Pakistani boys’ education: School important, but so is their religion for Muslim pupils

Just as we were looking for a resolution of the clash of GCSE exams with the Muslim month of fasting, we now have two Accrington boys sent home from school for their refusal to shave their beards. What both these situations tell us is the importance of religion for Muslim pupils. While it’s a minority matter in some local authorities, in places like Birmingham needs and issues of Muslims are a majority concern as they are now the largest religious group in the city schools.


For the past three years, I have been conducting doctoral research amongst the city’s secondary schools, with a focus on Pakistani boys’ education. The research was conducted in three very different schools- a comprehensive, a semi-selective and one grammar. It included over fifty interviews with the boys, their parents and teachers. A questionnaire was also administered to over two hundred Y11 students from across the ethnic groups.


One clear conclusion of the research was the importance of religion for not just Muslim pupils but Asians generally. White pupils were found to be the least religious, as shown in Table 1. In response to the statement: ‘My religion is very important in my life’ Muslim pupils indicated the greatest agreement; Pakistanis at 88.8% and Bangladeshis at 87%. Indian pupils were only slightly behind, at 85.7%. A very small minority, 28%, of the White-British agreed with the statement.


Table 1: My religion is very important in my life (%)


Ethnic group


Strongly disagree



Strongly agree

Agree / strongly agree






























For the Pakistani boys in my research, their religion manifested in the amount of time they spent on religious activities after school. This varied between one and four hours, from three days a week to daily. As well as learning to read the Quran, considered a fard, an obligatory duty, by the parents, they attended the mosque for their prayers and lessons on Islam.

For the boys, their religion was not just about believing and activities; it had a clear impact on their schooling. It taught them to be better students, to respect teachers, respect learning. More generally, many of them reported that their parents at home as well as their mosque teachers taught them to respect elders in general. This was also reported by the Pakistani parents I interviewed.

During the interviews with the boys and their parents, there were over one hundred references to the word ‘respect’, with the majority referring to teachers and education.  The following quotes were typical of the responses:

The same level of respect, for teachers, for mosque, for parents; that’s the way I have been brought up. It’s all the same. You’ve got to respect your elders no matter what; you can’t be rude to them. You’ve just got to show them a lot of respect. My mum and my dad have always told me that you’ve got to respect, whoever is older than you, you’ve got to show them respect. I’ve always been told: respect your elders. I respect my teachers allot.



Just to show respect and have manners. ..(Respect) for your elders. For people your own age as well; don’t act as if you are bigger than them, don’t act arrogant, brash… Treat them as how you’d want to be treated.



For the parents, being educated was more than achieving the benchmark 5 A*-C qualifications. They considered both the secular and religious – dunya and deen, this world and the next – were essential to the purpose of education and what being ‘educated’ meant. They saw it of equal importance that their children were taught to be good human beings, with good manners and morals, something that is often neglected in our school system.


“(Education) also includes knowing about his religion; he needs to know what Islam is, read his prayers, the fundamentals of Islam; it would make him a good human being as well. (Religion is) very, very important for us. In the way that, he needs it so to be a good human being. To understand his religion, religion is very, very important.


Fortunately, unlike the Accrington school above, schools in Birmingham were found to be accommodating of their Muslim pupils’ religious needs, such as space and opportunity for lunchtime prayers. In one school, they have anything upto 500 pupils participating in such prayers on a Friday. 


Karamat Iqbal works as an education consultant. He is the author of the recently published book ‘Dear Birmingham- a conversation with My Hometown’. He is studying for a PhD at Warwick University. He can be contacted at


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