Four primary schools in London have told its students that they will not be permitted to fast during the holy month of Ramadan without special permission from school administration.
The headmaster of Barclay Primary School – one of the four schools – Mr Wright, revealed the new rules in a letter to parents, in which he cited health concerns as the primary reason behind the ban.
“Previously, we have had a number of children who became ill and children who have fainted or been unable to fully access the school curriculum in their attempts to fast” read the letter.
“We have sought guidance and are reliably informed that in Islamic Law, children are not required to fast during Ramadan. Although we accept the age of adulthood is disputed….in Islamic law the health of an individual is the first priority.”
Justin James, the Chief Executive Officer of the “Lion Academy Trust” – which represents the four schools upholding the ban – later reaffirmed Mr Wright’s reasoning, and confirmed that the ban applied to all schools within the trust.
James has since clarified that if a child wishes to fast during school days, parents must gain permission from the heads of their school to “discuss how [to] ensure the safety and well being of [the] child whilst still ensuring that they are part of the Ramadan celebration.”
In the UK, primary schools admit students between the ages of 5 and 11. Unlike some European countries such as France, there are no state laws that forbid the expression of religion in schools.
A spokesman for the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) declared the ban unnecessary, stating that Islam holds enough rules in place to protect the vulnerable from fasting.
“We believe that there are sufficient and stringent rules within Islam which allow those who are unable to fast, to break fast” the spokesman told UK media outlet Mail Online. “However, we believe that this determination should be decided by parents with their children, who can together reach a collective decision whether or not the child can fast. MAB ascertains that the final choice….should be the right of the parents, who should in turn encourage their children to fast without forcing them to do so.”
Dr Omar El-Hamdoon, President of the MAB, added: “Schools should play a supportive role to parents; and issues like this should be discussed, not blanket enforced.”
NHS Choices – a governmental website representing the UK’s National Health Service – has previously addressed the question of children fasting during Ramadan, stating: “Children are required to fast upon reaching puberty. It isn’t harmful. Fasting before this age is tolerated differently, depending on the attitude of the parents and the child’s general health and nutrition. Fasting for children under the age of seven or eight isn’t advisable”
In the letter from Barclay Primary School, various outreach initiatives were mentioned, including a school-wide assembly about “what Ramadan means to Muslims, and how our Muslim families will be observing the month of Ramadan” along with class activities led by Muslim students sharing their customs and beliefs with their peers. However, many still share the views of MAB, criticising the ban as the schools’ inappropriate school interference in a private family decision.