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Embodied Faith: Islam, Religious Freedom and Educational Practices in Physical Education

The growing incidence of withdrawal of Muslim girls from physical education prompted this study into tensions between religious freedom and educational practices. It was located in a city in the West Midlands of England. Data on experiences, issues, concerns and solutions related to participation of Muslim girls in physical education were collected by a team of eight researchers including Islamic studies and physical education subject specialists, city advisors and teachers. Methods used were: eight in-depth case studies across primary, secondary and Muslim state schools including interviews with 19 head teachers and teachers (two were Muslim), focus-group interviews with 109 pupils and 32 parents. In addition, four focus-group interviews were held with 36 young people in community/supplementary schools for Muslim communities. All city schools (402) and 12 community providers received questionnaires, 50 were returned. Consultations were held with key national associations including the Muslim Council of Britain and the National Subject Association for Physical Education. Empirical analysis is reported elsewhere. During the experience of conducting the study four problem areas emerged that required attention to effectively address tensions between religious freedom and educational practices in physical education: bridging the gap between research and educational practice; the concept of embodied faith; the significance of context-physical education and religion in England; and finally widening researchers’ frames of reference to include intersectionality and interdisciplinary approaches. The discussion exposes the complexity of pursuing social justice in a democratic society that embraces people of multiple ethnicities and religions. The paper concludes by exploring ways in which theoretical constructs increase understanding and can influence policy and practice.