Muslim pupil loses High Court challenge against school’s prayer rituals ban

A Muslim pupil lost her High Court challenge against a ban on prayer rituals at a high-achieving north London school, Martha Fairlie explains the judgement

A Muslim pupil has lost a High Court challenge against a ban on prayer rituals at a high-achieving north London school previously dubbed Britain’s strictest.

The student, who cannot be named, took legal action against Michaela Community School in Brent, claiming the policy was discriminatory and “uniquely” affected her faith due to its ritualised nature.

She argued the school’s stance on prayer – one of the five pillars of Islam – unlawfully breached her right to religious freedom and was “the kind of discrimination which makes religious minorities feel alienated from society”.

The school, founded and led by headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, a former government social mobility tsar, argued its prayer policy was justified after it faced death and bomb threats linked to religious observance on site.

Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh was targeted with death threats, abuse and allegations of Islamophobia Credit: PA

In a written ruling on Tuesday, Mr Justice Linden dismissed the pupil’s arguments against the prayer rituals ban.

The judge upheld the student’s challenge to a decision to temporarily exclude her from the school.

Lawyers for the pupil told the judge at a hearing in January that she was making a “modest” request to be allowed to pray for around five minutes at lunch time, on dates when faith rules required it, but not during lessons.

The school’s legal team told the court in London that students seen praying outside contributed to a “concerted campaign” on social media over the free school’s approach to religion, with there also being a since-removed online petition attracting thousands of signatures.

They added that the governors and headteacher at the school of some 700 pupils, about half of whom are Muslim, had “a margin of latitude, discretion or judgment” over its policies.

The pupil's mother said she was "profoundly dismayed by the case's outcome".

In a comment issued by law firm Simpson Millar, she said: "The case was rooted in the understanding that prayer isn't just a desirable act for us - it's an essential element that shapes our lives as Muslims.

"In our faith, prayer holds undeniable importance, guiding us through each challenge with strength and faith."

She added: "My daughter's impassioned stance compelled me to support her and I stand firm in that decision.

"Her courage in pursuing this matter fills me with pride and I'm confident she's gained invaluable lessons from the experience."

Imam Ajmal Masroor told ITV News he is "disappointed" with the decision made by the High Court and claimed it "excludes" Muslim children from daily practice.

"It's a very basic human right to pray, what's wrong with prayers," he questioned.

"This a terrible day, this is a terrible tragedy for integration, it's a day when we are legally saying to our kids, 'it's okay to other you, it's okay to push you outside and it's okay to exclude you because you're a Muslim'."

Imam Ajmal Masroor spoke to ITV News in the wake of the decision, describing it as a "terrible day"

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said: "I have always been clear that headteachers are best placed to make decisions in their school.

"Michaela is an outstanding school and I hope this judgment gives all school leaders the confidence to make the right decisions for their pupils."

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