Editorial By- Sukhpreet Giani
The Peel School Board has been grappling with opposition to Friday Muslim prayers being held in some of its schools. The eagerness being shown by the authorities have put the intent and the purpose under a cloud of suspicion.
Worldwide Canadians are known as a tolerant, well adjusting multicultural society. It has had its good share of accolades for adjusting to the needs of various sects, religions and ethnic groups. However, allowing Friday Muslin prayers in schools has dented that image and has taken the matter little too far and the voices of protest seem to form the right corner and directed in the right direction.
On the other hand, there are sections of people who have raised concern, that if Sikhs are allowed to wear the Kirpan, Muslim girls are allowed to wear hizab; there should not be a problem with the Friday Muslim prayers. Friday prayers have been observed in Peel schools for some two decades now. Peel board students looking to participate in Friday prayer could do so in a classroom that is supervised by staff, or go to a local mosque. The group may have logic! However, allowing prayers in public schools specially when sect based schools have the freedom to follow the norms of the sect not only puts Canada’s track record under a scanner but also would have long term consequences.
What makes the Peel District School Board feel that schools are a place involve students in reciting prayers? Last week, the chairperson of the Peel District School Board Janet McDougald told a TV channel that Board has been bringing police officers to meetings for the security for last two months as a “vocal group” has been attending school board meetings to “make it known they are against Muslim prayers in schools”. By stating so Janet McDougald has put her eagerness to go ahead with Muslim prayers in doubt. While stating so, she has forgotten the very basics of providing education. Children have the right to be educated, without prejudice, without fear, and without being labeled ‘Islamophobias’.
The authorities need to ask themselves a simple question? Does it know the difference between “education about religion” and “religious education”. Perhaps not! As what they are indulging in is only “religious education” where as what is expected of them is “education about religion”. Schools are expected to educate the study of religion but may not sponsor the practice of religion, as it is doing so by accomodating Friday prayers. Among many other functions the job of the school is to educate, and educate about religions, but to convert itself into a centre for one religion not only appears weird but also can have detrimental effect in long run. The schools would do well by exposing students to various views on religion, but would err if they impose any particular view. The school’s approach for the religion has to be that of instructions, but with its present stance the Board has given an impression that it has moved to indoctrination. That indoctrination is not acceptable to many Canadians, who rightfully have taken the cudgels to address the matter and make authorities take a not. Yet, the School Board prefers to stay complacent. Such a doctrinarian needs to be stopped. The Canadian openness and willingness to accept cultures has been misinterpreted that the School Board has taken such an uncanny step forgetting that school children are at a tender age with an impressionable mind. Exposing them to over indulgence toward one religion would not be a right step. The authorities need to remember that schools are SHRINES FOR EDUCATION and are not Temples, Mosques, Churches or Gurdwaras. The schools need to remember that their approach is academic, not devotional. The students should be made to study what all people believe, but should not influence students to any particular belief. The School Board should strive for creating awareness among students but should not press students to accepting any religion. Schools certainly are not the place where students can be taken to conform to any one belief.