Aussie values for Muslim schools

Sydney, Australia - ISLAMIC schools will be encouraged to denounce terrorism and Australia's universities urged to expand courses to train imams under reforms agreed to yesterday at John Howard's terrorism summit.

The 13 leaders focused on better ways to educate and integrate Muslim students, from primary school through to university, and committed the community to Australia's traditions and values.

"There was discussion about what is taught in Islamic schools," the Prime Minister said. "Obviously, we are not getting into the business of telling any religion how it should conduct itself.

"There were a number of issues talked about. One is the education and sourcing, if I can put it that way, of imams in Australia."

In a statement of principles, the summit also agreed Muslims had a responsibility to challenge those who promoted violence.

Education Minister Brendan Nelson said he would hold talks with the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee and Australian Federation of Islamic Councils next month on plans to encourage and support more imams being educated in Australian universities.

"What we need in Australia are Islamic scholars trained in Australian universities," Dr Nelson told The Australian.

"I think there needs to be a formal accreditation policy for imams. There's significant support within the Islamic community for that view. It's time now ... to develop a rigorous, university-based program that leads to an accreditation process for Australian-trained imams."

But the proposals drew an immediate and angry response from Islamic schools and teachers. Salah Salman, director of King Khalid in Melbourne, the oldest Islamic college in Australia, attacked Mr Howard for "making these provocative comments".

"We haven't done anything wrong," he said. "We are doing a great job here, nurturing young Australian Muslims. We are very dismayed at the attitude of head-kicking for no reason.

"Our college is one of the leading schools in Australia in all aspects. We invite Mr Howard to visit."

Kevin King, of the Langford Islamic College in Perth, said the school was "a normal Australian school, with Australian teachers and students". "One hundred per cent are Muslim, yes, but Australian ... Terrorism is definitely not on the agenda here," he said.

Earlier this month, Amjad Mehboob, the chief executive of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, told The Australian: "I have heard that some private colleges - I don't know which ones - don't want to fly the Australian flag or do not want their students to sing the Australian national anthem."

However, Mubarak Noor of the Islamic School of Brisbane, said his staff were "teaching peace and harmony".

Gloria Taylor, the acting general secretary of the Independent Education Union, which represents staff in non-government schools, including Islamic colleges, joined the attack.

"There's an assumption behind this that Islamic schools would take a different view of extremism than any other school," she said. "That's offensive. We have members in these schools and they would let us know in a moment if they thought anything was amiss."

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said education was critical in tackling extremism. "I really hope that from the summit will emerge a determination that young Australians will grow up with a real respect for Australian values of tolerance and mateship and that they'll grow up, too, with a real understanding of all sections of the community," he said.