The first imam employed to care for the spiritual development of Muslim pupils at Eton College described his appointment as “a fantastic step” yesterday and said he hoped to hold debates in the school on such issues as the Iraq war and Israel.
Monawar Hussain, 34, an Oxford graduate who is training as a cleric, has been chosen by Eton, one of Britain’s leading fee-paying schools, to help to teach its 20 Muslim pupils about Islam.
Mr Hussain, a married father of three, said he was excited about taking up his post at the £21,000-a-year college in September.
He has been appointed as part of what the headmaster, Anthony Little, has described to parents as a programme to increase understanding of Islamic culture.
The traditionally Christian and largely Anglican school teaches 1,290 boys aged between 13 and 18.
It already has four Anglican priests, a Roman Catholic chaplain and a Jewish tutor. The appointment of a Muslim tutor has been seen as a natural development. Eton is among the first leading independent schools to appoint a Muslim teacher.
Mr Hussain said: “I am really excited about working at the school. It’s a fantastic step in developing an understanding between the West and Islam. I hope other schools follow suit.
“It’s important that Muslim pupils and all students have an understanding of Islamic culture. I want to hold debates about the Iraq war and Israel that will be open to the whole school. It’s important to talk to one another and express different views.”
Mr Hussain’s focus will be on the Muslim students but, he said, Eton might decide to expand his role to include teaching pupils of other religious beliefs about Islam.
Mr Hussain, whose parents originate in Pakistan, was born in Britain. He will complete an MA in Islamic studies at the Muslim College in west London in June. He said Muslims with children at Eton were in favour of an imam being appointed and he looked forward to developing the role.
“I think Eton is a great institution. They cater for their pupils’ needs. Catholic and Jewish pupils are being looked after and it’s important that the Muslim pupils are too.”
The Muslim Council of Britain welcomed the move. Its secretary-general, Iqbal Sacranie, said: “It is necessary that students have a thorough understanding of the true message of Islam in order to cope with issues of the future.”
In addition to the appointment of Mr Hussain, the school has also decided to offer Arabic as a language for the first time.