How to build trust: The case of Batley Grammar School and the Muslim community

Our schools are beacons of moral and spiritual values, the law expects them to nurture strong character in the next generation. When the RE teacher at Batley Grammar showed the infamous cartoons of the beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) to the class, Muslim children were offended and complained to their parents. The school apologised and suspended the teacher. Local Muslim organisations and the school acknowledged the trust deficit but are determined to address it. They know it must be addressed to prevent children’s education suffering.

Two forces hold our world together; gravity and trust. Gravity keeps the sun in its place and trust keeps society together. It’s the glue, the cement for relationships. Trust allows diverse communities to live and work together, feel safe and belong to a city. The absence of trust causes fragmentation and conflict. That’s why we need to trust our leaders, family and fellow citizens. The blessed Messenger (peace be upon him) was called the ‘trustworthy’ because the Makkans could trust him with their wealth, their honour and lives.

The Oxford dictionary defines trust as “a firm belief in the truth and reliability of someone.” Others add its “feeling safe when vulnerable.” When we depend on others, teachers and friends, we feel vulnerable and we need trust to control the anxiety and fear. When trust is present, things go well; but when trust is lost, the relationship is broken. What happens when trust is lost? We withdraw, as we become inward-looking, our energy is sapped, we’re unsympathetic to others. We don’t even show anger, we become indifferent, a sad state. We need trust among our communities, so everyone feels part of the community, the city or the group. When there is trust we willingly contribute by sharing talent, treasure and time. But when it’s lost, we disengage and don’t share. But, when the trust level is high, people reward it by giving more.

The five pillars of trust

Trust is important in working and personal relationships, so how can we develop it? How can we mend it when it’s tattered? Research reveals that trust has five pillars:

  1. Truth: Expressed as reliability and dependability. A person or organisation that is true to its word and fulfils commitments creates trust.
  2. Sincerity: As a display of authenticity, being genuine, not pretending or putting on a mask. In Islamic terms that is hypocrisy, people who aren’t believable.
  3. Openness: When people share their thoughts and feelings trust grows, but when they’re in the dark, they become anxious. Openness is shown by the admission of a mistake.
  4. Justice: Treating everyone fairly, giving people their due, ensuring there is no bias and prejudice. Discrimination against others because of their race, colour or creed destroys trust. It smacks of superiority and disrespect for others.
  5. Competency: Having the right skills to do the job, when an individual or an organisation delivers what is expected of it trust develops.

We believe that the parents of the children at Batley Grammar School were brave to bring up the loss of trust and requested that the school take action to modify its approach to teaching RE. The school admitted its inadequacy and apologised. This provides the Muslim community with an opportunity to support the school to teach RE the way they want it.

We can restore the lost trust

Undoubtedly, the Muslims were hurt by the teacher’s actions, but by sharing our feelings with the school, we began to see things differently and realised that their intention was not what we imagined. This should repair the hurt quickly as misunderstandings are busted. Now we can begin the inquiry, what has happened? Why? How can we prevent it in the future? I spoke to the spokesperson for the parents Mr Yunus Lunat and he told me: “It’s crucial everyone behaves responsibly – that includes the press. The positive relationship between the school, its pupils, parents and wider community must be preserved”.

But this willingness to be open will lead to greater trust because the school authorities will feel that their own vulnerability and needs are being respected. The dynamics of trust are delicate in important relationships and the loss of trust can be costly – not only psychologically, but also financially and in terms of work and livelihood. Trust is an ongoing exchange between people and is not static. Trust can be earned and it can be lost but it can also be regained.

Conclusion

Trust begins and ends with me. I should be open to the other party. Make sure my values are shared, I can’t impose my values on others. We love our Islamic values and our British values of democracy, freedom of speech and loyalty. So, we have a point of reference for everyone to work from to be held accountable. We urge the school and the Muslim community to deal with this issue quickly and effectively, so it doesn’t erode the trust any further. This requires bold and wise leadership on both sides. By addressing the source of mistrust the school community will grow. Let’s give it time. Trust is not built in one meeting or one conversation, it needs time. Neither is it something we can put on auto-pilot; rather we have to champion it, guard it and nurture it.

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