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UAE parents defend Gems schools after claims in the US they fund 'jihad'

DUBAI // An American television network has been criticised by UAE residents after one of its anchors cited a report that Gems schools, based in Dubai, funded jihad.

The comments, aired on a Fox Business Network show hosted by British-American Stuart Varney, were taken from a report from US political website The Daily Caller. Fox reiterated that the views were not that of the channel but of the website.

The comments came as campaigning between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the US picked up pace ahead of the November election.

Ashley Webster, the channel’s overseas markets editor, appeared on the show and, citing The Daily Caller report, said Gems Education had paid former US president Bill Clinton more than US$5 million (Dh18.4m) in fees.

Again referring to the report, Mr Webster said: “It teaches Sharia law, among other things, through a network of more than 100 schools through the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

“They adhere strictly to Sharia law. It’s called the Gems Education, and a portion of their tax, which they call religious tax, goes to funding Islamic jihad.”

Gems Education Group, founded by Sunny Varkey, operates 91 schools worldwide, including 47 in the UAE.

Bill Clinton is honorary chairman of a philanthropic foundation set up by Mr Varkey, and has spoken at Gems schools including Dubai American Academy and the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.

The schools offer 250,000 Gems pupils from more than 150 nationalities studies in French, British, American, Indian, local and International Baccalaureate curricula.

In the UAE, Muslim pupils in private schools must take Islamic studies but it is optional for non-Muslims. UAE social studies is required until a certain age.

Fees at Gems schools range from Dh3,300 a year at Our Own English School in Abu Dhabi to Dh135,000 a year at Nations Academy in Dubai.

UAE residents rebutted the statements, with one parent of a former pupil calling it a “total lie”, while teachers and parents at Gems schools have also spoken out in their defence.

“When I read this story I laughed,” said Zeenath Khan, whose seven-year-old daughter Samara attends Gems Wellington Academy in Dubai.

“The school is doing nothing wrong. It is ridiculous for someone to pick up on a wild story like this and run with it.

“I question if Fox even understands sharia law. Gems is teaching Islamic studies, like any other school in the country.

“I’m a Muslim, so I know they are not teaching anything extreme, just the basics of religion to the kids.”

A parent of a pupil at Gems New Millennium School Al Khail in Dubai believed most pupils would not be aware of the story. “Students know the school system and their classmates. They know what the teachers are doing,” she said. “I don’t foresee students believing this story in any way.”

Samir, an Arab pupil at a Gems school in Dubai, said he had never been taught Sharia, although he had to attend Islamic studies classes.

“I didn’t enjoy it personally because I felt like everything was repeated. We would learn one thing, then keep going on about the same thing,” he said.

“But none of the teachers were ever forceful.”

Gems Education did not respond to requests for comment from The National, while Fox Business Network said: “It is not a matter for Fox to comment on. We cited The Daily Caller.”

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(via The National)