Hindu Council of Australia urges removal of school prayer rooms over conversion and radicalization concerns

Allegations surfaced suggesting that students attending the prayer room were being exposed to videos featuring controversial Muslim fundamentalist preacher Dr Zakir Naik.

In a bid to address growing concerns over allegedly potential radicalization among students, the Hindu Council of Australia has made a call for the removal of prayer rooms from public schools.

A concerned Indian-origin parent at the Perth school attended by the radicalised teenager shot dead by police had contacted authorities in the weeks before the attack over fears students were being radicalised.

In a letter dated April 3, a Hindu mother claimed that a year 11 student at the school named Mohammed was using the school’s prayer room to try and convert her year 8 son to Islam.

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(Source: WA Today)

Now, citing fears that these spaces could be misused to indoctrinate young minds to extremist ideologies, the HCA has urged Australian authorities to take immediate action.

National president of the Hindu Council, Sai Paravastu, expressed profound disappointment upon learning of recent complaints from a parent regarding activities within a prayer room at Rossmoyne Senior High School.

Mr Paravastu said in a statement that the HCA called on Rossmoyne and all schools across the country to act to “combat conversion and the promotion of radical ideologies”.

“It is crucial to strike a balance between upholding the rights of students to practice their faith freely and safeguarding against activities that may undermine the safety and cohesion of the school community.”

He added that in the view of HCA there should not be a prayer room in public schools which is funded by taxpayers.

“Removal of prayer rooms from public schools serves to uphold principles of neutrality, inclusivity and respect for multiculturalism within the Australian education system. Additional monitoring should be in place for signs of conversion and radicalism in schools as it has become the need of the hour — schools should create environments where students feel empowered to keep their faith identities while safeguarding against potential risks to their wellbeing and security.”

Allegations surfaced suggesting that students were forced to attend the prayer room were being allegedly exposed to videos featuring controversial Muslim fundamentalist preacher Dr Zakir Naik.

Image: Dr Zakir Naik (Source: Peace TV)

Dr Naik, who is banned from India and lives in exile, is allegedly accused by the Indian authorities of spreading hate speech and inciting terrorism. He promotes a radical form of Islam on the channel Peace TV that is broadcast from Dubai and is owned by the Islamic Research Foundation. It is reported that his TV show has an estimated 200 million viewers worldwide including Australia.

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Image: WA Knife attack (Source: News screenshots)

Last Saturday night, Mohammed, a 16-year-old a Caucasian boy who self-converted to Islam, stabbed a man in the back in Perth’s south before being shot by local police. The teenager frequented the school’s prayer room, reportedly sent a final message before his fatal altercation, indicating his alignment with the “path of jihad.”

The 16-year-old’s online movements had been closely watched before the attack. And he had been caught viewing videos of people being beheaded and was provided with a school laptop with a locked browser on which his activity was monitored. He was also part of a government-funded de-radicalisation program since he was 14 years old, following an incident at the school where he threw a science experiment – a small explosive – into a toilet block.

Dr Rateb Jneid, a lawyer and president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, told The Nightly that while it respected the right of the HCA to express its concerns, it was “generally inappropriate” for one faith group to advocate for the removal of facilities used by another.

“Prayer rooms in schools, like any facility dedicated to personal reflection and faith, do not inherently lead to radicalisation. There is no substantial evidence to support the assertion that these spaces contribute to radical ideologies.”

WA Premier Roger Cook has met with faith leaders representing religious communities across Perth: “We stand in solidarity against all forms of violence – no matter your faith or your race.”

Mr Cook said that he would leave it to experts to decide how to approach the issue after being made aware of the Hindu Council of Australia’s comments on prayer rooms.

“I’m not an expert in an education environment or in terms of education issues. I’ll leave it up to them to decide. But we want our schools to be inclusive environments, we want every kid to feel that they belong.”

A petition has been started to keep prayer rooms in WA schools, while an earlier petition protesting against their inclusion in schools has been removed.

The Western Australia’s education department said prayer rooms at schools would remain open so students had the opportunity to practise their religion. The department’s director-general Lisa Rodgers said this week that under the Discrimination Act, a principal may be required to provide a prayer room if requested “to ensure students are not discriminated against on the basis of religion”.

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