Canada: Muslim prayers in public school

At Valley Park Middle School in Toronto, Canada, the school cafeteria is turned into a mosque every Friday as a local Imam leads about 300 of the school’s 1,200 students through the ritual Islamic prayers. The school council voted in 2008 to allow the students to remain at the school and have an Imam lead prayers.

The school is now coming under fire for allowing a public school facility, paid for with public funds, to be uses as a religious center during regularly scheduled school hours. And apparently this sort of activity is not limited to this school alone. According to comments posted at the blog Blazing Cat Fur, other schools in Canada have been seen hosting similar prayer services.

Where is the public outrage? Why is an Imam allowed onto school grounds to conduct a religious service inside the school, when friends I know personally in Canada tell me a Christian student is not allowed even to bring a Bible to school?

This is troubling in a number of ways. First, as the author of this article notes, it is discriminatory sexually. Why? Look at the picture carefully. The girls sitting in the back row (bottom of picture) are on their period, and according to Islamic law are therefore unclean and cannot participate in prayers. What a way to advertise to the rest of the school something that every young girl considers to be a very private and personal matter.

Second, Friday congregational prayers are not compulsory. Opinions and interpretations of this vary from one scholar to the next, but there is no absolute consensus among all Muslims worldwide regarding the absolute requirement to participate in Friday prayers.

Third, Islamic law specifies a broad range of the accepted prayer time for Friday prayers. The Friday prayer can only occur during the time of prayer called the zuhr prayer. According to the Hanafi school of legal thought, zuhr is defined as beginning when the sun begins its decline from its meridian, and ends when the shadow of an object is twice its actual size. The literal interpretation of this definition puts the acceptable time frame for the zuhr prayer from about 1:00pm until 4:00pm. There is no reason why the prayer time should interfere with school hours. The push by Islamists to have students pray during public school hours is nothing more than another example of what is called ‘creeping shari’a’ or the imposition of Islam’s laws on the rest of public life.

Fourth, Islamic law is not in agreement on obligatory prayers for children. For example, the Shafi’i school of legal thought (the most strict and regimented) says “When a child with discrimination (one who can eat, drink, and clean himself after using the toilet) is seven years of age, he is ordered to perform the prayer, and when ten, is beaten for neglecting it” (Reliance of the Traveller, section f1.2). However, according to Hanafi law, “the Friday prayer is not obligatory for: 1) A traveller; 2) a woman; 3)an ill person; 4) a minor; 5) a slave; or 6) a blind person.” If minors are not required to attend the congregational prayer, then we must ask, “Why all the fuss to secure the rights of students to perform their prayers?”

The answer is obvious.

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