Top London School Bans Muslim Prayer and Won’t Back Down

A prestigious London school is under fire after its headteacher, dubbed by the media as “Britain’s strictest teacher,” introduced a blanket ban on prayer on its premises. This has sparked debate on the place of religious rituals in schools, especially as the United Kingdom faces a more multicultural, multireligious future.



The case was filed against Michaela Community School, a top secondary school in Brent, north-west London, famous for its ultra-strict disciplinary code and exceptional exam results. It has been the subject of a two-day hearing at the high court in London after one of its Muslim students brought the case against the institution, claiming that the prayer ban was discriminatory and is seeking to have it overturned.

Despite being a non-religious institution, around half of Michaela’s intake is Muslim. Until recently, the school’s Muslim students engaged in a daily prayer ritual. However, the school introduced a blanket prayer ban in March 2023 after it noticed that these rituals created disorder, unpleasantness, and even some intimidation of teachers, resulting in calm and order being quickly restored.

Earlier, the judicial review hearing was told that the prayer ban fundamentally changed how the Muslim student who filed the case against Michaela felt being a Muslim in the UK, adding that not being able to pray inside the school made her feel unhappy and guilty.



According to the student’s lawyer, Sarah Hannett KC, the prayer ban felt “like somebody saying they don’t feel like I properly belong here. " She added that prayers would only take five minutes and could take place in a classroom.

The school also implemented the policy because allowing daily prayer undermined the "inclusion and social cohesion between pupils,” an essential school tenet.

Michaela’s founder and headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, defended the policy after she faced legal action, arguing it was vital to “maintain a successful learning environment where children of all races and religion can thrive.” Birbalsingh also said she had to introduce the ban after some pupils began praying in the playground against what she described as a backdrop of “violence, intimidation, and appalling racial harassment of some of our teachers.



Jason Coppel KC, representing the school trust, told the court on January 17th that the prayer issue in Michaela triggered “an unprecedented outbreak of poor behavior among pupils” at the school. Things continued to escalate when some public members became involved in a “concerted campaign” on social media over the school’s approach, including an online petition with thousands of signatures that has since been taken down.

Coppel also argued that prayer sessions in Michaela led to growing segregation between Muslim and non-Muslim pupils in the playground and that teachers observed a number of Muslim students applying peer pressure to other Muslim pupils, forcing them to become more observant.

In one alleged incident described to the high court, a Muslim female student who previously never wore a headscarf was pressured into wearing one. Another female Muslim pupil dropped out of the school’s choir after other Muslim children told her that it was haram (forbidden), while a number of other Muslim students were told they were “bad Muslims” for not praying and had begun to pray, according to written arguments before the court.



Coppel also said Michaela’s head was committed to promoting social cohesion in the institution to the very end, which Birbalsingh reiterated in a statement posted on social media. She said that the school, one of the best-performing schools in England, was in court to defend “the culture and ethos” of Michaela, where “children of all races and religions buy into something bigger than themselves: our country.

We have a large number of Muslim pupils. Their positive experiences have helped grow the number of Muslim students at the school by 50%. My own grandmother was Muslim.” Bribalsingh said on X, formerly Twitter. 

But the governing body had to take the decision to stop prayer rituals when some people started them, against a backdrop of events including violence, intimidation, and appalling racial harassment of our teachers. Our decision restored calm and order to the school,” she added.

We believe it is wrong to separate children according to religion or race, and that it is our duty to protect all of our children and provide them with an environment which is free from bullying, intimidation, and harassment,” she also said.

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