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Last Updated: Monday, 13 November 2006, 09:41 GMT
Prayers at school 'lead to abuse'
By Hannah Goff
Education reporter, BBC News

Like all devout Muslims, 14-year-old Yasameen and her sister Sundus, 11, are supposed to pray five times a day.

Most of these prayer sessions fall outside the school day but, with the end of British summertime, one now occurs before home time.

The half-Iraqi girls, through their parents, asked the head teacher at Nottingham's Manning School for Girls for a room which they could use for prayer during their lunch break.

Yasameen and Sundus Al-Ameen
The girls were targeted after praying in the playground

But there was a gap of a few days between the request and when the room could be made available.

So Yasameen and Sundus, and other Muslim students, decided to hold their own prayer session in the playground.

The first day it passed off without a problem - the children knelt and prayed in Arabic and returned to their classes.

But on the second occasion the group of children were abused by some of the other girls in the school.

When one of those praying challenged this she was allegedly assaulted by another pupil.

Someone called her an Iraqi suicide bomber and a gang of eight girls said her father was Saddam Hussein
Mr Al-Ameen

Dr Sanaa Al-Ameen, father of Yasameen and Sundus, said: "The girl who was attacked didn't have very good English and she thought she was committing a crime by praying. She was very confused.

"My daughter stood up for her and went to report the matter to the head teacher."

He also says his elder daughter is one of a number of Muslim girls who are regularly abused because of their faith. She has been spat and sworn at, he says.

"Someone called her an Iraqi suicide bomber and a gang of eight girls said her father was Saddam Hussein," said the Iraqi national, who moved to Britain 30 years ago.

The school says it dealt with this incident of racist language in line with its procedures but Mr Al-Ameen feels it could have done more.

He said: "The heat has been turned up on Muslims. We felt it at 9/11. Now 7/7 has happened it's even worse."

Respect

The school says it is happy to provide its Muslim pupils with a place to pray and has for a number of years given pupils a room to use during Ramadan.

It insists it treats all race-related and religion-related incidents seriously and said those involved were dealt with through the school's restorative justice procedures.

It said in a statement: "The school has always respected the rights of students to religious observance.

"Many students wear a scarf, and the school uniform has been adapted over the years to cater for Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds."

'Scarves off'

The education representative for the Muslim Council of Britain, Tahir Alam, says Islamophobic incidents in schools are on the rise.

He said: "I would be surprised if it wasn't rising because Islamophobia as a societal trend has been rising."

But he also lays responsibility for the increase at the door of head teachers.

He said: "It's all to do with the attitude of the institution because some things are separate and distinct for Muslim children.

"The way requests from Muslim parents for prayer facilities are treated, the attitude of the school towards children who wear the hijab, towards fasting at Ramadan, all have an influence."

Institutional

If the school has a generally negative view of these things, he says, then it filters down to the playground.

He recounts the tale of one school where the cry as pupils, 75% of whom are Muslim, enter the classroom is "Scarves off!".

"If an institution is behaving in that sort of way then if an incident to do with Islamophobia occurs, it's not likely to deal with it properly."

However, Mr Alam says the fact that recent renewed guidance on dealing with bullying now includes an obligation to report faith-related bullying means schools are more likely to tackle it.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said there was growing concern that prejudice-related bullying was on the rise.




SEE ALSO
Muslim abuse 'on rise in schools'
12 Nov 06 |  Education



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