It is not everyday that you see a bunch of ordinary, everyday parents publicly fight back against a system that they feel is affecting their children in a Public school system. I am referring to the Peel District School Board in Ontario, Canada.
For those not following this story actively, here is the not-so-short version:
- Peel District has been allowing Islamic Prayers on public school property for 15 years. Initially Muslim children were allowed to pray with a set of approved passages. Lately they have demanded and received permission for other passages to be recited. This was championed by Nokha Dakroub, PDSB trustee. She said it was a matter of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. This link leads to the report in the Globe and Mail.
- Non Muslim parents are concerned about exposing their children to ideologies that are contrary to their own religious beliefs, especially with impressionable children, given Islam assigns great importance to converting in.
- They are also concerned about PDSB violating its gender equality policy on school property and the treatment of menstruating girls as unclean and unfit to pray.
- They therefore requested the PDSB to disallow all religious activity in school, which are educational and not religious institutions.
- Ed Morgan, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Toronto said ” The school may be conveying a message that they endorse religion and that’s what the school is not allowed to do” This Link leads to the National Post.
- Mississauga and Brampton (both in Peel Region) are home to the largest number of mosques in Canada. Students who need to pray used to go to the mosque for the Friday prayer and sermon. Some background on what happened next is here.
- The PDSB has released a fact sheet on this matter (Link) , to which we have these observations:
- Parents will do what is best for their children, it is not against Islam, it is for their children. When Kathleen Wynne unveiled her sex ed policy that ran contrary to Islam, hundreds of parents pulled their kids out of Thorncliffe Park PS forcing the school to offer a sanitized version of the sex-ed curriculum. Why was that one school exempted from the sex-ed curriculum in its original form? Here Muslim parents did what they felt was right for yheir children. Link from CBC here.
- Diwali is a one day brief mention, if that. It’s not on every Friday of the school year. By that token, nobody complains about Eid, which is 2 days of the year. We cannot compare Friday prayers to Diwali or any of the holy days ( see the 2016-2017 holidays list here).
- The schools provide only vegetarian and Halal options in events in schools that include parents and children. Muslims students are permitted to eat both vegetarian and halal options. There are non-Muslims who do not eat Halal and are non-vegetarians. They are offered Halal. They do not complain. Often the Halal option contains beef which is not acceptable to Hindu parents and children. There are a significant number of Hindu and Sikh children in Peel. Sikhs are forbidden to eat Halal meat as it is against their Code of Conduct. See Link.
- The fact sheet mentions “We want all students to feel safe and welcomed” and that is noble. Safety was never an issue. All students are safe in school irrespective of who they are.
- While this matter has escalated to unnecessary and undesirable levels, the PDSB must realize that it has not been resolved. This practice has gone on for 15 years but that is hardly a reason to keep the status quo. Indeed the only constant for everything on earth, is change.
- Prima facie, the rules today certainly seems to favour one faith over all other, irrespective of how it is spun. Several religions including some major ones require prayers several times a day. If every religion took time off to celebrate their faith related prayers, the school system would grind to a halt. I believe it is time to re-examine this issue again, without the acrimonious and thoroughly regrettable situations we have seen previously.
All children are precious to us all. Every single one of them, no exceptions. And as such they will always be first and foremost in the hearts of parents, Muslim and non-Muslim. We must work together to find a solution to this problem ( and it certainly is one that is very passionately felt) without the children being involved or affected in any way. Its time to re-open the dialogue in a sensible and sane manner. Political pressure on leaders and trustees must not trump legitimate concerns by parents.
The parents of PDSB feel the system is stacked against them by powerful lobbies that are political and religious and who control the mainstream media. Let’s hope for a resolution that makes PDSB schools fair for all children.