Secondary school pupils’ homework is supposed to be thought-provoking, but the Religious Education assignment brought home last week by a Year 8 class at Les Beauchamps in Guernsey was a little too thought-provoking for some.
The pupils were told to write a letter to their family explaining why they had converted to Islam. The letter was supposed to convey how they might be feeling, how becoming Muslim had changed their life for the better and how much they loved their family.
A statement from the Guernsey Education Department said: “The Guernsey agreed syllabus for religious education includes a structured framework for ensuring that Christianity and the other five principal religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism) are studied with sufficient depth and breadth throughout the four Key Stages.”
A clear instruction that came with the homework drove home the point that this assignment was intended as a thought experiment:
"Please also note this is a piece of creative writing and completely fictional. YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY CONVERTING TO ISLAM.
"It is purely to test your knowledge of what we have learnt this year and how well you can argue objectively!"
The story broke on the local Guernsey Press website, and some users were quick to question the wisdom of asking secondary school pupils to write such a letter.
Reader John West wrote: "I think it's good for children to be taught about other religions, but this letter was bound to cause controversy due to the nature of talking about conversion, particularly in light of young people being radicalised in the West.
"It's a very emotive topic and really not a particularly clever move by the school/education."
Others were more welcoming of the idea. Another commenter, Vivica, wrote: "Does this really matter? It's a thought experiment... If you're worried about your kid being influenced by it maybe you just need to do a better job as a parent!"
The furore comes on the heels of a controversial announcement by Guernsey's chief minister Jonathan Le Tocq about the issue of housing Syrian refugees on the island.
Mr Le Tocq told the BBC earlier this month: “There's certainly a lot of Islamophobia and negativity that's been around and that would entail that it would be difficult for us to ensure that [the refugees] would find the sorts of security and stability here in Guernsey, were they to be resettled here, in the same way as they are, say, in other parts of the UK.”
Guernsey has a particularly small Muslim population – the most recent figures available suggest that Muslims make up less than 1% of the island's population, compared to a national average of 4.5%.
Nationally there were an estimated 5,200 conversions to Islam in 2011, the most recent year for which figures are available.
The homework is due to be handed in at the end of next week.
Photo credits: SWNS