A primary school in East London has banned fasting during Ramadan, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
Barclay Primary School made the announcement in a letter to parents yesterday, although a paragraph at the end of the letter hints that there may be exceptions to the rule.
After announcing that the school appreciates that this is a “very significant and special time of year for our Muslim community” and saying that the school would be celebrating what Ramadan means next week in an assembly, the acting head Aaron Wright then proceeded to prohibit fasting during school hours.
He said: “We have sought guidance and are reliably informed that in Islamic Law children are not required to fast during Ramadan, only being required to do so when they become adults.
“Although we accept the age of adulthood is disputed … in Islamic law the health of an individual is the first priority. Previously we have had a number of children who became ill and children who have fainted or been unable to fully access the school curriculum in their attempts to fast.
“Therefore, since the school policy and Islamic law have the same purpose i.e to safeguard the health and education of the child, the policy of both Barclay Primary School and all the schools within the Lion Academy Trust does not allow any children attending the schools to fast.
“However, if you are considering your child fasting during the school week, you will need to meet with me individually to discuss how we ensure the safety and well being of your child whilst still ensuring that they are part of the Ramadan celebration.”
The Lion Academy Trust runs four schools across East London so the prohibition on fasting would also apply to Sybourne Primary and Thomas Gamuel Primary in East London and Brook House Primary in north London.
Over 2,350 pupils attend all four schools and the proportion of Muslim students is thought to be high.
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Ramadan is due to begin towards the end of next week and will last for one month during which believers will have to abstain from food and drink for up to 18 hours a day.
Although Muslims traditionally are not required to fast until they have attained puberty, Muslim children often begin fasting at an earlier age.
Reacting to the news Ibrahim Hewitt, a former headteacher, told 5Pillars that the school could not possibly justify the prohibition on health and safety grounds.
“I’ve had five or six year olds fasting in my school without any problems. Of course if a child’s health is suffering something should be done about it but in general schools or teachers should leave it to the parents and children to decide.”
He added: “How exactly is the school going to enforce this? Are they going to force-feed kids who want to fast? The fact is that Muslim kids see their parents and siblings getting up for suhoor and fasting and they want to be part of that.
“I think a lot of parents at this school are going to be angry. The school is just using a sledgehammer to crack and nut and is going to end up creating unnecessary problems for itself.”
A number of 5Pillars readers have commented that the school letter seems to be slightly ambiguous. While the prohibition on fasting is explicitly made, the headteacher hints that there may be exceptions without giving any guarantees.
Others have commented that the headteacher’s default position should have been to allow fasting as long as parents discussed with him the needs of the child, rather than banning it “unless otherwise stated.”