Should morning prayers be done in schools

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The headscarf of Muslim girls or crucifixes in the classroom: the combination of school and religion harbors potential for conflict, time and time again. Recently there are prayer rooms for Muslims in two Lucerne schoolhouses. For some it is a pragmatic solution, for others such "rooms of silence" have no place in public schools in secular Switzerland.

This content was published on February 10, 2016 - 11:00 am

"Young people rolled out their prayer rugs all over the school, in corridors and in the stairwell. The school management did not want that and made modest rooms available where pupils can retreat regardless of their religion," explains Lucerne Education DirectorExternal Link Reto Wyss to swissinfo.ch slightly annoyed, as if he were tired of having to justify himself one more time. Such rooms also exist at airports and universities, where they have proven themselves.

The praying young people, mostly with a migrant background, take part in the canton's bridging offer after compulsory schooling. According to Wyss, youngsters during puberty often feel the need to live out and practice their religion vigorously. "Perhaps praying is not necessary at school, but the question is: Should it be forbidden? We want to ensure that young people are integrated as well as possible and that they get involved in the school and perform. This is hardly possible with exclusion . " The director of education also expects tolerance from non-Christians, for example when church festivals or Christmas are celebrated in the Catholic canton of Lucerne. "It takes a rapprochement from both sides."

It remains to be seen whether the prayer rooms will stay in Lucerne. "We will carry out an evaluation after a few months, then we'll see. Closing it is also an option."

"Islam belongs to Switzerland"

"Islam just belongs to Switzerland. Turning a blind eye to reality is useless."

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Rifa'at Lenzin, Islamic scholar and member of the interreligious think tankExterner Link, has no objection to prayer rooms in schools if there is a need for them. The fact that this offer comes at a time when there is fear of terrorist attacks and uncertainty as a result of the ongoing migration crisis is not counterproductive for them. At most, she finds it counterproductive that one turns it into a "state affair".

"Islam belongs to Switzerland. Turning a blind eye to reality does not help," says the daughter of Swiss-Pakistani parents. She also emphasizes that Switzerland does not cultivate a secular model like France, but rather a "benevolent secularism", where religion is given a place in the public sphere.

"Resist the beginnings!"

Elham Manea, political scientist at the University of ZurichExterner Link, also understands that the school management in Lucerne wanted to find a pragmatic solution. At the same time, she warns: "It's about how we can live together in a context where religion has become a source of conflict. Because we shouldn't ignore political and fundamentalist Islam - and fundamentalism in general." It is reminiscent of experiences in Great Britain, where, from the 1960s onwards, schools with a Muslim majority first required prayer rooms in small steps, then gender-segregated teaching.

"Now Great Britain has the difficult task of bringing the Islamist currents under control. Integration has failed. There is no multicultural society with mutual respect, but monocultural, closed parallel societies." Therefore: "Defend the beginnings." Because prayer rooms in schools are also required in other Swiss cantons, according to the Swiss-Yemeni citizen.

"Religion is a private matter"

The teacher Charlotte Peter, who teaches at a secondary school in a multicultural city Zurich school districtExterner Link, confirms that inquiries for prayer rooms have already been received in Zurich. "In the city of Zurich, however, religion is a private matter, the school is a religion-neutral area, we adhere to that."

Practically all of the students in her class have a migration background, and a good half are Muslims. Every now and then religion is an issue, for example when Ramadan falls at a time when school trips and sports days take place. "As a school, we are not considerate, the activities are carried out and are compulsory." The parents would be informed, if there were any problems you would talk to them and usually find a solution. Most families cultivated an enlightened Islam and only a few a conservative Islam, according to Peter.

It is clear to Elham Manea that there is no place for prayer in public schools. "It has nothing to do with assimilation or integration. Religion is a private matter, and it should stay that way. You go to school to learn common values, such as civil rights." According to the Prophet Mohammed, one can arrange the prayer times flexibly and still be a good Muslim.

"The influence of imams and proselytizing Islamists shouldn't be underestimated. They know exactly what they're doing."

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"This is about something else: They are characteristics of an Islamist ideology. And adolescents in puberty are vulnerable, want to rebel and provoke. The influence of the Internet and videos, of peer groups, but also of imams and missionary Islamists should not be underestimated. They know exactly what they are doing. "

Integration and tolerance

According to Rifa'at Lenzin, the school has no choice but to accept diversity. But it is not about "graciously" granting someone something. "By integration and tolerance I mean negotiation between the different sides. Unreserved assimilation doesn't work anyway, it just creates resistance."

Elham Manea, on the other hand, sees a misunderstood tolerance in the decision to provide prayer rooms. "Fear of being seen as racist or Islamophobic leads to wrong decisions and conflicts. If Christian Swiss students prayed in corridors, it would never get through. No special treatment is needed."

The two experts agree that cultural heritage, which also includes religion, should be addressed and lived out in schools - with consideration for other faith groups. "Schoolchildren should be able to take time off on high public holidays," says Manea.

Lenzin advocates pragmatism: "If 90% of the students are not Christians, it makes no sense to sing Christmas carols - because there is not enough staff." Then you could talk about the meaning of the festival. And in Ramadan, consideration should be given to fasting children, as they are less productive. "But it is important that the school can fulfill its mandate and that the school is functioning.

Do you need a nationwide concept?

Manea would find it useful if clear rules of the game were drawn up for public schools in Switzerland. "Because the teachers and schools are often overwhelmed and feel left alone."

The Zurich teacher can confirm that the teaching profession has become much more demanding and time-consuming in this multicultural environment in recent years. "Building up a good class spirit where origin and culture are irrelevant, and giving the children the necessary tools is tough backbreaking work. In addition, discussions with parents and in the team are very time-consuming."

Charlotte Peter welcomes the idea of ​​Switzerland-wide guidelines. "A common denominator is needed when dealing with different cultures and religions. This is not the task of teachers or schools."

No general headscarf ban in Swiss schools

The Federal Supreme Court does not consider a general ban on headscarves in public schools to be justified. With its judgment of December 2015, it stood behind a 14-year-old Muslim girl and her parents from St. Margrethen, Canton St. Gallen.

Four of the five judges of the second public law department were of the opinion that the arguments put forward by the St. Margrethen school community were not convincing. In a specific case, the headscarf ban can be justified neither with school discipline nor with religious peace or equal rights for girls and boys. According to the federal judge, the pupil can also follow the lesson with a headscarf. There is also no evidence that she is promoting her faith in school or that her parents put pressure on her and that this is the only reason why she is wearing the scarf.

The interference with their freedom of belief and conscience is not justified for these reasons. In addition, it is not in accordance with Swiss tradition to push everything religious into the private sphere. Instead of banning the wearing of religious symbols, the school should rather teach tolerance, it said.

(Source: SDA)

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