If you are a teacher and interested in using Islamic Art as a tool for linking communities, this is for you!

Cross Curricular Islamic Art linking schools together.

I recently met up with Razwan Ul-Haq to report on his latest exciting work with schools.

By Mo Abdi 

This project, led by Artist and Author Razwan Ul-Haq aimed to bring traditional Islamic Art techniques to the mainstream classroom, in addition, it explored the use of Islamic Art as a tool to achieve understanding, respect and tolerance between communities of different backgrounds. The Project was led by Heaton St Barnabas School in Bradford, which has over 90 percent Muslim pupils and a mixture of non-Muslim and Muslim staff.   Workshops were also held in a school in Hereford, at a Church of England Primary school, where Muslims were very few indeed.   This was a celebration of Islamic Art, through Arabic Calligraphy and patterns with links to Art, RE, Mathematics, Science and also Literacy, using examples of Sufi poetry.   Pupils in Herefordshire, with limited experience of Muslim countries used Virtual Reality headsets to experience life in the Muslim world.  Using Skype pupils were able to talk about shared experiences of the workshops and managed to ask each other questions about any topic they wished.
Let’s have a look at some of the experiences that participants shared and there is a link to a teaching resource you can download for free.

If linking schools that are miles apart was difficult enough, Razwan Ul-Haq and Headteachers Diane Smith from Bradford and Jayne Maund from Hereford also wanted to create a Cross-Curricular experience for their pupils!   They wanted to immerse pupils, and train teachers, with an Art led, RE, Maths, English, Science, ICT and PSHE extravaganza.

Do the pupils look excited?  I'd  say they do.  What a fun way of introducing fractal patterns in maths and Turkish Ebru marbling for their calligraphy backgrounds.  Each pupil was able to create their own unique patterns.

Razwan Ul-Haq says he was overwhelmed by the response of all those who took part.  Let's hear what senior staff from both schools have to say: 

“Phenomenal!  The children were engaged, curious, interested and constantly asking when their next session would be.  Many parents came to comment on how much their children learnt and enjoyed it… Razwan was brilliant in his delivery.”

Headteacher, Jayne Maund, Holmer Academy

“One parent brought in a gift and card which read……….  ‘Dear Mrs Smith, thank you so much for supporting my children this year, it has been the best year for my kids, as they enjoyed calligraphy so much especially the activities you’ve planned’  …The pupils really enjoyed the project run, particularly the workshops. They came out excited and enthused to want to have a go again at calligraphy. They shared their experience with other children in school and with parents at the displaying of their work…a parent requested further workshops for pupils but also for themselves as it gave them a sense of developing key skills within their community that has been lost over the years and generations.”

Headteacher, Diane Smith, Heaton St Barnabas School

“The Project had a lasting impact on our pupils’ understanding of Muslim communities.  Not only did it foster good relationships but it encouraged open dialogue.  Razwan introduced calligraphy and Islamic Art to Year 5 pupils.   Staff spoke passionately about the impact.  Parents interacted brilliantly – great levels of engagement.  All feedback was hugely positive and everyone was very grateful for the opportunity.   Although all parents spoke highly of the event, one came back the following day to say she couldn’t thank people enough and considered herself so fortunate that her son got to take part in something so valuable.  The Children LOVED their art work and have already asked about when they can next speak to their new friends.  Razwan is inspiring.  He has an infectious warmth and went out of his way to get to know the children personally, calling them by their names and making each and every one of them feel valued.  Thank you!”

Deputy Headteacher, Anna Keating, Holmer Academy

Mixing a bit of the old with a bit of the new!  Modern technology in the form 
of Virtual Reality Headsets ensured that whilst pupils enjoyed traditional reed
bamboo pens that were hand-cut, they also used ICT in their learning. Thanks
to Mark Sanderson from the Herefordshire Schools ICT team for helping out.

   Pupils kept a log and a journal and had some great things to say:

Holmer Academy pupil:  “The Amal Project is amazing, it’s very good and inspirational…with my final piece of art I’m going to frame it.”

Heaton St Barnabas pupil: “It was a lot better than I expected. My favourite part was marbling and I’ve learnt so much. Kufic. Calligraphy pens. Mathematical ways. Marbling. Science and poetry.  Rate 20 stars.”

Heaton St Barnabas pupil: “What do I know about Islamic Art before working with Razwan?  I did not know much. What do I know about Islamic Art after working with Razwan?  I know you use calligraphy pens : You can learn about marbling and Science just with Art.  You can also use math and learn so much. And it is really fun!!!  WELL DONE RAZWAN!  You get 99.99 per cent.”
Holmer academy pupil: “I now know that there can be lots of types of Islamic Art.  We did marbling, used bamboo pens, learned the Arabic alphabet and wrote in kufic and and did Calligraphy I really have enjoyed the week.  And we did even MORE.”

Teachers and pupils were so intrigued by the different types of traditional Arabic Calligraphy
pens (Qalams) from all over the world!  

Razwan is reflective on the aims and objectives of the project, "Originally we thought we would  be introducing Islamic Art in places where Muslim-created artistic content is rare in Hereford.  However when we asked pupils in the "majority Muslim"  C of E school about Islamic Art, their responses were that they did not know a lot about Islamic Art.  We have therefore created a greater impact than we anticipated."

Showing pupils how to hold the Qalam.  This was the first
time they had ever used a bamboo pen. 

Pupil skill progression was captured in their journals.

Teachers had a go too and here the Headteacher and Deputy Head of Holmer Academy 
enjoy a spot of calligraphy as part of a CPD twilight after school with all the staff. 

Parents also got involved at both schools.  Here we see parents at an exhibition.  Anna Keating, the Deputy, was delighted at the amount of parents that attended and commented on the wonderful atmosphere at the exhibition. 

The wonders of modern technology.  Pupils from both schools communicating online.

Miss Pollard Yr 5 teacher at Holmer Academy, pictured above, during one of the Skype sessions said that:  “Some children were shocked about the similarities between themselves and the children from the other school during the Q & A session.”

But it wouldn't be complete without showing you the final Art produced by the pupils:

Toby was so pleased with his work, he just wanted to take it home 
and frame it straight away!
Fatima's experimentations with the calligraphy pen and applying coloured
 inks with the paintbrush complemented her marbled background. 

Isaac's work has all the elements on one piece of Artwork.  He has the astrolabe representing Science, a mathematical
pattern, fragments of translated Sufi poetry and of course Arabic Calligraphy.  All of it beautifully mounted by Isaac 
on his own background that he created using marbling inks.

Thanks to staff and pupils of Heaton St Barnabas C of E School and Bradford and Holmer Academy, Hereford.  This project was funded and supported by Amal (a Saïd Foundation programme).  Razwan Ul-Haq can be contacted on razwan@ulhaqbrothers.com

  Follow my Twitter for more news.

Would you like to do a similar project? To help you plan and deliver a similar project, download a free resource here.