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Two teenage Muslim pupils have been put into ‘isolation’ and banned from lessons after refusing to shave off their beards for religious reasons.
Mount Carmel Roman Catholic High School, in Accrington, Lancashire, has said the two 14-year-olds are in breach of the dress code, which bans beards as well as false nails, fake tan, make-up, dyed hair and inappropriate jewellery.
But the boys’ families have said they are suffering discrimination because beards are a symbol of faith and their religion forbids them to shave.
The school has said after conducting its own research it has concluded they are not required by the Koran to wear beards, and are making a choice to do so. The school remains adamant they will not be allowed to go back until the matter is resolved.
Around a third of the 750 pupils at Mount Carmel are from ethnic minorities, mostly Pakistani, according to the 2012 Ofsted report.
Xavier Bowers, head teacher at the school, said governors had decided no exceptions could be made to the uniform policy.
But a relative of one of the boys said: ‘Because these boys cannot shave their beards for religious reasons, they are being put in isolation for six-and-a-half hours every day.
‘They are not being allowed to mix with anybody or speak to friends. It is pure discrimination.
‘They chose that school because it is within their area and has good results. The school has to have an open policy and they have to take in people from all religions.’
She said the youngsters were put in a room on their own and made to study without the rest of their classmates.
She also said their parents sent the school a letter of complaint explaining they could not shave as their beards were symbols of their faith
The letter has since been retracted to allow for talks between the families, teachers and the Lancashire Council of Mosques, due to take place today, the relative said.
Mr Bowers said the rule had been in place for a while, but had been strictly enforced from the beginning of the new term, after letters explaining there would be no exceptions were sent out.
He said: ‘The rule in school is that all boys have to be clean shaven.
‘Having said that, there were two Year 11 boys last year who had grown a beard and because it was months or weeks before their GCSE exams, I spoke to the two boys, who explained that on religious grounds, they wanted to keep their beards.
Because these boys cannot shave their beards for religious reasons, they are being put in isolation for six-and-a-half hours every day. They are not being allowed to mix with anybody or speak to friends. It is pure discrimination’
A relative of one of the boys
‘I felt it was an unfair pressure to bear on them and I agreed to an exception.
‘On the back of that, I made arrangements to speak to a number of other Asian boys who were also sporting beards to make them aware there would not be any further exceptions and, when they came back after the summer, they were expected to be clean-shaven. All but two did.
‘Children who turn up to school with red hair, inappropriate jewellery, false tan or make-up are isolated in a room until the matter is addressed and then they return to their normal day.
‘These boys were given the option to do that and chose not to.’
The issue of whether beards are compulsory for devout Muslims is open to interpretation, according to Professor Muhammad Abdel Haleem, of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
He said the Prophet Muhammad was believed to have had a beard and that men insisting on doing the same claimed they were emulating his actions.
Mr Bowers said the issue was not one of religion, but of upholding school rules.
He said: ‘We have not taken this decision lightly. I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders.
‘There is nothing specifically written in the Koran about wearing a beard. It is a choice those boys are making. However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain.’
Chairman of governors Dennis Ford said: ‘The decision to uphold the rule was made by governors and it is a rule for everybody.’
Abdul Hamid Quereshi, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said: ‘The headteacher is co-operating and the school wants to learn about the issue and address them appropriately.
‘Different people have different variations of understanding.
‘Some are newly interacting with the Muslim community and it is our duty not to put people in awkward positions.’
Last week the Prime Minister indicated he would support guidelines to judges, teachers and immigration officers telling them when Muslim women can be asked to remove their veils.
Source : dailymail