Pupils at Mirfield Free Grammar School are being forced to perform their obligatory prayers outdoors because it is believed the School is refusing them permission to use space inside the building. The dispute is now in its second year and parents are upset that their children once again have to brave the winter months praying either in the school car park or on the roadside or grass verge often in rain and snow and in secret.
With the shorter winter days the students are unable to go to any nearby mosques to pray their Zohar (midday) and Asar (mid-afternoon) and Friday prayers. In the past the school had allowed students to use the sports hall to double up as a prayer facility but this has been denied since last year.
Muslim pupils have pleaded with the school to allow them to continue to use the school facilities to pray after it was suddenly withdrawn in October 2014 without any explanation. A group of students went to the length of submitting a polite written request to the Principal asking her to reconsider the decision. Even though this was countersigned by more than 70 students it was refused. It is believed though, after nearly two years of courteous and respectful appeals, and despite attempts by a number of bodies and individuals, including the Kirklees Faith Forum led by Tony Robinson, the Bishop of Pontefract, representatives of mosques, a Councillor and Jo Cox MP for Batley and Spen to help resolve the dispute, the School has maintained its stance. The only concession that has been made is for sixth formers to use the House of Resurrection for Friday Jumma prayers. Students are however missing up to 30 minutes of lessons due to the distance and therefore reject this as an unsatisfactory resolution, added to the fact that this only applies to sixth formers.
Last year the students braved the cold winter months and were forced to pray outside in all conditions, including the rain and the snow and with this scenario repeating itself for a second year now that the winter months have set in, the students and parents have instructed solicitors to take on their plea as a last resort.
Mr Yunus Lunat, Solicitor Advocate from Ison Harrison of Leeds who is representing the pupils and parents said, “It is a sad and unfortunate situation that has been allowed to fester and perpetuate. The phrase “taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut” comes to mind.”
Parents are anxious that the pupils have to go through the same anguish and distress for a second year. To make matters worse many of the pupils have been disciplined by the Principal, with some on final warnings and facing expulsions.
Parents are also worried and concerned at the adverse effect all this is having upon on their education, with many of the pupils studying for GCSE and A Levels.
A parent of a pupil at the school stated: “We as parents are very worried and concerned that our children are having to pray outside and are fearful for their safety, especially with so much negativity about Muslims in the national media recently. It is also not helping our pupils to concentrate fully on their learning and for our child this is a very important year. ”
Another parent complained of his child returning home in soaking wet clothing from having to pray outside in the recent wet weather. The parent added “it cannot be easy for my son to go back into the classroom and concentrate when he is soaked to the skin and having to sit in wet and damp clothing.”
Asian Sunday contacted the school for comment, however they failed to respond. Campaigners have told Asian Sunday that Mrs Lorraine Barker, Executive Principle of the Mirfield Free Grammar School has already outlined a number of reasons for refusal including a lack of facilities and an inability to keep a check on whether students were praying or not. Campaigners add that Mrs Barker has also claimed that this change in policy was decided by the Governors. It has also been highlighted by campaigners that the school does not appear to have any Governors from the Muslim faith and therefore they feel the school isn’t representative of the needs of the children who attend.
Mr Yakub Badat, Chair of the Snowdon Street Mosque who the students turned to for support and has been a vocal campaigner of similar causes expressed disappointment at the stance taken by the school. “We as a community want to work together in partnership with the school in providing the best possible learning experience for our children. All the other schools in the area proudly boast of the facilities that they provide for Muslim children. We would actually be willing to help the school by fundraising to enable the school to provide such facilities if cost is an issue.”