Date of Submission



Evidence showing a positive link between Islamic practices and rituals at the everyday level with civic participation is on the rise (Harris & Roose, 2014; Patton, 2014; Vergani, Johns, Lobo, & Mansouri, 2017). Yet, character building to produce women and men of adab (Al-Attas, 1980) for active and confident engagement with society, has always been the raison d’etre of Islamic schools (Buckley, 1997). What remains unexplored is how these schools and their educational practitioners intervene and actively engage with their central purpose in the minutiae of everyday life (Apple, 2006). Specifically, how the racialised Islamic schools (Gulson & Webb, 2012, 2013) and their leaders mediate the “pluri-cultural” life (Said, 1977, p. xvii), articulating, embodying and defending alternative educational possibilities for parity of educational outcomes, lacks analytical consideration.

This study explored the construction of the espoused purpose of Islamic schools in Australia. Grounded in a critical race position (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) and a faith-centred epistemology (Zine, 2004), it employed a collective case study methodology (Stake, 1995; Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2012) to understand how a disenfranchised community understands and experiences its everyday lived realities, and how leaders speak back to authoritarianism (Said, 2004; Apple, 2006) to achieve their aspirations in a diverse marketised Australian society (Walsh, 2014). An analysis of the promotional materials (Symes, 1998) and an online survey of stakeholders of Islamic schools in Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane were conducted in the exploratory phase of this inquiry, followed by an in-depth analysis of documents and a leadership qualitative questionnaire.

The findings revealed, firstly, that neoliberal technologies have worked to influence the schools’ educational practices, creating possibilities that are bounded with limitations. By enabling choice—and as a consequence, the physical space where schools and their educational practitioners provide an education that aligns school values with those of students’ homes; religious practice that can be freely exercised and instituted; and, support mechanisms to mitigate the harm arising from students’ external social realities—neoliberalism has been productive for this disenfranchised community, allowing for its aspirations to provide the tools for achieving its purpose. Islamic schools therefore play a vital role in contributing to social cohesion. Yet, substance has been compromised and remains unresolved by a formal curriculum that prioritises the dominant “excellence” discourse alongside an appended imitation Islamic curriculum model (Ramadan, 2004). Secondly, negotiation of key tensions arising from the external and internal contexts, primarily the prevalence of persisting dichotomies, summons leadership practices that not only draw on the schools’ ethical frameworks and own personal values (Striepe, 2016) but full engagement in intellectual activity: persistence, critique and pushing through (Said, 1994). Thirdly, any attempts made by schools and leaders to engage with Islamic education must stem from learning and the collective creation and alignment of the “right” aims (Merry, 2015, p. 147). By persisting and pushing, schools and leaders who operate by faith (Dantley, 2005) focus on helping students negotiate their identities and connect with their worlds (Ramadan, 2004).

Document Type


Access Rights

Open Access


298 pages

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Faculty of Education and Arts

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Education Commons