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Allah in the Cafeteria: Inside the school prayer scandal at Valley Park Middle School

When the principal at Valley Park Middle School allowed 400 Muslim students to pray in the lunchroom, he thought he was being progressive. What he got was a scandal—over the preaching of conservative Islam and the separation of girls from boys—that’s testing the TDSB’s policy of religious accomodation

Allah in the Cafeteria

(Image: John Goddard)

Valley Park Middle School, at Don Mills and Overlea, is much like any other TDSB facility in the inner suburbs—an unremarkable rectangle of grey, concrete blocks, plus 11 portables in the back field. It’s also one of Canada’s largest and most ethnically diverse middle schools, with approximately 1,200 students in grades 6 to 8, whose native languages include Urdu, Pashto, Dari, Bengali and Punjabi. The neighbouring streets consist mostly of strip malls and huge apartment complexes that accommodate many of the Muslim immigrants from South Asia who arrived in Toronto in large numbers in the 1990s.

A kilometre and a half away, amid the fast-food chains and electronics repair shops, is the neighbourhood’s mosque—the Darus Salaam. If you were walking by it in a hurry, you might not even realize it’s a mosque. There’s no minaret, nothing distinctive about the building; it’s just another non­descript box that disappears into the industrial landscape. The mosque is orthodox Sunni and adheres to a strict, conservative interpretation of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. It is also a madrassa—a religious place of learning—for many of the children who attend Valley Park.

The majority of the students at Valley Park—more than 800 kids—are Muslims. Until 2008, several hundred of the students would leave school every Friday to attend midday prayers at the mosque. The prayer itself took only 15 to 20 minutes, but the kids wouldn’t return to school for two or three hours, if they bothered to at all. Some simply headed to a shopping mall or home to play video games. The school’s administration needed a solution.

According to TDSB policy, schools are expected to accommodate students and families who make special requests for their religion, which includes allowing time away from class and providing an appropriate location in the school for prayer. Just how exactly to achieve that accommodation is left open to a great deal of interpretation. In the case of Valley Park, one couple, Ali and Shamiza Baig, took control of the situation.

The Baigs were married in Hyderabad, India, in 1986. They moved to Canada a year later and eventually had three children—two sons and a daughter. Ali is 52 years old and owns an electrical business, and Shamiza, who is 50, runs a home daycare. They are both highly devout Muslims and attend prayer at Darus Salaam. They are also devoted parents and extremely proud of their children. One son has graduated from U of T, the second is studying there now, and their daughter is headed there, too.

Eleven years ago, when Shamiza’s eldest son was still a student at Valley Park, she began to organize a series of prayers at the school during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset. With the school’s consent, a few hundred students participated in the congregational prayers once a week.

Canada’s education system is very Christian, one of the Muslim parents says, and it’s up to us to challenge it

In 2008, the Baigs realized they could expand the congregational prayer program and perhaps solve the Friday exodus problem. They approached Nickolas Stefanoff, the school’s principal, and requested that a prayer session be held every Friday in the cafeteria from November to March—the months in the Islamic calendar when prayer coincides with class time. All the school had to do was provide the space and ask the parents of participating students to sign a consent form. The Baigs, the mosque and the Muslim community would take care of the rest. The school agreed.
A group of parent volunteers, all women, started to come to the school after lunch, clear the cafeteria and roll carpets out on the floor. Then three to four hundred students shuffle in. The prayers are conducted entirely in Arabic, which is the custom in just about every mosque in every corner of the world. Once the prayers are completed, the students return to class, missing only a fraction of the lesson time that they would have if they went to the mosque.

The prayer sessions occurred without scrutiny until last July, when the Toronto Sun ran a series of stories about Valley Park. The newspaper was especially exercised about the fact that an imam from Darus Salaam was leading the prayers in the school’s cafeteria, and that the girls were being made to sit behind the boys.

Political blogs picked up the Sun story and gave it momentum on Twitter, dubbing the service the “mosqueteria.” The controversy grew more intense when the Toronto Star printed a photo of the prayer session and the Star columnist Heather Mallick criticized the school for allowing girls to be treated as inferior.

Most of the journalists emphasized one detail that secular Canadians found particularly objectionable: any girl who was menstruating couldn’t participate in the prayers, and could only observe from the back row. Orthodox Muslims, like members of a number of other faiths, consider menstruating females impure for religious functions.

  • Are manners extinct?

    “The prayer itself took only 15 to 20 minutes, but the kids wouldn’t return to school for two or three hours, if they bothered to at all”…

    SO THIS IS HOW IT CAME ABOUT? MANY OF THE MUSLIM KIDS WERE TRUANT… AND NOT GOING BACK TO CLASS. SO TRUANCY RULES DO NOT NEED TO BE FOLLOWED BECAUSE OF RELIGION?

    This is an issue with the Muslim kids parents. They should be able to attend prayer, in the mosque for 15-20 and then GO BACK TO SCHOOL… the school should not be turned into a MOSQUE to ensure the kids do what they are supposed to do (by law!!!) and attend school!!!

  • Bob

    Exactly. I’m under 30 and know that even in my day cutting class meant consequences (from the school and my folks). Both are failing in this instance.

  • Kat

    School is a place to learn not a place to practice faith. Prayer of any faith should not be part of the public school system. World Religions as a course should be however.

  • Avi pardo

    Wake up world!!! All i have to say is we told you so.
    (an israeli girl)

  • Muslim girl

    But having a day off (sunday) for christians to pray is ok ? This is our religious and we have to stick to its rules. You dont have the authority to stop muslims to attend their prayer. Every person has his rights to do their relgious rituals. People are just ignorant and if they work their mind a little bit and know what islam is; theyll know that it is the PERFECT relgion :).

  • Aisha from Expatlogue

    No-one should be castigated for practicing their religion. It seems to me the school found a sensible solution to the problem created by students failing to re-appear after Friday prayers at the nearby mosque. It’s a tribute to Canada’s acceptance of other races and faiths that, in a school with a muslim majority, the desires of many were accommodated so readily.
    What is worrying is the inability of many in the muslim community to mirror that flexibility. Canada is a secular country and the school timetable is not built around prayer times. There may be times when it is not possible to pray because a class is in session. There is nothing wrong with waiting for a later opportunity and offering the prayer qazar (late). Muslims are not required to disrupt entire classes to publicise their piety.
    With regard to segregation, there should be a choice. The physical nature of Islamic prayer is such that women may be more comfortable at the rear of the same room. But it should be their decision. If women choose to pray amongst men, it is up to both to have pure intentions and the onus is on both to concentrate on their prayer. It is unfair to place the burden of male distraction solely on women. There is absolutely no reason to have separate rooms.
    Anywhere groups of people come together to pray, careful consideration needs to be given to what is being preached to guard against political and religious indoctrination.
    As muslims living in a secular country, it is our duty to comply with the laws of the land and fit our cultural and religious needs around those. If that fails there is always the option of sacrificing that freedom in favour of living in a country where there is no choice.

  • mamad

    Females do not just sit behind males when praying they pray as well if they want to pray as group (Jama’a)

  • Lebanese

    Westerns are very considerate!
    While in the Islamic countries, non-muslims are being ignored and insulted, and the Saudi Mufti requests all churches in the arabian peninsula to be destroyed, Westerns and trying to find solutions for muslim students to pray? Seriously?
    Schools are not mosques and if that doesn’t suit you, go back to your home country :-D

  • Lebanese

    Hijab (Veil) should also be forbidden in public schools!

  • john

    Western world shoul be careful against these muslims. in the name of freedom they want to go religious even in public. but when they become majority, they don’t allow others to do the same. In muslim counrties they never care about non-muslims’ freedom or religion.. they want all only for themself… they are dangerous!…

  • Steve

    NO RELIGION IN PULIC SCHOOLS….PERIOD.

    If you want madrassas pay for them yourselves and not with my tax dollars.

  • Ayan

    I think people commenting on this subject don’t really understand the prayer requirement for Muslims. You are required to pray 5 times a day (the times correlate to the suns rotation). When I went to a public school (that was predominately Jewish, mind you) I excused myself from class, found an empty classroom and prayed. No one knew, and if they did there was no problem with it. I don’t see the issue with this, are we not a nation that allows its citizens to express themselves religiously openly and freely?

  • Avan

    There is a level of bigotry that runs through many of these comments. Our tax dollars support many religious private schools, and the public school facilities are used by many different religions, but primarily Christians. And each of these religions carries a level of sexism in the context of western liberal democratic principles. We fund Catholic schools where only men may become priests, and many of the Christian schools teach anti-homosexual material. As an atheist who grew up in the public school system having to listen to the class recite the Lord’s prayer each day, I find the criticism of holding Muslim prayers in this school to be the height of hypocrisy. The same level of scrutiny is simply not leveled at the other religious groups. While I oppose all forms of discrimination toward women, many people who accept it in other places in our society, suddenly find a new fervor to oppose it when they see it in the Muslim community. And that is a fact.

  • Steve

    As a real Atheist I don’t want any religion in public schools.

  • woka

    As a teacher, I can tell you that this school’s secular schedule is being completely disrupted by these prayers. Did anyone notice the stage in that “cafeteria?” It’s now off limits to the drama teacher, the English teacher, the music teacher or any other large group wanting to do some kind of large group activity on Friday afternoons. This is already an overcrowded school!

    These are tax payer resources – including the salaries of custodians and the transportation to get to the school by students – that is being used to fund one religion over another. As a teacher, anyone who thinks the school has not co-opted the teachers is dreaming.

    Not to mention….what is happening in the public sphere to girls is heinous. And don’t tell me these kids are not being forced. What’s the principal going to do when the parents want the kid to go but the kid says no?? Taxpayers, are you paying for this????? Yes you are!

    Shame on the TDSB. Shame on Canadian multiculturalism! These are NOT Canadian values at work. Bring on the law suits!

  • GCBC

    The Muslim students at Valley park are not required to pray during school hours. They can do so after school. The core culture of Canada is Christian,the laws that we obey are based on that. The fact that the education system has become relative instead of the historical reality. Canadian culture must be the starting point since it is a fact of our history.

    I regularly and frequently attended Church events after school hours and in the evening.I was not allowed to attend during school hours unless it was a family funeral. These students should be disciplined for not returning to class,by the school and the parents. It is inappropriate for the school to be providing religious services and directly against Canadian values for the parents to let their kids do this.

    Unfortunately, education is not take a priority in Islam but taking advantage of every progressive silliness, is in the Qur’an. Take tour kids to Mosque after school hours,we don’t pay for this nonsense.

    Multiculturalism is a curse on Canadian society. We can see the effects in Europe. Ghettos are not a Canadian value. We have accepted into our fabric a culture and community that does not want to be Canadian. Some of them want to make Canada into the place they ran away to get a better life from. It is not acceptable. You chose to come here, accept the reality of Canada or choose to go somewhere else where you will be happier.

  • LaVallette

    “As an atheist who grew up in the public school system having to listen to the class recite the Lord’s prayer each day,…..”

    What an assault on the intellect and the senses that was! Must be traumatised for life.

    By the way have you ever heard of Blairs Law: “The phenomenon of far right and far left groups allying with extremist Islamists is called “Blair’s Law [sic]” (“the ongoing process by which the world’s multiple idiocies are becoming one giant, useless force” by conservative and libertarian bloggers

  • Joanne

    The only aspect of any relevance regarding this issue is being completely ignored. Parents can want these Friday prayer services all they want and the TDSB can reference it’s accommodation policy as much as it likes. Neither are relevant as the fact is these prayer services are in direct violation of both the Education Act and the Charter. They are in violation of the law.

  • Katherine

    Do no editors at this publication check comments for possible hate speech? Some of the comments on this article are discriminatory enough to come pretty close. I practice no religion, come from a Canadian family of many generations, and I think it’s the most Canadian value of all to allow everyone to peacefully co-exist with their own customs and values, as long as it’s not hurting anyone else. How does praying to their particular deity affect any of you who are commenting on this board, I wonder? If you have some misguided idea that Muslims (or whoever practices a faith) are out to ‘convert’ people because they happen to pray, then your grasp of logic is extremely tenuous, indeed. I used to think smart, educated people were the readers of this magazine. Clearly I was mistaken, if comments like these — and, to be honest, such a poorly-written story (that really doesn’t have much of a point at all) — are any indication.

  • Steve

    Katherine, at what point do you suppose we stop submitting to values that are not considered desirable? Do you think it’s OK in a publicly funded school to single out menstruating girls and shove them at the back of the room because they’re najis (unclean). You’re Ok with your tax dollars supporting that humiliation? Would you consider my objections hate speech, also?

  • Barkley

    Steve, are you really so concerned about these girls who are following a common Muslim tradition? I find it hard to believe your apparent outrage in this matter is really that serious. Do you have the slightest evidence that any girl at Valley Park feels oppressed by engaging in this tradition, or is forced to engage in it if they don’t want to? And more to the point, do you have any evidence that any girls were “singled out” by anyone other than themselves? Were there any “menstruation police” (“Creedy 60 year old imams” as Ron Banarjee put it) present examining these girls in any way? I have seen or heard no evidence of this, beyond the totally unsubstantiated claims of Banarjee and Raheel Raza, neither of whom was questioned by the ideologues who had them on their shows or included them in their youtube videos.

  • Ria

    It is a very sad to me to see such blatant disregard for the fact the level of disregard certain religions have for the fact that they have chosen to reside in a democratic, largely christian society and do not wish to acknowledge these facts at all with such disrespect. As far as I am concerened Canadians should get rid of multiculturalism as it has not worked anywhere on this planet for very good reasons! As some have indicated there are many Muslim countries where pple are being murdured for following Christian religion and yet we here are foolishly being requred to make concessions to accomodate them.

  • zoran gadjanski

    One planet, one species of Homo Erectus (us, people), so, why so many different religions? Multi nationalities, there for multi, man made, religions. So, what is the result of having all these religions? Check history; most of all conflicts and wars are caused by religious people and their rulers!!!!! Is this what we teach our children (religion) so they can continue to hate and kill? Try to be non belonging free thinker, see if you will have enemies. Political example; Switzerland is and was neutral, there for no enemies.

  • Yacoub

    Okay, so I read the article and all the comments.

    I must say, the amount of ignorance presented in the article and some of these comments is astounding.

    Firstly, the problem: Kids not returning to school after their prayers. This of course is a bad thing, and of course has nothing to do with religion.

    It’s just children skipping school when they have an opportunity to do so – kids being kids. I would have suggested have someone supervise them from the school or even talk to the mosque, and make sure that they get back to school after prayers. If they then want to go back to the mosque for religious lessons, then they are free to do so but not on the school’s time.

    This I believe, was the first error. Yet they decided for a different solution of having prayers at the school, which i don’t completely agree with but okay, fine, lets say the solution I suggested was not possible.

    First, let me quickly explain certain things about prayer.

    Muslims are instructed to pray 5 times a day. This they can do alone or in congregation, and can be done almost anywhere (within reason of course – you’re not going to be praying in a strip club for example)

    On Friday, the second prayer becomes an obligatory congregation for men, however it is optional for women – if they choose to attend the congregation then they can. Before the prayer there is usually a short lesson on a certain concept of Islam, or tell a certain story about someone (and how we can learn from it) or about a certain event or incident and what Islam’s point of view is on this event.

    So back to the article. What the school decided to do based on some parents’ suggestion was to hold the prayer in school. So okay, they decided to do this, yet the rest of the school had problems on friday afternoons because the muslims were taking up their room every single friday. Obviously this solution was not ideal and not fair. Once they finished praying they immediately started laughing/playing etc. This is also one of the disadvantages of having the prayer at the school. A mosque should be like a library. You don’t play around and joke loudly in a library because you might disturb other people who are reading. Same thing in a mosque. They knew they were at school, and thus they treated it that way – in class if the teacher goes out of the class for a second, the kids would immediately start talking and playing; it’s natural.

    So this solution was incorrect.

    However, then the article suddenly mentions the critics saying that menstruating women have to ‘sit in the back and not participate, and are singled out’. This is a biased perspective. Menstruating women are exempt from these prayers, and they are not obliged to compensate for them later. But by no means should they be singled out and treated any differently. This ‘sitting at the back’ was merely the choice of the teachers, and not the teachings of Islam.

    Then, the problem with ‘girls sitting at the back’. It has nothing to do with girls being inferior. Having the girls section right next to the boys section at the front, and separated by a divider, would also work. This is merely so that during prayer, the boys can’t stare at the womens’ bodies and vice versa, to avoid any sexual feelings and minimize distractions in prayer. They did not have a divider and opted for women to sit at the back, so that during prayer when everyone is bowing, the boys do not have an opportunity to stare at the girls’ behinds.

    As for what is being taught by the imams before the prayer, I believe that, if they choose to continue this (which i do not believe they should) the school has a right to know what is being taught. The imam should discuss with the school what is prepared for the friday “lesson”, and this lesson can even be done in a way that is beneficial to the school children (e.g. lessons about the importance of learning, and how highly god views a person who seeks education).

    As for the rest of the prayers, perhaps provide a 5 minute break between classes for the students who want to go pray, or at the very least allow the students to be excused in between classes for that.

    Long story short, this is a string of bad decisions and misconceptions, further fueled by the media.

    For Some perspective regarding the sexism claims, as well as the importance of education in Islam:

    http://www.minhaj.org/english/tid/8535/Women-Education-in-Islam-article-by-dr-raheeq-ahmad-rahiq-ahmed-abbasi-nazim-e-aala-mqi-minhaj-ul-quran.html

    Peace :)

  • woody

    This is how this crap spreads so insiduously.

    Now Scarborough hospital is eliminating pork from the menu and all meat will be halal… you guessed it… to satisfy it’s muslim patients.

    http://www.thestar.com/living/food/recipes/article/1149469–scarborough-hospital-plans-to-serve-patients-food-that-s-delicious-local-and-made-from-scratch

    One day we will all wake up and wonder where the Canada we loved went.

  • Neil N.

    Here are a few facts that Toronto Life decided were not worth sharing with its readers.

    1. Natasha Fatah is the daughter of Tarek Fatah, the founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress — a group that puports to speak for “liberal” Muslims
    2. The MCC was among the groups protesting the TDSB last summer, alongside the Jewish Defence League, the Christian Heritage Party and Hindu Advocacy. What charming company.

    So Natasha gets to write a “dispassionate” account about this controversy even though Dad’s group was leading the protests. Can you say “conflict of interest?”

    Remember the old saying about journalistic ethics being an oxymoron?

  • woody

    Natasha Fatah is a grown up woman who lives independently and is entitled to her own opinions.

    Apart from trying to shoot the messenger, do you have anything really relevant to add ?

    And why use the nickname Neil when you’re probably a Mohammed ?

  • Neil N.

    Oh she’s entitled to her opinion, alright. I just want to know about her conflicts of interest when she conducts a supposedly “objective” investigation into a public controversy.

    So sorry that you’re losing “beloved” Canada; the sooner people of your ilk disappear with it, the better.

    And my name is Neil just as surely as your name is not “Woody”.

  • Jamaiah

    I do not think that these prayers in the classroom add to the multuralism of Canada in the way that multiculturalism was intended. I have many muslim friends and many of them have told me that women are constantly in fear of being labelled promiscious and opinionated. The fact that sexist behaviour is being institutionalized in public schools in such a clear manner is absolutely abhorrent. Women all over the world are fighting to become 100% equal to men in all ways. These prayer habits are essentially forcing women to become second class citizens. It is not possible that this can happen in Canada. Human rights legislation and equality under the law is a valued Canadian virtue. It is one thing to have these prayer habits be practised in a mosque which is subject to whatever religious customs are accepted, but to have it in a school? where at the very least, girls should be free from discrimination and bigotry. Girls cannot pray with the men when they are menstruating. I think this sums it all.

    I am looking forward to the day when more and more women stand up for themselves and claim their right to practice their religion in the same way as men. Why not let men wear a burka and a hijab? Shouldn’t modesty also be practised by men as well?

  • Raj

    Author Natasha Fatah is the daughter of Tarek Fatah?

    If so it is downright embarassing that Toronto Life didn’t note this.

    Same as how they didn’t note the connection between the Editor and the author of the Layton piece.

    Come on Toronto Life!

  • Franca

    This is ridiculous – atheists don’t get to ditch class to celebrate not believing in God. Religion belongs in the home, and in its proper places of worship. All that forcing these issues into a PUBLIC school system does is push the divide between differing belief systems even further apart.

    Not to mention that the religion in question is unbelievably sexist, and homophobic – teaching poor tolerance and values to children in their formative years. I don’t think we’d be having this debate over Buddhism, because the truth is that a history of killing your wives, daughters, and gay family members doesn’t really sit well with the general population in Canada – as it shouldn’t.

  • Kazal

    Why school closed in Saturday and Sunday ? Why not in Monday or Wednesday ? Saturday is Sabbath day according to Jaws and Christian and Sunday, you all know is the Church day. So, how can it fit in secular country?
    There is nothing secular in this world.
    Nothing wrong to accommodate Muslim students in Muslim majority school in a country which actually not secular. Please go through constitution of Canada; which started with praising God.

  • jeff316

    Kids everywhere get to skip class for various reasons – sports, drama, school-related stuff, non-school related stuff, day trips, family vacations, religious requirements (Christian and non-Christian.) Why it only matters when it is Muslim kids that do it is beyond me.

  • dennis

    This is the best and no 1 peaceful country in the world. The law of this country is so soft than the others. If you open your eyes and see the rules of middle east countries and the other Muslim countries, they were never give any chances to the other religions. because of the kindness of the law and the equal rights , the Muslims are taking the advantage from canada. please keep in your mind, 20 or 30 years later muslims will start to make too much troubles to this country.
    i am a pure roman catholic and i feel so bad about our childrens in the future.
    Canada must be strict to these Muslims.

  • SM ISAC

    In my opinion, occupying the largest space in the public school by a religious group does not constitute “reasonable” accommodation. Doing so during the class time is specifically prohibited by the Ontario Education Act.

    The School can make a reasonable accommodation by allowing the students to leave the school premises for their Friday religious activity just as any other students can be excused from class for whatever reason.

    The Principal of Valley Park, Jim Spyropoulos claims that he has received NO complaints from either parents or students. Well, that cannot be true as I know of one family who did complain but received no response. Did Spyropoulos ever consider the feeling of non-Muslim students as well as Muslim students who do not belong to the same conservative Sunni sect of Islam or those do not wish to take part in the prayer. How do they feel about having no access to their cafeteria, or the washroom on that floor (as I’ve been informed) reserved only for participating Muslim students during that time?

  • SM ISAC

    Section 29 of the Education Act reads:
    1) A board shall not permit any person to conduct religious exercises, or to provide instruction that includes religious indoctrination in a particular religion or religious belief in a school.
    2) Religious instruction can occur so long as attendance is optional the program is not sponsored or provided by the Board, and does not take place during instruction time;
    3) The Board making use of this provision, must consider all such requests on an equitable basis.

  • melissa

    There is so much truth to every comment written so far. The issue I see is not only segregation of male and females, but segregation of other students. By allowing such a large number of students to take part in group religious practices during school hours you are keeping them apart from students of other faiths. You are encouraging the divide between muslim and non-muslim students. Public schools are meant to bring students of all nationalities and faiths together. If you want to have a religious based school, or one where children study and pray at different times, send your children to a private school.

    Religion is not = to education. In Canada we teach our children to work together. Male and female, muslim and jew, chinese and japanese. We teach facts. We do not indoctrinate. We should not be looking at the convenience of praying around school hours. If you want to live in Canada and send your children to Canadian public schools than you should embrace the standardization of these schools as they represent the fact that all students are treated equally.

    Human rights laws are there to protect the citizens of Canada, not to assist individual efforts against assimilation.

  • Tyler

    I wonder if the school would allow “Life is wasted without Jesus” shirts?

  • Canadian!

    this is Canada, LOOK AROUND,

  • Canadian!

    I (A Canadian) was kicked out of a PUBLIC SWIMMING place because there was a group of women in the pool that were not allowed to be seen by males, they closed the doors and put paper on all the windows to stop anyone from looking in, wake up people, its 2012, who gives a rat ass what you look like in a bathing suit! if you dont like swimming with other people thats YOUR PROBLEM not MINE! PUBLIC MEANS PUBLIC! if you dont like it Get your own private pool and do what you want!

  • Jason Thompson

    In response to Kazal’s statement: yes, of course the Sunday weekend schedule is based on the sensibilities of Christians. The American and Canadian governments were founded mostly by Christians, so there are some Christian traditions mixed into the government and culture, although the government is mostly secular (and has been becoming more secular for the past 100 years).

    Since it is necessary to have a collective weekend schedule for public schools (unlike private schools & private businesses), the weekend schedule obviously uses the tradition followed by the largest number of people, even if many of the people are now atheists and it is only a “holdover” from Christian tradition.

    Any country expects people to follow some cultural traditions of the majority. For example, let’s look at some mixed-Muslim countries like Egypt and Jordan, where there is approximately 10% Christians. BUT in these countries, public school students, whether Christian or Muslim, follow THE MUSLIM-CULTURAL SCHOOL SYSTEM WHERE THE WEEKEND IS FRIDAY, NOT SUNDAY. There are approximately 2-3% Muslims in Canada, so of course public schools follow THE CHRISTIAN-CULTURAL SYSTEM WHERE THE WEEKEND IS SUNDAY. If I moved to Egypt and married a Coptic Egyptian, I would not expect the Egyptian school system to let our children get Sundays off, obviously, so it is equally unrealistic for Muslims to expect to get Friday off in a public school in the US. If that is important to us, we would choose a private school.

    America isn’t a 100% secular country, it is true it’s built on the traditions of Christians. But it’s more secular than most countries, so your comparison is misleading.

  • Jason Thompson

    My point is, it is unrealistic to pretend that any country, no matter how secular it is, should be free from the cultural traditions of the majority group(s) who founded, or currently live in, the country. Turkey is a country with a secular constitution but, like the US, it has public holidays based on religious days.

  • Adam

    I really don’t understand why this is such a big issue. I’m agnostic myself, fitting quite decidedly in the “I don’t know” category when it comes to matters of religion. But at the same time, I feel it is everyone’s right to have the freedom to practice their faith as long as they don’t push that faith on others.

    Since they are excusing themselves from class to go and pray by them selves and not intruding on others, I really don’t see why this should cause such heated debate. whereas not so long ago the lord’s prayer was forced on students who may not have not have shared the christian faith and the Christian groups were in an uproar when the custom was removed from the schools.

    I would not be offended if a Muslim wished me a happy Ramadan or if a Christian wished me a merry Christmas so long as the intent was genuine. I think if people stopped taking offence to each other’s beliefs and adopted a more enlightened live and let live philosophy, we would have fewer issues in the world.

    Hate, it appears, is spread more virulently by those who profess to be free of it.

  • missy

    where is this controversy at this time? (August 2012).
    I agree with many comments that say public schools are for public consumption.

    You want to pray on Friday? Go to a Muslim school.
    Don’t disrupt public education.

    You want to learn about Islam?
    Take a religion course and learn about other religions as well.
    Bravo To Natasha Fatah for writing this piece.

  • harold

    When will people wise up and realize that the Muslim people are out to rule the world, and will unless the peaceful people of the world get together and realize this is a real threat. Do you think all germans were war like?30% how about the chinese or the japanese,or any other peaceful countries? all stood by and were drawn into war by the minority of war mongers. Just do nothing and we will all have nothing. Listen and watch these muslim dictators. KILL KILL all the non belivers. 10 years from now look back on this day, and say, i should have done more. Beware of people that have 6,8,10, 12,14 16, kids and can’t afford them. It is to rule the world but live on welfare first. why do we allow them to do anything they want?

  • hebs

    at the beginning they fight to cancel the christian prayers from schools and second step :to fight having the right to have the muslim prayers everywhere starting from schools and universities and everywhere else. give me a break

    Thats what they want ,their plan to change the western world to be under islamic sharia allah and dominate by increasing in number of population.

    wake up world,,,,,wake up .we will be ruled and live in an islamic country by time,,,,watch out.

  • Mike

    North America should treat Muslims just like Austrila. This is a Christian country. If you don’t like the rules here, please go back to where you came from.
    @ Muslim girl: did you hear any Christians complain in the middle east about not getting Sunday off. So please do not bend the rules just for you. If you don’t get your way, you always complain. Please learn to adapt and live by the rules of the country you immigrated to or go back to where you came from.

  • Jax Alyn

    How did our CHRISTIAN Nation succumb to not only BANNING Christian prayers, but now allowing NON-CHRISTIAN Prayers in PUBLIC Schools???
    WHAT IS HAPPENING, CANADA?
    We are on the verge of losing our culture.
    “O’Canada, our home and Muslim land…..”

  • D

    If you want Friday off for praying you should live in a Muslim country. Christians or Jews in Muslim countries are not given their religious day off and will never get it even if asked for it . So stop being greedy. Your religion should stay at home and you should worry about education not praying all day.. And I’m talking about any religion ! Enough is enough

  • Debbie

    This is Canada’s CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982 (80)
    1982, c. 11 (U.K.), Schedule B
    PART I
    CANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

    Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…………..

    This means that those who are from other countries and beliefs – to bad. Deal with the fact you chose to live here. If you don’t like our policies and our religion, it’s time you leave.

    Man, I’m so fed up with reading about all of this Muslim hogwash that we’re not bending to them….what gives them the right to leave a public school during class hours to not return? Their prayers will have to simply wait until they have a break – period – just like the rest of us CANADIANS now that they’ve banned the Lord’s Prayer.

    Canadian’s – it’s time to take a stance. Stand up and KEEP OUR CULTURE at EVERY EXPENSE. If that means to the astonishment of another culture, so be it.

  • Truth Rub

    A school is meant for academics. People go to school for an education, not to pray!

    mosques are for prayers, schools are for an education!

    This is pathetic.

    Canada-please wake up! you have your own culture and civilisation, immigrants should experience Canada if they don’t like it, then get out of here and go to Saudi Arabia where they pray 24/7.

    This is the wrong country.

  • susankiepprien

    There are no schools in the U.S. that allow this on Fridays. The Friday prayers are performed AFTER SCHOOL hours when all other pupils have left.
    As to perfect religion: islam is the only religion that KILLS anyone that leaves the islam club. Islam is the only religion that KILLS non-muslims who don’t convert or who refuse to pay the dhimmi tax. Islam is the only religion that KILLS homosexuals. Islam is the only religion that orders AMPUTATIONS, BEHEADINGS, CRUCIFIXIONS, BOILING, ROASTING, EVISCERATING ETC.
    To understand islam, one must read the sira (life of your ideal man). Finally, the qur’an mentions the word ‘love’ but never in relation with humans toward each other. Only towards what allah loves or to be loved by allah…
    Sorry but I don’t agree with you. Peace.

  • susankiepprien

    Some schools in Europe allowed this. This is one example in Germany where non-muslims are being threatened etc. It got so bad in France that hijabs were disallowed from the schools. The same situation in all Scandinavian countries. It’s called creeping sharia and Canadian better wake up.

    http://www.barenakedislam.com/2013/01/30/germany-minority-students-are-being-threatened-and-harassed-in-school/

  • zainab hussein

    Honestly these kinds of articles mind boggle me, what I want to know is what is wrong with having prayer at school. I go to York University and they devote a place to pray its called a multi-faith center and there is a prayer room where we pray. I always wanted to know why public schools make a big deal of accommodating things for us that we end up getting in post secondary education. If education is not about praying then how come York University has a prayer room in their school. I attended here four years and use the facility so I managed to pray and get my education. They teach us in schools about religious freedom and I think by everyone being allowed the choice to pray is an excellent way of showing us that this country respects religious freedom. I am a proud Canadian and this country is all I know I came from my homeland when I was 4 which is Somalia because of a civil war. I don’t remember how my country looks so Canada is my home I wish to teach my kids that you can practice your faith and still have a good education. If you also go to Mosques (this is like our church for those who don’t know what Mosque is) men pray in the front women pray in the back and if you are a menstruating women then you shouldn’t be at the prayer room. Valley High is not practicing anything new it is doing the same thing and our faith has those rules and I accept it. My question is why can’t we practice our religion the way we want. If someone thinks its wrong then that is them their is no compulsion in religion. I choose to practice my faith and I love it and it makes a better person. I enjoy praying and as a Muslim women I am content with following the rules. Women are not inferior to men because we are rewarded equally by God. God is not unjust and as long as I know that I am equal before God then I am content, I don’t like this wave of thinking that Muslim women are oppressed and need protecting. As a proud Muslim women I am here to right wrongs, I am not oppressed and calling me a victim is an insult to those who are victim. I believe their is good and bad in everyone regardless of faith or creed. I wished people stopped pushing this idea that were oppressed because I feel oppressed being told that I am something I am not. I feel oppressed being told that because I cover I am oppressed. I chose to cover and I am happy with it. I can’t speak for everyone but allow me to demonstrate to you, that you should judge us as individuals not as collective. Don’t stereotype a group this doesn’t foster tolerance rather it fosters hate. I feel oppressed being told my faith believes women are inferior when I am Muslim women who objects to that. God has a whole chapter int the Holy Quran about Women and Another chapter on Mary if we were inferior to God then why would he write about us. In these chapters says nothing about women covering it tells us our rights such as inheritance property rights, I always wanted to know how come my religious rights are accepted in education institution such as York University where no one says don’t allow Muslims to pray yet people praying in Toronto district school boards are questioned. Is my religious rights respected only institutions that I pay for. Since I will be working contributing to tax which pays for the Toronto District school board then do I not have a say in allowing people to pray. My country back home in Somalia I never really experienced it this country is all I know and this is true for many other school children in this country. This country is where I see my future and I want people to understand or open up and not fear us just because of what we believe in. I haven’t done anything to anyone I feel shouldn’t we be innocent till guilty. If that is the case then why is everything we do seen guilty who do I hurt when I pray. I am a human and I have feelings and when so much people say so much negative things about my faith then It makes me wonder where is peoples heart don’t make me and all of us who grew up here suffer for something we haven’t done.

  • porlbond

    I so glad Canadians can spell properly. Keep it up! Don’t let your southern neighbours ruin our language.

  • porlbond

    I have a simple solution, ban all “collective worship”. And make sure you let those Mohammedans (or “Muslims” as they call them selves) know that gender apartheid shall not be accepted.

  • BlackManCanada

    What you don’t seem to understand is that we are a SECULAR COUNTRY, which means state and religion are separated. Since public schools and secondary schools are run by the government, they must be secular. This is why we have a problem with having prayer rooms in schools because it goes against SECULARISM, an important Canadian value.

  • http://twitter.com/roundthepond LCV

    Well said!

  • http://twitter.com/roundthepond LCV

    I am grateful for my salvation when I can never be perfect no matter what I do. It’s because only One is Holy. Yet He offered me His Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness – and daily assurance in His great love. I can dress in religious clothing, but laws and rules don’t change the heart. Only One can make all things new… And so, because He lives and loves us with all our mess, wonderful organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, health care, public education, anti-slavery – were born and shared with the world.

  • Jesus in Toronto

    I live there and the pollution from the D.V.P, streets, TTC, is enough to give your child lung cancer, those buildings are managed by corrupt catholic unions, there are cockroaches, pipe leaks, water problems, detracting structures, cell phone towers, power grids and I know why so many Muslims are placed there as part of east York, north York’s Muslim population and ultimately Toronto’s biggest Muslim population.

    It’s because the majority in faith of Canada- choses not to live there also ethnic diversity, multicultural society or visible minority are all labels placed on different forms of migrants – Like House man or Field man- The majority of immigrants to Canada are non-Muslims, when they say diverse they just mean different color, race, origin of Christians that live in different parts of Toronto and all over Ontario – You check out Greek Town -East York – It’s not Canadian at all, full of European Christian immigrants.

    Our Gov’t funds Catholic schools, clearly there is no separation of Province and State- false claim of democracy, favoring one group over the other therefore incidents like this is just a form of equity for Muslims since so much money is spent on educating Christian Canadian who wish to be separate and yet have our tax dollars pay for them. Look at Christian school right on the other side of this school and it is funny because you can hear church choirs.

  • Jesus in Toronto

    What’s really pathetic is that we have Christian immigrants who are looking at us as if we don’t belong here, we are Canadian nationals and these communities host to mostly Christian immigrants, they should go back to where the cross fly’s on their flags. They have lost their identity, culture, they have been misplaced, enslaved, converted by Europeans and it is a shame that they eat ham and beacon but maybe it’s just cause it’s the north! We are glad to have a small population of those that have retained their culture, religion and most importantly their identity. It maybe due to wars, enslavement and being inferior by those who took European identities and act to be what they are not or were not prior to being invaded, enslaved, ruled upon like Europeans did to natives. Very pathetic- for example the only Chinese or Vietnamese or even Japanese you meet here are Christians whereas prior to atomic bomb, war of the 70′s, British occupation – most of them were non-Christians so it just goes to show just how strong these Muslims are that despite being ruled or occupied by Europeans, Christianity had no influence over them and they migrate to our “homeland” with their identities intact, something we cannot say about most colored residents of Toronto. – Keep praying in public school because we are tired for paying for catholic schools which are also public in Canada!!!

  • Davywidetie

    Scandalous, truly scandalous. A real bums rush here. Next they’ll tell you they don’t fart.
    Hide the cross’s, hide the Bibles, hide the 10 commandments, hide your heads in shame, pure shame that you must deny YOUR heritage while allowing there’s……hypocritical. A better way would be to trade days…….Christians one day, Muslings the next. They are mocking you and laughing behind our backs folks. Mocking us behind our backs.

  • reedy red

    This is so ridiculous!!

    Natasha Fatah, first of all learn to respect others’ religion…using Allah in the cafeteria is so derogatory. I can’t believe that journalism has come to this extent. You have no right to comment on Islam, when you know not what it means! It is people like you in the media who gives it all wrong, just to have in more views.

    Separating men from women is not sexism at all…it is simple logic… you hear it all the time, right? Two and a half men, How I met your mother and everywhere for god sake. Now, don’t tell me that you don’t understand that. It is only done so that people can focus and concentrate on prayers and not check on women! As a women I cannot comprehend why this is so difficult for you to understand!

    It is every right of a Muslim man and a women to fight for his/her right. He/she has all the right to worship on time for his lord! Prayers should be allowed to be conducted in public institutions esp. schools because this is where kids spend most of their time in their lives and they should be taught their values. Makes sense??

    Having an iman from Darum Salam should not be anyone’s problem. What you are saying by asking to substitute him to a school kid is like asking to bring in a high school kid instead of a phd to teach in an university (if I could get anywhere closer). Isn’t that INSANE!

    It is only Islam that separates women from men as much as possible..and it makes sense..why? because Islam doesn’t only preach about not doing evil but shuts all doors to such shameless acts!! what do you see in a freely mixed society: illegal sex, teen pregnancies and thereby abandoned children, massive use of drugs and alcohol, adultery, fornication, prostitution and the list goes on…Is this not enough of a crime of a mixed society?? The very problem in this society and Islam gives you the solution. Even Christianity prohibits all this but ironically it is the Christian World which is full of this. The Muslims are more Christian than Christian themselves!!

    I am not against Christians or anyone other sects but it is time for you people to stop asking Muslims to become less of Muslims and give up their freedom of faith just to be compatible with people like you!!

    It is pathetic that this society is so ok with bikinis but pretend they don’t understand modest women and men. If everyone is modest then it is good for your family, your husbands, your sons and your society. There will be no betrayal and greed and lust and seduction!!

    It is high time that you know what extremism is and what Islam is as a journalist!! Shame on you for not getting your facts straight and for misleading others rather than being vice versa as a journalist!!!

    NEXT TIME please BE RESPONSIBLE WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT ANYTHING FOR GOD SAKE!!

  • reedy red

    Well if hijab should be forbidden then you too should go naked because hijab means veil and clothes are a form of veil to our body, isn’t it??

  • reedy red

    Mam, we can comply by the laws of the land and fit our cultural and religious needs around those, if only those are Islamic. What if people here vote for walking nakedly on the road is ok calling it freedom of movement and walking modestly infringes those freedom…will you want us to comply!! I mean it may happen, you never know.

  • reedy red

    I am sorry about your ignorant view on Islam but it seems pretty naïve that you want people to have negative thoughts on Islam. Let me make it simple for you, Islam is the exact opposite of all of the negative stuff you have said.
    I really urge you to get a proper understanding of Islam is because if you say Islam is all this then the bible should be all this too because your god is our prophet for god sake!

  • disqus_gL51FELk0B

    Its secular actually

  • disqus_gL51FELk0B

    You are not smart.
    Read about Malaysia..Muslim country that accomadates everyone….stop watching so much tv and you won’t be scared.
    Take a look at a map of the WTO member countries. You may understand the reason for all of this anti Islamic sentiment.

  • disqus_gL51FELk0B

    Well said.
    You can be free in Canada,., but we’re scared of Muslims……because we all watch too much tv…..reel bad arabs documentary should be watched by all

  • disqus_gL51FELk0B

    The people are not secular. And have the right to practice….that’s law. Sorry bud but Canada accolades, or should accommodate, everyone. Hindu, Sikh, all of them.
    If we are so secular why don’t we have school on Sunday??

  • disqus_gL51FELk0B

    Being kindest!? :…she must be oppressed ahaha because the majority of Canadians have a one track mind. Naked Is free, covered is not.dumb

  • BlackManCanada

    And I care why that the people aren’t secular? Again, you miss the point. We are a SECULAR COUNTRY, meaning there is a separation of state and religion. We have absolutely no reason to accommodate religious beliefs, especially not in our public schools. When my mom came to Canada, they used to say the lord’s prayer in public school but discontinued that for the sake of immigrants. Why should muslims now get special treatment?

  • Guest

    There is an anti-islamic sentiment because of the actions of radical muslims around the world. There are problems with muslims in every country where they form a majority or a significant minority.

  • Sharon_at_home

    If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Anyone would have questioned their relationship when they read Natasha’s full name at the beginning of the article. If someone doesn’t agree with the author’s opinion whenever they read their articles, they stop reading them.

  • Sharon_at_home

    Excuse me? Did you just state that your prophet is God?

  • eMan14

    Why ban all? Just ban the cult of Islam. It preaches hate, it preaches violence, it preaches misogyny.

  • eMan14

    Not really. We try to be secular for the sake of fairness in law, but Canada was founded upon Christian values. There is very little in Islam that is compatible with Canadian values. Other religions have few problems. Islam has a problem with every country it tries to settle in.

  • canuckistan666

    Stop using the word ‘Conservative’ Islam. I am a Conservative. That includes the values of rule of law (not sharia law) and other values.

  • gamaa

    Mannn that’s lame let me guess a student in humanities right !

  • R W

    What a joke. Canadian culture and values were put in place because of Christianity. Now I have to watch a foreign people populate my country and then change it to suite thier needs.

    Merry Christmas! For 45 years I’ve known it as Christmas. Apparently in the last few years it has been changed to a festive season? What?

    All who enter should obey OUR laws of the land. Why are we changing it to suite their law of the muslim land? The day I go to Saudi Arabia, and have a beer on the street, is the day I’m stoned to death. So, why are we changing for them?

    Am I being to insensitive? Boo-hoo, go and cry in the country that you came from.

  • 99Margaret99

    Natasha Fatah knows more about Islam than people like you. You go fight for your rights in your country. We will fight for what we believe is right in our own country. You pray privately or in your house of worship. Schools are for learning knowledge.

  • Robert Gray

    get rid of all religions, get out of the dark ages, shadows on walls….oooooo must be a creator, get your hand of it.

  • chad9903

    form your own muslim religion schools but DO NOT force this on CANADIANS. Harper will bend over to any ethnic, lbg group that will vote conservative.

 

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