Monday, November 7, 2011

Mississauga high school cancels Muslim prayers

TORONTO - A Mississauga high school was scrambling Monday to cancel a Muslim prayer session it was going to hold as part of a student dinner to mark Eid, the celebration ending Ramadan.

Flyers had been provided to students at Mississauga Secondary School announcing a night-time “Eid Dinner” to be held in its cafeteria this coming Thursday. Mughrab group prayers were to start at 5:05 p.m., according to the flyer.

Group prayers are not allowed at school events, confirmed Peel District School Board spokeswoman Carla Pereira, adding that the school’s senior administration knew about the upcoming dinner, but not about the planned prayers.

The evening had been requested by the school’s muslim student association and sponsored by a teacher at the school, said Pereira.

The Sun had been tipped off to the prayers in an email from a concerned parent.

On Monday, Judith Beriault, acting principal of the Mavis Rd. And Courtneypark Dr. W area school, abruptly scratched the prayer portion of the dinner – just hours after the Sun contacted the PDSB about the evening.

“The board has a process that all schools need to follow, and part of that process is group prayers are not part of a school event,” said Pereira, adding later in an email that “All celebrations of faith and culture need to be inclusive of all participants.”

All the school’s students, their respective families and school staff were invited to the dinner.

Eid celebrates the end of Ramadan, a month-long fasting ritual and considered the holiest of Islamic holidays. Eid traditionally comes with prayer, gift-giving (particularly to children) and time spent with family and friends.

Valley Park Middle School – a North York school under the the Toronto District School Board – came under fire last July for opening its cafeteria to allow Muslim religious leaders to conduct weekly prayer services for hundreds of the school’s Muslim students.

Critics of the prayer sessions said religious services should not be provided in publicly-funded schools. Some Opponents said the TDSB was bending to the wishes of religious leaders in the Muslim community.

“The school’s events reflect the needs of the community,” said the PDSB’s Pereira when first asked about MSS’s Eid dinner. And while the school has a large Muslim population as part of its student body, Pereira could not provide specific numbers on how many attend MSS.

Schools provide events “that are reflective of the community, (and) schools know the needs of their students based on what students as for individually and as groups through associations...,” said Pereira.

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