Family and officials at odds over Muslim boy's beard at Christian school

A Benoni-based private Christian school has come under fire for refusing to allow a Muslim pupil to grow his beard in line with Islamic practices.

The Star reported on Tuesday that the boy's family believes the school, Ashton International College in Benoni, is "racist" and acting unconstitutionally.

Social activist Yusuf Abramjee recently tweeted on the alleged claims of Islamophobia at Ashton International College and Jeppe High School for Girls, according to IOL.

Abramjee is quoted as saying that the Grade 8 boy, 13, had reached puberty and wanted to grow his beard in line with the "Hanafi School of Islamic Jurisprudence, which obliges all males who have reached the age of puberty to grow a beard".

Abramjee reported the matter to the Gauteng education department.  

But the school told The Star that it was "an independent Christian school" and that parents were aware of the school's ethos.

Schools Act provides for religious observance 

Mark Brown, its executive director, said in a statement that the school was Christian and private and that parents signed and agreed to the school's ethos.

The parents reportedly tried to make an official submission to the school, but it was rejected.

"The school declined the application or request, and allegedly gave the parents an ultimatum that he either shaves off his beard or leaves the school," Abramjee told IOL.

The parents are reportedly not having this and have stated that they would take the matter to court.

In a legal opinion by advocate Charles Ledwaba, the department of basic education's director of legislative services, quoted by The Star, the South African Schools Act provides for religious observance in line with the Constitution. This applies to both public and private schools.

News24 earlier reported that legal action against Jeppe High School for Girls, over a controversial policy forbidding Muslim pupils from wearing hijab with their school uniforms, was on hold for now.

Read: Legal action over hijab on hold, for now - lawyer for 7 Jeppe girls

At issue is a complaint from seven Muslim pupils at the school, who say they are being discriminated against in the school's code of conduct.

While Muslim pupils are allowed to wear hijab to school, they have a separate school uniform from the one worn by other pupils.

Muslim girls are allowed to wear a black head scarf and cloak but these do not indicate that they represent the school or allow them to display their achievements in the way that their blazers do.

The girls want to be able to wear their uniforms, along with head scarves and black pants, for instance, or another combination of the uniform that would allow them to show that they represent the school while wearing hijab.

The school instituted disciplinary action against the girls when they wore their version of the uniform without permission.

However, the disciplinary hearings were put on hold after the department intervened.

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