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Arzu on the Michaela School judgment: A place of wrath and tears

michaela school secularism muslim prayer ban

This is the first of two pieces by Arzu on the Michaela School judgment and its context.

Almost two weeks ago a pupil lost her high court case in the UK, against the school banning her and other students from praying on site (she and others had been praying in the playground first using prayer mats, which were confiscated and then using their blazers).

If you pass by Michaela School you will see in (one of) its playground(s) large signs in purple and yellow. At least two carry the final lines of the poem ‘Invictus‘ by William Ernest Henley:

I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

Nothing could be more ironic.

It appears that students at Michaela are not or no longer captains of their own souls – the school, quite literally, is.*

Other students interviewed by the BBC explained how the ban made them feel:

“Once I did find out about the prayer ban, I felt like the school had stripped me and other students of my Islamic identity,..”

“I felt belittled and that I had to somewhat change who I was in order to fit in because it’s like they made it seem that being overtly Muslim was non-British or toxic. So I could never really be true to myself.”

“School is stressful and prayer was the only time I got to just connect to God and just find peace and connect to myself again, and it helped me with my learning – the fact that I couldn’t pray any more, it honestly did more bad than good…That absolutely just made me just dread going to school.”

These are just some of the comments.  Michaela has been controversial over the tenish years of its existence for many reasons, and this type of control over the emotional and mental space of their students is just one of them.  In the guise of creating better academic standards and better manners any number of restrictive measures are the norm of school life.  This from Time magazine is just a snippet:

“The school’s 484 pupils study in an atmosphere of rigid austerity. ‘Demerits’ are given out for the slightest errors: forgetting a pen, slouching, turning to look out of a window during a lesson. Two demerits in one class equals a detention. “That’s another demerit… you’re too disorganized,” an English teacher tells one girl who’s struggled to find her textbook in the allocated ten seconds.”


“The transition between classes is also timed, and completely silent. A black line runs down the center of the corridor carpets, and children are expected to silently proceed either side to their next classes. Eagle-eyed teachers stand ready to reprimand those who walk too slowly. Every detail is designed to maximize the amount of learning time. In the student bathrooms, there are no mirrors, lest they distract the students.”

Read more on this and the second part on Arzu.

Also on this topic…

‘Captain of her soul’: Why pupil TTT’s courage matters

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