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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Muslim student loses legal battle over school’s prayer ban

A Muslim student, who remains unnamed for legal reasons, has lost a high court challenge over her right to pray at school.

The student from Michaela Community School in Brent, North London, alleged that the so called, ‘prayer ban’ was: “The kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society”.

The case centred around the issue of prayer being one of the key pillars of Islam, and therefore uniquely and unfairly affects the practice of her religion. The student’s mother stated that in her view the issue was: “rooted in the understanding that prayer isn’t just a desirable act for us – it’s an essential element that shapes our lives as Muslims”.

The ruling has particular significance to the school, as nearly half of its 700 pupils are Muslim.

The case was heard over the two days at the High Court. The school, famous for its strictness, initially introduced measures when large groups of students started praying in the school’s yard.

The thinking behind this was that prayer rituals during school time could, “undermine inclusion” among pupils, and was also due to worries about segregation forming amongst students from different faith groups.

The situation intensified when the school and its staff were subjected to abuse, death threats and even a bomb hoax due to accusations of Islamophobia. Lawyers for the school argued that the prayer ban was a justified and proportionate response to this.

In defence of the prayer ban, headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh – who on her X / Twitter page describes herself as, ‘Britain’s strictest headmistress’ posted her written statement on the platform, which contains the following: “A school should be free to do what is right for the public it serves. The court’s decision is therefore a victory for all schools. Schools should not be forced by one child and her mother to change its approach simply because they have decided they don’t like something at the school. If parents do not like what Michaela is, they do not need to send their children to us.”

Responding to the ruling against her case, the student made the following statement: “Even though I lost I still feel that I did the right thing, in seeking to challenge the ban. I tried my best and was true to myself and my religion.”

The case has sparked controversy across the board, prompting much debate from those on both sides on the situation.

The Asian Standard contacted the Department of Education for their response to the issue:

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

“The Michaela Community School is an outstanding school with a history in excelling in its outcomes for all pupils, many of whom are from some of the most disadvantaged parts of London.

“The government has always been clear that heads are best placed to take decisions on what is permitted in their school on these matters, to balance the rights of all with the ethos of the school community – including in relation to whether and how to accommodate prayer. This judgment confirms this.

“This should give all school leaders confidence in making the right decision for their school, while prioritising tolerance and respect between those of different faiths and none.”

The Runnymede Trust is a leading independent race equality think tank. They responded with their view on the issue:

Interim CEO, Dr Shabna Begum:

“This ruling from the High Court is outrageous and sets a dangerous and worrying precedent, it targets Muslim students and polices them for the peaceful practice of their faith. This decision comes alongside the ramping up of Prevent, and the recent government definition of extremism, and rests within a hostile, Islamophobic mood which is being stirred up by political and media elites. Birbalsingh’s statement wilfully corrupts and inverts the values of multiculturalism, and is a gleeful endorsement of Islamophobia.”

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