An Australian school has been criticised for allowing Muslim students to leave the assembly hall before the national anthem is sung, out of respect for Muharram.
“I was furious when school officials invited students to leave during Advance Australia Fair,” Lorraine McCurdy, who has two grandchildren at Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School, said.
“Two children got up and said ‘welcome to our assembly’ with that a teacher came forward and said all those who feel it is against their culture may leave the room,” McCurdy said.
“With that, about 30 or 40 children got up and left the room. We sang the national anthem and they all came back in. I saw red, I’m Australian and I felt ‘you don’t walk out on my national anthem that’s showing respect to my country,” she added.
Independent Senator for Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie, also slammed the school which promotes the ethos of ‘Many Cultures, One Community.’
“I find that absolutely devastating, we should all be singing the Australian national anthem and we should be doing that with pride,” Senator Lambie said.
“That’s part of us. I find these schools that are allowing this to happen disgusting. I don’t think religion needs to be brought into the national anthem. We should all be proud to be Australians and proud to sing the national anthem,” she added.
Principal Cheryl Irving clarified that students were only allowed to walk out because of Muharram which is a month of mourning when children are able to opt out of singing or listening to the anthem.
“During the month of Muharram, Shias do not take part in joyous events, such as listening to music or singing, as it was a period of mourning. Muharram is a Shia cultural observation marking the death of Imam Hussain. This year it falls between Tuesday October 13 and Thursday November 12,” Principal Irving said.
“Prior to last week’s years 2-6 assembly, in respect of this religious observance, students were given the opportunity to leave the hall before music was played. The students then rejoined the assembly at the conclusion of the music,” the principal added.
The Australian Department of Education released a statement saying that they supported the school’s stance on this. “The Department supports our schools to be inclusive for all students, this includes understanding or respecting religious cultural observances.”
“From 2016, the new Victorian curriculum will include new subjects such as respectful relationships, world views and ethical understanding, helping to build more inclusive schools and communities,” the statement added.
Kuranda Seyit, secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, explained that these young students were not against the Australian national anthem. “I’m a Sunni Muslim myself but I understand Shia sensitivities and for them this is a very holy time. It’s a time when they are encouraged to reflect on the death of Imam Hussain and abstain from all forms of celebrations.”
“However for young children I think things like these should be assessed on their merits and a balance found. People need to remember that these Muslim children are not against the Australian national anthem but are not allowed to be deemed to be celebrating. Maybe there could be a bit more flexibility,” he added.