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Muslim parents and leaders call calm after uproar over caricature of Prophet Muhammad

9th Apr 2021
Muslim parents and leaders call calm after uproar over caricature of Prophet Muhammad

(Photo credit: Oxana Maher/Batley Grammar School)

Harun Nasrullah

Muslim parents and leaders have called for calm after a teacher at a Yorkshire-based school showed students a caricature of Prophet Muhammad – sparking protests outside the school.

The image depicting the Prophet was used in a Religious Education lesson at Batley Grammar School on March 22.

According to media reports, the teacher had wanted to discuss whether the cartoonist was to blame or the terrorists who had committed murder over it in France after the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had published it.

Protests were staged outside the school on March 25, forcing the school to close and switch to remote learning for two consecutive days.

On March 29, Yunus Lunat, spokesperson for the Batley Parents and Community Partnership, said the teacher, who has been suspended, had failed to realise the image was “loaded with Islamophobic tropes”.

He added, “We believe that in a democratic society everyone holds a right to opinion and expression, however, we as parents and citizens, also believe that with these rights comes responsibility. We as parents and citizens stand resolute that our children should be able to attend school without having their faith – which is protected in law – or their culture ridiculed, insulted or vilified.”

Lunat said, “Unfortunately, unhelpful comments and biased media reporting that seek to hijack the issue have undermined the essential relationship between local communities and local public institutions.

“We are fully invested in dialogue and legitimate engagement. Any and all such threats against the school and staff involved undermine our efforts and are completely contrary to our values as concerned parents, citizens and Muslims. We, therefore, call for calm in order to allow for fruitful dialogue and space for a transparent investigation to be undertaken”.

The Government said it was never acceptable to “intimidate” teachers.

Headteacher, Gary Kibble, said, “The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson. The staff member has also given his most sincere apologies. We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school.”

However, some parents insist that the teacher, who has not been named, was unapologetic during a conversation with a disgruntled parent. The parent demanded to speak to the teacher after his Year 9 son returned from school and reported the matter to him. The parent said the teacher had told him, “British values allowed him to present a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to his class of year nine students as part of their course work”.

When the teacher returned the call he told the father that he had warned his pupils that some would find it offensive, but his aim was to pose a question to his class. He believed he was “right” to show the cartoon, which has offended Muslims across the world. The angry father claimed the teacher did not appear apologetic when told that showing the cartoon to his son was offensive and instead was “arrogant”.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said, ‘It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge. However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.’

Adding that ‘Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance.‘They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.’

One parent outside the school told BBC Radio Leeds she had been upset the cartoon was shown, but she did not agree with the protest, saying it was “scary and intimidating”.

Another mother said the use of the material was “out of order and unacceptable” and said she may consider removing her child from the school. Councillor Carole Pattison, Cabinet Member for Learning, Aspiration and Communities, told The Muslim News, “Batley Grammar is an academy school, so the council has a very limited role in its running, but we are aware of issues raised by parents this week.

“We are pleased to see that the school has taken swift action to resolve the issues alongside the local community. “They have apologised, taken immediate action on teaching materials, and they are reviewing the relevant processes”.

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