By Francine Ponticelli
A Stockport resident has founded a campaign and charity that aims to raise awareness on the indoctrination of British Muslims overseas.
Benedict Garrett created the Azadi campaign and the Azadi-Freedom charity, after informally fathering a young boy who was sent to Pakistan to study in a radical Islamic school, a Madrasah, by his mother.
Mr Garrett, more famously known as Johnny Anglais, became a media sensation this year after his previous employer, Beale High School in London, terminated his contract after discovering he was moonlighting as a stripper.
He was forced to appeal in front of the General Teaching Council, who decided on a two year suspension.
It was during this time a former pupil, Jay-J, 17, contacted Mr Garrett from Pakistan and detailed the abusive treatment he was receiving.
The young man had previously attempted to return to England, but was refused the right. As soon as he arrived back Jay-J and his prospective carer decided to up-root North to Stockport.
Speaking of Jay-J’s ordeal Mr Garrett said: “It changed his life and scarred his memories.”
Madrasahs generally are traditional institutes that specialise in the teaching of Islamic subjects and the integration of Muslim cultures into a wider society.
Unfortunately, there are radical Madrasahs that enforce students to perform rigorous recitals of the Qur’an, with no broader spectrum of education, and are encouraged to be ‘anti-Western’.
However, it is the indoctrination of British Muslims to such Madrasahs that Mr Garrett is trying to challenge.
“The concept of this charity is that a child is not somebody’s property,” he said.
Mr Garrett stated that it is illegal for children from outside of Pakistan to be educated in Madrasahs, but said: “Plenty of non-Pakistani citizens are affected by this.”
Mr Garrett named the charity Azadi-Freedom, which is both the English word for the Islamic term matched together and features in the campaign’s motto - Freedom for Young Minds and Lives.
Speaking on this he said: “Young people should be allowed to have their own belief and make their own choices.”
Mr Garrett highlighted the legal issues of forcing British Muslims abroad at the age of 16 to study in Madrasahs: “Children at this age are lawfully entitled to make their own decisions regarding education.”
The UK-based Islamic schools once caused controversy when teachers were questioned on their legal authorization to work with children.
Mr Garrett did stress: “[The charity] is not about targeting specific ethnic groups or Madrasahs.”
With connection to the events in his own life the Azadi-Freedom founder went on to say: “There’s a link here with my story - It’s about liberty.”
The aim of both the campaign and charity is to raise awareness and offer support to those from Muslim families that are based in Britain and who are expected to follow Muslim traditions, such as arranged marriage.
The Home Secretary Theresa May has recently spoken publicly about wanting to make forced marriages an illegal offence.
In an announcement earlier this month, she said: "Marriage should be one of the happiest events in a person's life, but shockingly thousands of people a year are forced into marriage against their will.
"It is an appalling form of abuse and perceived cultural sensitivities should not stop us doing more to tackle it."
After requesting access to the Freedom of Information (FOI) on this topic, Mr Garrett claimed: “We’re not much the wiser on how many people this affects, and there could be thousands of cases going unnoticed.”
Mr Garrett urged that he has to build links with religious groups in order to raise more interest on the issues.
Siddiq Diwan, who holds the leadership position of Imam at Old Trafford Muslim Society, expressed his views on Islamic education: “As a Muslim my view [is] that a 'well-balanced' education is a human necessity for all, at all times and in all places.
The very renaissance of western civilisation has been hugely influenced by this Islamic civilisation.”
Institutes that abuse their power and attempt to exploit young minds for their own radical regimes is something that Mr Diwan is all too familiar with, but he was willing to praise certain schools for their dedication to Muslim teachings.
“Testimony to the importance of well-balanced education placed by Islam and the Muslims is the wonderful Muslim civilisation in Spain and its numerous academics and universities,” said Mr Diwan.
He finally added: “The very renaissance of western civilisation has been hugely influenced by this Islamic civilisation.”
The desire for the charity and campaign to be successful is instilled within Mr Garrett, as he declared: “I’m always going to be behind this charity.”