Making The Trojan Horse Bolt: Fasting, Religion and Children In Schools

In a Guardian article this weekend the assistant principle of Park View in Birmingham (a school that has been put into special measures due to Ofsted concluding not dealing with extermisim) made this remark:

“Part of raising achievement is schools acknowledging children’s faith and accommodating it – allowing them to wear headscarves, allowing them to pray or fast or shorten the school day during Ramadan.” He added: “The most pernicious idea in this is that people running the school are trying to force more religion on these kids than the parents want. It is not true. The parents wouldn’t be sending their kids here in droves if it were true. We give the parents what they want.”

My concern here was fasting, and whether the school system should cater to religious demands of parents. As I noted in an article last year:

“Islamic theologian Usama Hasan makes clear here these points I summarise:

Children are not supposed to be subject to the Ramadan fast, only adults

At all times the health and well being of a person comes first.

School policy and social service policy acting in a child’s best interest by safeguarding take precedence over the religious belief of parents.

Schools are an authority to be respected in this regard as [are] social services.

The thought process that denies water to children for 18 hours, or segregates in a demeaning way, is contemptible and should not be encouraged. Clearly children should be exempt from fasting, their welfare should trump restrictions parents place even when claimed to be for religious reasons.”

With this in mind I tweeted the assistant principle:

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I never did get an answer because twitter soon melted down – at one point I was over 15 minutes behind reading notifications as I tried to get through the tweets and reply. Rather than yes of course, the question was used to suggest that I was denying the faith of a child, trying to force feed children, trying to use the issue to suppress Muslims, only raising now because of the Trojan horse (see article on that here).

Hopefully long term followers on twitter and readers of my articles know the reason I write this blog is a concern that children can be indoctrinated with their parents faith, rather than given the space and tools to choose and inquire for themselves. Children must be given the best education without religion of parents distorting the curriculum necessary for that – let alone others meddling. I am concerned that all the religion a parent wants must be instructed by a school, as the assistant principle insinuates.

The Trojan Horse allegation and Ofsted Report placing schools in special measures goes at the heart of such necessary debate.

Child welfare must always come first – I have not encountered a Muslim that would not say do not give a child in danger of dehydration a drink. As Qasim Rashid (whose books “Extremist” and “Wrong Kind Of Muslim” I do recommend reading) mentioned on twitter to a me yesterday:

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Adults can make their own choices, but it seems that children fasting is becoming an accepted part of religious practise. Much might matter how we define a child (eg puberty adult). We might usually go by how society judges someone to be an adult as well as physically capable of coping with fasting. That would be 16-18 in England. The Koran mentions adults only (with welfare exceptions even then).

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How did we get to the point when fasting children was ever seen as acceptable to accommodate in schools? One is a society that wants to support multiculturalism and pluralism – a noble sounding  gesture assuming that no harm comes to others. Another possibility is pressure building up in a community:

They are coerced into following the outward observances of a religion they cannot leave or openly criticise because of fears for their safety and the reaction of family and community. Social pressures and honour codes act as a policing force. They are unable to express their free conscience and are negated by the communal demands of a religion that stifles their conscience and snuffs out dissent and non-conformity.

It was never meant to be this way during Ramadan:

“a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking.

Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits — essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) literally means “to refrain” – and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.”

I would hope parents would reflect on the psychical and educational needs of their children, not to have a shortened school day, that 18 hours without a drink for a child would be unacceptable to their welfare.

So it worries me when the National Health Service tries to give us theological health advice such as:

“However, other scholars say that the [asthma] inhaler provides small amounts of liquid medicine to the lungs, so it breaks the fast.”

This is exactly where my concerns come from.This is an unhelpful comment from a health service which should be stressing health needs only.

At least regarding water they mention:

“Could dehydration become so bad that you have to break the fast?

Yes. You could become very dehydrated if you do not drink enough water before the fast. Poor hydration can be made worse by weather conditions, and even everyday activities such as walking to work or housework.

If you produce very little or no urine, feel disoriented and confused, or faint due to dehydration, you must stop fasting and have a drink of water or other fluid. Islam doesn’t require you to harm yourself in fulfilling the fast. If a fast is broken, it will need to be compensated for by fasting at a later date.”

Parents are the ones to bring up their children in their faith, but a school is designed not to be a surrogate parent, let alone to make children a religious image of what their parents believe. It is a place where a child is free to explore the world in ways which are simply dazzling. To see just how far science goes (not told you must not believe this). To learn and compare other faiths and none therefore prepared for life in modern Britain. To learn the knowledge, skills and develop faculties for a full meaningful life. To experience teachers and other children from different backgrounds. Without the curriculum and knowledge they need distorted by parental dictates. Let alone extremists.

Child welfare is paramount at all times together with their education. They will be better people for it, whether they have religion or none in adulthood, integrated into society. Part of this is making schools a free space to learn in. It needs the community to come together to meet children’s needs rather than being suspicious of one another.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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3 Comments

Filed under British Politics, British Society, Culture, Religion, secular

3 responses to “Making The Trojan Horse Bolt: Fasting, Religion and Children In Schools

  1. “How did we get to the point when fasting children was ever seen as acceptable to accommodate in schools?” Because our country’s post modern, multi-culti, ethos of deference to “other cultures” now outstrips it’s desire to protect individuals. And because this, and previous governments, wish to divulge themselves of as much responsibility as possible. Even if that means exposing them to reigio-political extremism, red clawed market forces, or whatever.

  2. *exposing pupils, that is.

  3. Thanks for raising this; I know there are many from various religions and none who will be very alarmed about the shift away from what, to me, is the ultimate, first and last principle of decent societies: that the welfare of children (and others who are unavoidably vulnerable) is the prime marker of any good society.

    Whether the issue is fasting or FGM or ‘simply’ grim neglect, schools must be the first call in taking a stand in defence of the children for whom they have responsibility.

    It is a mistake and an unnecessary complication for politicians to refer to religions in this context. Things are much clearer (and less complicated, and fairer) if the criteria for ensuring good, effective care and nurturance of children is straightforwardly the avoidance of cruelty and the promotion of well-being.

    I can’t think of anyone I know in teaching, health, etc who would consider children becoming dehydrated even remotely acceptable.

    As you say, children are by definition unable to make their own judgments on these matters; schools act in loco parentis for minors in their care.

    Avoiding dehydration (and even providing sustenance where needed) is one of the basic responsibilities of those who teach children in any school. If teachers fail to do deliver responsible care, I’m wondering if they need to be brought to the attention of the teaching registration authorities?

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