One of the two 14-year old Muslim students that were banned from attending their Roman Catholic high school due to their facial hair has returned to school.
The students attended the private Mount Carmel Roman Catholic high school in Accrington, Lancashire, an area in Northwest England. The school’s uniform policy is that none of its pupils can grow facial hair, and the students were banned from attending school until they agreed to shave their beards.
Xavier Bowers, the head teacher at Mount Carmel, cited the European Convention of Human Rights as his reason for allowing the student to return. The Convention calls for exceptions to uniform and dress code policies on the basis of objection on religious grounds.
Under those provisions, the boys must prove their dedication to Islam, and demonstrate that their commitment to the faith is the reason that they have facial hair.
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“[There] will be no change to the school rule which requires boys to be clean shaven. However, following discussions with leaders of the local community, exemptions will be made in certain clearly-defined circumstances. Governors have taken the decision to only allow Muslim boys permission to grow a beard as a sign of their faith as long as they have started the Hafiz program at a mosque,” Bowers said, insisting that the school’s policy had not changed, but that it would allow for justifiable exceptions.
This statement is a drastic turnaround from Bowers’ initial statement, which was that the boys’ facial hair was unconnected to their Muslim faith. “We have not taken this decision lightly,” Bowers said after sending the students home, “I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders. There is nothing specifically written in the Koran about wearing a beard. It is a choice those boys are making. However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain.”
Bowers likely changed his mind after much criticism was hurled in his direction from those that deemed the decision to be discriminatory. The other of the two banned boys has yet to return to school.