Only Muslims are allowed to skip the class.
When music class begins this week at Toronto’s Donwood Park elementary school, Mohammad Nouman Dasu will send a family member to collect his three young children. They will go home for an hour rather than sing and play instruments – a mandatory part of the Ontario curriculum he believes violates his Muslim faith.
The Scarborough school and the Toronto District School Board originally had offered an accommodation – suggesting students could just clap their hands in place of playing instruments or listen to acapella versions of O Canada – but not a full exemption from the class.
After a bitter three-year fight, however, Mr. Dasu felt he had no other opton but to bring his kids home.
According to documents ob-tained by The Globe and Mail, some parents insist they cannot allow their children to be in the same room where musical instruments are being played. Mr. Dasu, a Koran teacher who sometimes leads prayers at Scarborough’s Jame Abu Bakr Siddique mosque, says he has led the fight on behalf of parents. He has consulted with national Islamic bodies, and requested a letter from the leader of his mosque.
“We here believe that music is haram [forbidden]. We can neither listen to it, nor can we play a role in it,” said the mosque’s imam, Kasim Ingar.
Conceding that Muslims have to adjust when they send their kids to public school, he suggested that some matters, such as teaching music, are beyond debate.
“We do not compromise with anyone on the clear-cut orders and principles conveyed by the Prophet,” said Mr. Ingar, who also leads the Scarborough Muslim Association.
Within Islam, the question of whether Muslims are banned from music is divisive and nuanced. Similar to questions about whether women should wear veils, there is no consensus on the issue.
But Ontario’s primary-school curriculum is unambiguous on music class: It must be taught, without exception, to all primary-school-aged children. Officials at the TDSB say they can only bend the rules to accommodate religious students, but not exempt them.
The Globe used freedom of information laws to access TDSB e-mails on how the issue evolved at Donwood Park, where it first surfaced in 2013.
The released records redact the names of students for privacy reasons, and very few families appear to have been adamant over pulling children from music classes. Early internal e-mails show administrators wanted to find “some common ground.”
But Mr. Dasu, who says he represents many of the parents at the school concerned about the issue, pushed for exclusion for his own children by invoking the prospect of litigation and the religious freedoms clause of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Continue reading
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