Beard of Contention: Muslim Pupil Barred from School

Harare - Mohamed Ismail's life has taken a new twist. Following a recent Supreme Court ruling ordering the St John’s College student to shave his beard in line with the learning institution’s rules, his family are seeking to pursue the case. 

Since 2018, the pupil was barred from attending school. The 18-year-old’s beard became a bone of contention in the courts, bringing to the fore clashes between religious matters and the country’s education systems. He argued that according to his religious beliefs, he has to keep his beard.

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a High Court ruling ordering the pupil to shave his beard in line with the learning institution’s code of conduct.

Mohamed Ismail had filed a Supreme Court appeal challenging the High Court ruling, accusing the school of discriminating against his child, who is training to be a priest.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, a source close to the family said they have since made an appeal to the Constitutional Court. The source said the family is even prepared to take the case to regional and international courts if the need arises.

“They have appealed to the Constitutional Court and are prepared to take the case to the Africa Centre for Human Rights and the International Court of Justice.
Student Barred from School Over Beard

“The child can then return next year to finish off his Upper 6 at the school,” said the source, who was speaking to The Sunday Mail Society on condition of anonymity.

The student enrolled for Form 1 at St John’s College in 2013. He signed the acceptance of entry contractual document with the school. In terms of the document, the child is supposed to follow the school rules and regulations, including maintaining a clean shave.

However, the source said the pupil was being discriminated against as he only had an ‘invisible line of beard’ when he was suspended mid-last year. According to their religion, Muslim men are supposed to keep their beards.

This is not the first time that the courts have had to hear cases of clashes between religion and education institutions.

In 2016, the Constitutional Court dismissed an application by four Jehovah’s Witnesses. The four parents’ children were pupils at Arundel School. They were challenging the institution’s instruction for every pupil to attend chapel sessions.

Justice Bharat Patel highlighted that the school had the right to enforce its rules and that every parent or guardian with a child enrolled at the school was obliged to abide by the institution’s policies.

However, in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of an eight-year-old Rastafarian schoolboy who had been barred from attending Ruvheneko Primary School in Harare because of his dreadlocks.

The court highlighted that the school had violated the boy’s constitutional rights.

ln 2014, Batanai Secondary School in Mashava was barred from expelling four pupils for wearing long hair after the Constitutional Court ruled that such a decision was in breach of the girls’ freedom of conscience.

The quartet were members of the End Time Message Church, who refused to trim their hair citing religious beliefs.

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