Muslims Petition State Over Christian Teachings

A LOCAL Muslim group has given the government 60 days to rectify Zimbabwe's Christian-biased school curriculum or it will file an application in the Supreme Court for an order declaring unconstitutional the teaching of Christian subjects and the reciting of the Lord's Prayer at public schools, the Daily News has established.

In a letter written by its lawyer last week to Education Ministry permanent secretary Thompson Tsodzo, the Islamic Convent of the Strict Observance (ICSO) - which groups parents of Muslim children attending school in Harare - said the country's school curriculum contravened section 19 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

The constitutional provision provides for protection of freedom of conscience.

It could not be established by the time of going to press yesterday whether Tsodzo had received the letter.

However, this reporter was shown a copy of the letter bearing a date stamp confirming that it had been received by the director of the civil division in the Attorney General's Office.

In the letter, the group protests that Zimbabwe's school calendar made provision for only Christian holidays and effectively did not cater for other religions.

"Although non-Christian pupils and students are generally exempt from Christian instruction, the fact of the matter is that their consciences are pricked because they are confined to libraries or studies during the times Christian instruction is being given," reads part of the letter written by the group's lawyer, Lewis Uriri.

The letter adds: "This is not only discriminatory, but is also a hindrance in their religious freedom, which they cannot manifest, while their Christian counterparts are able to manifest their religion in public schools.

"In primary schools, the Grade 7 examination will, contrary to their religion and belief, examine non-Christian pupils on matters relating to the Christian God, Jesus Christ and the Christian notion of salvation."

The group said the repetition of the Lord's Prayer at school assemblies and the offering of prayers "to the Christian God" at all school functions prejudiced non-Christian pupils of their rights to freedom of religion and conscience.

"The provision of holidays for important Christian historic events is a further injury to our client's freedom of religion," Uriri said in his letter.

The ICSO gave the government 60 days from 1 August to rectify the situation or face a Supreme Court challenge. The group has already instructed its lawyer to file an application with Zimbabwe's highest court.

The organisation said in its letter: "Kindly, therefore, let us know within the next 60 days whether your ministry will attend to the rectification of the school curriculum such that it complies with the provisions of Section 19 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe."

Officials close to the group said the majority of the Muslim organisation's members had come up against the Christian bias in Zimbabwean public schools after they were forced to withdraw their children from Muslim private schools and enrol them in government-controlled institutions because of recent school fee increases.

Fees at some private schools are expected to increase to as much as $1.4 million a term next month because of the country's hyper-inflationary environment.

Government schools, although they are also being forced to increase rates, are still cheaper than private institutions.

ICSO advocates the strict observance of Muslim religious teachings without the interference of other religious groups. It is reported to be on a campaign to recruit members from other parts of the country, the organisation's lawyer told the Daily News yesterday.

Zimbabwe is a predominantly Christian country and three years ago, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe led a campaign and later petitioned a government-appointed constitutional commission to declare Zimbabwe a Christian nation.

The draft constitution was rejected in the landmark referendum of February 2000.