (Oct. 11, 2016)

Scottish Government Leadership interns: to ask informal questions: experiences of religious leadership within the Edinburgh community. (Nov. 2, 2016)

KNord Business School (Denmark): 65 students, 4 teachers, “guided tour of mosque, introduction to Islam, our work in the local community. The 2 classes have an international focus studying cross cultural communication.” (Nov. 8, 2016)

Liberton High School: Islam for Higher Religious Studies, conference (Nov. 14, 2016)

L.M & E.M (Persons Anonymised): Mosque visit for E.M training to become an RMPS teacher, L.M is a funeral celebrant - focus on Islamic rites of purification for the dead, and funerary practices. (Nov. 16 2016)

Edinburgh Academy: “Mosque visit - a part of school project comparing Islam in the UK to Islam in other places.” (Nov. 21, 2016)

Trinity Academy: Religion & Ethics - to speak to students about a range of issues relating to Islam: e.g. medical ethics, religion and relationships. (Nov. 22, 2016)

South Bridge Resource Centre: for the city of Edinburgh Council’s Adult Education Department. Course: Religious Buildings in Edinburgh. (Nov. 23, 2016)

Programme for Alternative Vocational Education (PAVE): “15 year olds excluded from school would like to visit; part of a unit on anti-discrimination, racism …” (Nov. 28, 2016)

Scottish Government Race Equality Network: “a visit to help the network understand the requirement of Muslim colleagues. The visit included the prayer and ritual washing (wudu) areas as well as a witnessing of the Friday congregational prayer along with answering questions about Islam.” (Jan. 27, 2017)

Edinburgh Theological Seminary: “hosting 12 trainee ministers attending a course on World Religions” (Feb. 3, 2017)

Stewart’s Melville College: Higher Religious studies classes - 18 students (Feb 8, 2017)

Katrineberg College of Adult Education (Sweden): “20 students and 2 teachers from different parts of Sweden would like to study the social and working life of people in Edinburgh (Scotland) and to enable our students to make contact with people who are actively involved in fields similar to their own in Sweden. Some are especially interested in religious studies and especially the role of Islam in the development of Scotland as a modern cosmopolitan country. Students want to visit on an informal basis, have a chat about your work with the Muslim community in Edinburgh and exchange views.” (Apr. 20, 2017)

Edinburgh & Lothians Race and Equality Council (ELREC): the Heritage project visits to learn more about the Muslim community. (Apr. 22, 2017)

Ministry of Defence: 3 Rifles, B Company, Dreghorn Barracks, 50-60 soldiers visit to learn about Islam and Muslims (Apr 24, 2017) “developmental training for a group of 50 soldiers … one of the things we’d like to do is improve our understanding of Islam.” (Jun. 26, 2017)

Ministry of Defence (Mechanical Engineers): “every couple of months, we do an engineering/ cultural visit to aid team cohesion and also experience some of the unique Edinburgh atmosphere.” (May 17, 2017)

Experience Scotland: “10 university students this summer are in a module called ‘Education in a Pluralistic Society’ and it’s focused on preparing students to be mindful educators in a pluralistic society. For many of them, this will be their first visit to a mosque and perhaps their first real exposure to Islam. Our visits are always really impactful …” (Jun. 13, 2017)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons): “church class for young people (18 to 30 years) to meet people with other religious faiths, increase awareness and understanding of other people’s beliefs within Edinburgh. To help us appreciate more how Muslims worship and serve God.” (Jun. 17, 2017)

H. L (Person Anonymised): “I am the father of a five year old girl whom we are going to home-school. I would like to introduce her to Islam, but I don’t know how to go about it. Could you offer any advice? … My own schooling was exclusively Christian. I have no understanding of Islam or what goes on in a mosque. I am myself an atheist, but I want my daughter to be exposed to and understand all faiths and to be able to make her own choices.” (Jun. 28, 2017)

Multicultural Family Base (MCFB): a cohort of social work students working as interns with the MCFB to help prepare them work with members of the Syrian refugee community (Jul. 4, 2017)

Just Festival Volunteers: “a lot of people volunteering from different cultural, national, religious and gender backgrounds … work with Just Festival … to promote diversity, peaceful dialogue and equality… would like to learn about Islam and its appearance in Scotland.” (Aug. 12, 2017)

Church of Scotland: Interfaith programme for the 2nd youth leaders training day (Aug. 15, 2017)

CAS Trips: International Baccalaureate students on an intercultural dialogue visit (Sep. 12, 2017)