Published on: Muslim Link, March 11th, 2012
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board voted 8-4 on Feb. 14 to reject a motion calling for a report to be done on religious policies in schools. Trustee Pam FitzGerald proposed the motion, and said that accommodation for Muslim students interferes with class time.
Ms. FitzGerald said that missing lessons for Fridays prayers meant that the same lessons would have to be repeated on Mondays. She was afraid that teachers would have to put in extra work to repeat these missed lessons. These concerns were not included or mentioned in the rejected motion.
“The most I’ve ever missed for a class is around two to three minutes,” said 17-year-old Nour El-Nadr, the “Head Girl” at Ottawa’s Bell High School Muslim Students Association.
“The teacher usually takes around five to ten minutes to even get the class started, so me being a tiny bit late doesn’t affect my learning whatsoever.”
Nour said that Friday prayers are important for the unity of Muslim students at school, which is one of the top priorities of the association in the first place.
“We never missed large portions of class,” said 17-year-old Ibrahim Soukary, “Head Boy” of the Bell High School.
“First of all, Friday prayers are not held during class times,” Ibrahim noted, “it’s always held at the beginning of lunch time.”
“There were times when we went a couple of minutes into class time because of jumah (Friday prayers), but we told the khatib (speaker) to pace himself,” Ibrahim said.
He added that Friday prayers at school have become an essential part of student life for Muslim students at his high school. He said that over a hundred students attend each Friday.
“Having it at school is definitely a positive thing, because it reminds us of a lot of things, like the need to respect others, especially our teachers and fellow students,” Ibrahim said.
Marwan Saeed, 15, of Merivale High School echoes these sentiments. Marwan started the ritual of Friday prayers at his high school with another friend. Since then, the numbers have gone up.
“If we stopped holding jumah at school, that’d be much more of an inconvenience for us, since we would have to go out of school or something.”
Marwan said that having to go off campus for Friday prayers would mean returning for class much later. He noted that having Friday prayers at school actually saves time and ensures that students arrive back at classes on time.
Like Marwan, Colonel By High School’s Mujeeb Mirza also initiated on-campus Friday prayers about a year ago with his friends. Around a dozen or so students attend every week.
“I think students have the right to practice their religious obligations at school,” said the 16-year-old Mujeeb, whose school does not have a Muslim organization. “Before, we had to skip prayers because there was no accommodation, and there was no mosque nearby for us to go to.”
Mujeeb said that if no one initiated something at school, it was either miss jumah altogether or go off campus to a distant mosque. He said that the latter option would certainly have meant that he would miss class time. He said that having Friday prayers at school ultimately meant saving time and helping Muslim students arrive to class promptly.
Hundreds of Muslim community members attended the Feb. 14 meeting. The language of the rejected motion was asked on several occasions to be clarified, as several parents were not happy with what they noted as a “negative” framework. Ms. FitzGerald said that she would not seek to pass the motion again.
“People should be glad that jumaa is held at school,” Ibrahim added. “It keeps everybody mindful and respectful like I said, but it also helps keep everybody happy because we don’t have to go far or miss class.”
“If people don’t understand what we’re doing, or think that something that we do is negative, then they should either ask our leaders, or just come and ask us,” Ibrahim said.