A SCHOOL has removed the Virgin' Mary from its Christmas celebrations so as not to upset Muslim pupils - even though they didn't request it.

The decision at predominantly Asian Walter Street Primary School, Brierfield, has prompted anger among parents and Muslim and Christian leaders have branded the move absurd and based on incorrect information.

But headteacher Sarah Watson said the move was needed to "tread a line between two faiths."

She said that, while all pupils took part in Christmas and Eid celebrations, 90 per cent of the 370 children were of Pakistani descent and the school found "appropriate versions" to chart Christ's birth.

She said: "We mention the birth of Jesus, but we cut reference to the Virgin Mary to just Mary because Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet, not the son of God."

But chairman of Lancashire Forum of Faiths and Lancashire Council of Mosques education co-ordinator Anjum Anwar, who tours the county's schools demystifying Islam, disagreed.

She said: "This is absurd and offensive. The Virgin Mary is covered extensively in a chapter of the Koran and Muslims believe Jesus, praise be upon him, was born from an immaculate conception.

"The Virgin Mary is also considered a role model.

"Muslims don't want to see Christmas diluted.

"The intentions may well be good but it is a Christian festival and should be celebrated accordingly."

Canon Chris Chivers, who has responsibility for inter-faith relations in East Lancashire, said: "This is part of paranoia and religious correctness with people giving up tradition so not to offend.

"It may have a good motive but both religions agree Jesus was the result of an immaculate conception."

Pendle councillor Mohammed Iqbal said: "This is over the top.

"I don't think any Muslims would find reference to the Virgin' Mary offensive because she has great significance in Islam.

"This is wrong and I urge the school to rethink."

Chair of Lancashire Council of Mosques Hamid Qureshi said: "This is ignorant of the Muslim faith.

"Mary is very significant. We cannot be Muslims without believing in her as a virgin."

The school's inclusivity was praised by Ofsted after a visit in June.

Officials championed it for the way it "draws strength from the diverse community".

Alan Whittaker, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for schools said: "There is no reason why Christmas should not be celebrated at all schools and involve all students as we do with Hindu and Muslim festivals."