Simon Caldwell, Daily Mail (London), Dec. 1, 2008
Muslim prayer rooms should be opened in every Roman Catholic school, church leaders have said.
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales also want facilities in schools for Islamic pre-prayer washing rituals.
The demands go way beyond legal requirements on catering for religious minorities.
But the bishops—who acknowledge 30 per cent of pupils at their schools hold a non-Christian faith—want to answer critics who say religious schools sow division.
The recommendations were made in a document, Catholic Schools, Children of Other Faiths and Community Cohesion.
‘If practicable, a room (or rooms) might be made available for the use of pupils and staff from other faiths for prayer,’ the bishops said.
‘Existing toilet facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship.
‘If such space is not available on a permanent or regular basis, extra efforts might be made to address such need for major religious festivals.’
The Islamic cleansing ritual, called ‘Wudhu’, is carried out by Muslims before they pray.
Islam teaches that Muslims are unfit for prayer if they have not performed Wudhu after breaking wind or using the toilet.
Wudhu involves washing the face, hands, arms and feet three times each, gargling the mouth three times and washing the neck and inside the nose and ears. Some Muslims also wash their private parts.
Catholic schools would need to install bidets, foot spas and hoses to facilitate such extensive cleansing rituals, Muslims say.
Daphne McLeod, a former Catholic head teacher from south London, said it would be ‘terribly expensive’ for the country’s 2,300 Catholic primary and secondary schools to provide ritual cleansing facilities.
She said: ‘If Muslim parents choose a Catholic school then they accept that it is going to be a Catholic school and there will not be facilities for ritual cleansing and prayer rooms.
‘They do their ritual cleansing before they go to a mosque, but they are not going to a mosque.
‘I don’t think the bishops should go looking for problems. Where will it stop?’
But Majid Khatme, a Muslim who sent his children to a London Catholic school, said he was delighted by the gesture.
‘It is very kind of the bishops if they give this facility for Muslims to pray,’ he said.
‘I would love to send a letter of thanks to the bishops, really. If they do this all Muslims in Britain will be thankful to the Catholic Church to have facilities to pray. It is very, very encouraging.’
The recommendations have been approved by Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham and the favourite to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor as Catholic primate.
But it would be up to governing bodies of each school to decide whether to act on the guidance.