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Muslim prayer. Photo: CIJnews

Muslim students insulted at Public Schools

Since fall, 2016, Muslim students in the Peel Region have been sharing their dismay regarding their religious rights in public schools. The most recent board meeting was January 6, 2017.

The Muslim students want the right to pray not only on Fridays, but every day of the week, if it is convenient for them. They also want the right to write their own sermons rather than rely on a series of six sermons provided by local Imams.

“Eliminate the prohibition of allowing students to pray together outside of Jummah [Friday] prayers if it is convenient [to the students],” said campaign leader Shahmir Durrani, a University of Toronto at Mississauga student and activist for the Canadian Muslim Youth Federation. “The board should not be policing religion.” He added that the policy is unjust because it specifically targets Islam.

Maleeha Baig, a student at the same university and coordinator for the High School Muslim Student Associations, a subsidiary of the youth federation said: “Policing this one group [Muslims] based on prejudice and control… could have serious psychological impacts,”

Imam Ibrahim Hindy also said the restriction risks evoking memories of dictatorial regimes where freedom of speech is tightly restricted, especially among newcomers to Canada.

“Regardless of whether that is the intent, that is the memory it triggers,” he said.

Most recently Hamza Aziz, 19, said he and other Muslim students felt insulted at the inference that their sermons could degenerate into hate speech.

“It’s as though you’re looking at students through a lens of guilt, and making them feel like suspects as opposed to Canadians with rights and values,” the student at Mississauga’s John Fraser Secondary School said. “It’s as though you’re looked down upon.”

I think the most important comment was made by Shahmir Durrani. “’The board should not be policing religion’ and that the policy is unjust because it specifically targets Islam.”

Well, he’s right. The board is targeting Islam because only Islam has had the audacity to demand that their religion, their ideology, which is diametrically opposed to the ideology of democracy as taught and practiced in Canada, be allowed in the public sphere while Christianity which was part of the secular curriculum has been removed. For more than forty years Canada has worked to make schools secular-safe for all. No religion promoted or practiced in publicly funded schools.

Today, talking about Christmas gives people palpitations as they trip over themselves to say Happy Holidays. Judaism is rarely discussed. Many Jewish people pray three times a day. I doubt that the vast majority of Canadians know this. Jews don’t make demands of the public sphere. If they cannot pray in the afternoon, they add those prayers to the evening time. And according to Islam, if one is unable to pray during the day, those prayers can be said at night. Yet Islam is shaming us into allowing their prayers into the public schools, and demanding that we accommodate every need as if we were an Islamic country.

I have yet to hear the same demands from Buddhists, Mormons Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Hindus, Baha’i; that the schools provide them with a prayer space. Muslim students are not just demanding a prayer space; they want to have a full on prayer service: sermon included. This is not a simple request for accommodation for Muslim students to pray quickly and get back to class. This is a demand for a full religious service for Muslims in secular schools.

We live in a secular country and yet we are being pushed into prioritizing one religion in the name of tolerance! This is the slow abduction of our secular society based on the Judeo/Christian ethic. Muslim students, in the name of Islam, are trying to manipulate our pride in freedom of religion and speech in order to break the very foundation of secular, liberal democracy. They are trying to shame us, by calling us Islamophobic, into going back in time when a particular religion was in public schools-except it isn’t the religion that provided the ethic that underpins our democracy; it is an ethic that promotes misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia.

Canada is not obligated to fulfil these requests

Whereas Section 15.(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that “every individual”, not belief system or ideology, “is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”

At the January 6 meeting Trustee Nokha Dakroub told CBC Toronto.”You can’t tell people, ‘Here’s your prayer, read it word for word,’ and that’s your prayer for the day,” she said. “We should not be interfering.”

We should not interfere in prayers and sermons being said in publicly funded secular schools? We are a country that according to our Prime Minister Trudeau prides itself on diversity and pluralism, progressiveness, multi-cultural, multi ethnic, all equal-yet we have allowed one group special status-more equal than all the others. Islam.

This is Canada folding like a cheap tent when it comes to protecting our secular values.

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About Diane Weber Bederman

Diane Weber Bederman
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. " Diane Weber Bederman is the author of the book "Back to the Ethic:Reclaiming Western Values" (https://www.amazon.com/Back-Ethic-Reclaiming-Western-Values/dp/1927618053) copyright dianebederman.com

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