Prophet Muhammad cartoon sparks massive fallout at UK Grammar School

On March 22nd, a West Yorkshire school teacher showed his students a cartoon image depicting the prophet Muhammad to illustrate a lesson within the school’s curriculum. Within three days, at least 50 demonstrators gathered outside of Batley Grammar School to protest the teacher’s actions.

Parents organized the protest quickly after hearing the teacher used the cartoon depiction to educate his students during a religious studies class. The cartoon image was previously published by Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication.

The Charlie Hebdo offices in France were attacked in 2015 by men claiming to be al-Qaeda. These men murdered 12 people there, which included two police officers and staff cartoonists.

While the Koran makes no explicit ban against creating images of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad — whether they are painted, carved, or drawn — chapter 42, verse 11 says: "[Allah is] the originator of the heavens and the earth... [there is] nothing like a likeness of Him."

Muslims interpret that literally to mean that, since Allah cannot be captured in any depiction created by the human hand (due to his grandeur and beauty), then the passage must also apply to the prophet Muhammad. Attempting to do so is seen as an insult to Allah.

Some of the demonstrators were demanding the teacher’s termination as punishment. One of the protesters, Abdullah, said the caricature offended "the whole Muslim community."

"This is a time when we can't stay quiet. We need to stand up and let them know, the headteacher, the school, and the governing body, that this is not something light. There's a line you can't cross," Abdullah said.

Headteacher Gary Kibble publicly apologized "unequivocally," reiterating that the staff member involved had already "given their most sincere apologies" and was suspended pending an investigation.

"We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course, and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school," said Kibble.

"It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a sensitive way."

From another perspective, a spokesperson for the Department for Education said: "It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers."

The spokesperson stated that they encourage constructive dialogue between the school and the parents when issues arise, adding: "However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions, is completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”

"Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas, and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance.”

"They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom," said the spokesperson, adding that no arrests were made and no penalty notices were issued.

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