A high school in western Germany has banned Muslim pupils from using prayer mats and carrying out other Islamic rituals, saying they are “provocative” to fellow students.
The Gymnasium Johannes Rau, in the city of Wuppertal, sent a letter to staff in February, saying Muslim students had been using prayer rugs and performing ritual washing in the restrooms, and that they should get a “friendly reminder” that this was not permitted and would be reported to the administration.
The school asked staff to report any cases of Muslim pupils praying on the school premises, reported German media.
The letter was posted on Facebook last week, eliciting an angry reaction from some social media users and sparking a debate about freedom of religion in the country.
Several teachers and pupils had reported that they felt pressured by the behaviour of Muslim pupils, a spokeswoman for the regional administration of Wuppertal told news agency DPA on Thursday.
“In the last few weeks, it has increasingly been observed that Muslim students are praying, quite visibly to others, indicated by ritual washing in the bathrooms, the rolling out of prayer rugs, and by the students putting their bodies in certain position. That is not permitted,” the letter reportedly said.
Following this reaction, municipal authorities declared that the wording was “unfortunate” and that the school had only meant to bring affected students in to discuss a solution to allow their prayer, German newspaper Bild reported on Thursday.
But the authorities said that the school was legally allowed to stop people “praying in a provocative manner,” reported German media. And the regional administration said it backed the school stance.
“Banning provocative praying the school’s public space should promote peaceful coexistence and peace within the school,” Al Jazeera reported the school administration as saying.
Germany has seen a rise in anti-immigration sentiment, following the influx of more than 1.1 million refugees and migrants from predominantly Muslim countries during the last two years.
Commenting on the school’s move in a Facebook post, the country’s right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) reportedly called it an “interesting and sensible” measure.
AfD made big gains in a series of recent elections, and has recently adopted an anti-Islam stance as part of its new manifesto.