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Muslim boys who refused to shave beards back at Accrington school
11:11am Monday 14th October 2013 in News
TWO Muslim boys banned from the classroom for refusing to shave off their beards have been told they can go back to school. Governors at Mount Carmel RC High School, in Accrington, have decided there will be no change to the school rule which requires boys to be clean shaven. But following discussions with community leaders, exemptions will be made in certain clearly-defined circumstances. The two 14-year-old boys were put in isolation when they said they could not shave their facial hair on religious grounds. Later they were sent home and told they could not return to school until they had shaved. Governors have now taken the decision that as long as boys have started a Hafiz programme of study at their mosque, they will be allowed to grow a beard as a sign of their faith. Xavier Bowers, headteacher at the Wordsworth Road school, said the issue was one of uniform policy and not religion. In a statement, he said: “As a voluntary aided catholic school governors are the employers and legitimately set their own rules regarding uniform and appearance. “The rule regarding boys being clean shaven is reasonable and proportional and has been in place for some time. “All parents and children are fully aware and accepting of school rules. “The rule is part of the school standards agenda along with hair style, hair colour, jewellery and make up ensuring high expectations for all pupils and that their appearance is standardised. “The school is advised that it is part of Muslim tradition and religious belief that a beard is a sign of commitment to the Islamic faith but it is ultimately down to personal belief. “Having said all that, as governors of voluntary aided schools’, we have to comply to the European Convention of Human Rights, as do all schools. “As part of this legislation all schools must make reasonable adjustments to school uniform on genuine religious grounds.” The school has been working with the Lancashire Council of Mosques and the Bishop of Salford to come to a resolution. A Hafiz programme involves attending mosque for two to three hours a day to pray and learn the Koran word by word in Arabic. Abdul Hamid Quereshi, chairman of the Lancashire Council of Mosques, said although he was glad a compromise had been achieved, he believed the new rule was too harsh. He said: “I think they are still misunderstanding. The rule on a Hafiz programme is unnecessary. “As long as they are with a mosque, that is enough to show their religious commitment. “However, I am very happy we have come to a decision. It was a small issue that is now sorted. “We will support the school in all their delivery of education.” Mr Bowers said the Imam of one of the boys had already sent a letter confirming he was on the programme and he expected one from the other’s leader on Monday (OCT 14). The news comes just a day after a 33-year-old man from Accrington was arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated harassment with fear of violence in relation to an offence at Mount Carmel. It is understood the incident, in which two staff members and parents were verbally attacked, was a result of the row over beards. The man was being questioned by police yesterday. Officers have been working with the school since the boys were isolated to promote racial relations. Det sgt Mark Cruise said: “There are obviously some issues at the school that are not a police matter. “Our responsibility is to talk to the school and the parents in a very general sense . “We are investigating an offence that occurred outside the school. “We are engaging with parents and pupils and making sure people come to and from school as they should be.” Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also told LBC radio that he believed children had a right to ‘express their faith’. Accrington Coun Munsif Dad said: "Mount Carmel is an excellent school in our local community. “We have always supported it and will continue to do so. "Understandably, this has aroused some interest, but we hope we can continue the dialogue and address the issues as they arise, regards this issue we hope the school can continue the important job of providing excellent education to its students."