Muslim community leaders have called on protesters to stop gathering outside a Yorkshire school after an RE teacher was suspended amid a blasphemy row.
The Batley Grammar School teacher apologised after allegedly showing students a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad – reportedly taken from the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo – during a religious studies lesson last week.
The unnamed teacher – described as a ‘burly Yorkshire lad’ in his 20s – was suspended on Thursday pending an investigation by the school, in Batley, near Bradford, West Yorkshire.
A petition in support of him reached more than 58,000 signatures.
But a rival petition demanding he be fired has gained 20,000 signatures – as some 50 demonstrators gathered outside the school gates last week.
Now, leaders of nearby mosques revealed they have urged people to stay away from the gates after the school said it would carry out a formal investigation.
Protesters give a statement to the Press outside Batley Grammar School on Friday
Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire, where a teacher has been suspended for reportedly showing a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils
Snowdon Mosque chairman Akooji Badat told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We’re working together with the parents and the teacher, and the school have been kind to all the sectors by suspending the teacher so there’s no real cause for a peaceful protest outside the school.
‘The school has done its job and cooperated well with us.’
Speaking ‘on behalf of the Muslim community’ on Friday, one protester said: ‘The teachers have breached the position of trust and failed their duty of safeguarding, and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.’
However, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick called reports the teacher was in hiding ‘very disturbing’ and branded the protests ‘not right’, adding teachers must be free to ‘appropriately show images of the Prophet Mohammed’.
A police officer arrives at a protest outside Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire
Imam who protested over Charlie Hebdo cartoons outside grammar school spreads anti-vax propaganda – and condemns Strictly Come Dancing
By JAKE RYAN, MAIL ON SUNDAY
A Muslim preacher who told protesters outside Batley Grammar School of his ‘disgust’ over the Prophet Mohammed cartoon controversy has spread anti-vaccine propaganda and shared a vile smear against the UK’s Chief Rabbi, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
Mohammed Amin Pandor, who announced the suspension of a teacher to protesters outside the Yorkshire school last week, has opposed gay marriages and even condemned Strictly Come Dancing.
The 62-year-old, who belongs to the ultra-conservative Deobandi branch of Islam, has courted controversy for a number of years and recently shared a fatwa, or ruling, on Facebook and Twitter stating that ‘the uncertainty about the ingredients’ in Covid-19 vaccines meant they should not be promoted.
Mohammed Amin Pandor, has opposed gay marriages and condemned Strictly Come Dancing
The fatwa declared that God had given a ‘definite remedy for safety from every form of harm and disease’ and urged followers to recite a prayer three times.
In 2017, Mr Pandor went on social media to post a false story from a website linked to an Iranian disinformation campaign that accused Ephraim Mirvis, the UK’s Chief Rabbi, of saying it would be permissible to take sex slaves.
He has also signed letters opposing gay marriage and comments by Mak Chishty, a Muslim former Metropolitan Police commander, who wrote a newspaper article headlined ‘We must reclaim Islam from extremists’.
The imam, from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire, has also used a religious slur when talking about Ahmadi Muslims, a persecuted Islamic sect in Pakistan. And speaking on BBC radio in 2016, he even told an interviewer that his religious beliefs meant Strictly Come Dancing was ‘not acceptable’.
Mr Pandor, a mechanical engineer by training and former Department of Health worker, last week told protesters outside the school: ‘What happened here, we are disgusted. What has happened is totally unacceptable and we have made sure they are aware. The teacher has been suspended. They can’t just sack him, they need to do their due process. We’ve asked for an investigation, an investigation to be independent. We are going to work with the school to make sure things like this don’t happen.’
However, Dr Alyaa Ebbiary, a researcher in Islamic studies at the SOAS University of London, disagreed with Mr Jenrick’s comments.
‘From the majority Muslim community perspective it’s safe to say that showing images of the Prophet Muhammad would not be considered a ‘right’, but at best disrespectful, and at worst a provocation,’ she said.
‘For some pious Muslims, it’s so hurtful to the point of going beyond the realm of common decency – I know that’s hard for a Western liberal mindset to understand.
‘The matter of depicting a Prophet in images is very problematic in the Islamic tradition, and so creating images, in and of itself, is considered disrespectful to someone held to be sacred.’
West Yorkshire Police said a number of complaints have been made in relation to the incident. Officers attended both protests after dozens of people stood outside the school, partially blocking the road.
A police spokesperson said: ‘As might be expected given the high public profile of what has happened, there have been a number of complaints about various matters relating to this issue.
‘These are being reviewed in more detail but this is an ongoing situation.’
It comes after MailOnline revealed that the RE teacher reportedly ‘defended his right to freedom of speech’ in a heated telephone call with the father of a Muslim pupil.
The teacher, who has not been named, is also disclosed as saying ‘British values allowed him to present a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to his class of year nine students as part of their course work’.
The Muslim parent demanded to speak to the teacher after his year 9 son returned from school and reported the matter to him.
When the teacher returned the call he told the father that he had warned his pupils that some would find it offensive, but his aim was to pose a question to his class.
He believed he was ‘right’ to show the cartoon which has offended Muslims across the world. He wanted to discuss whether the cartoonist was to blame or the terrorists who had committed murder over it in France after the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had published it.
The angry father said the teacher did not appear apologetic when told that showing the cartoon to his son was offensive and instead was ‘arrogant’. The teacher asked the father to voice his concerns to another staff member.
In a group WhatsApp message, shared among Islamic parents and protesters who have demonstrated outside the school and seen by MailOnline, the father said: ‘He should have known better.
‘I expressed I was not happy with his actions and he had caused offence to the community. He should have known better, after all these images caused international outrage.
‘He was not apologetic and was arrogant in his response that what he did was right. He stated that he knew some of the pupils would tell their parents.’
But the suspended teacher, who has apologised, has been forced to leave his home and into hiding with his family.
A source who is related to one of the school’s governors told MailOnline: ‘Intimidation all round is the feeling why few people are speaking out on the teacher’s behalf and asking not to be identified.
‘I spoke to my relative who is a governor at the school who has a child there and they feel the teacher Is being unfairly blamed.
‘The governors are going to consider whether they should ask for the section about blasphemy to be removed from the GCSE RE syllabus which the pupils are taught.
‘They’re going to investigate whether other schools in the area may have also used this method of power point teaching with a picture of the Islamic Prophet as required by the GCSE syllabus.
‘It is clear that the teacher in question did all he could to warn the pupils that some might be offended before he showed the caricature.
‘But when you get shouting and swearing and protests at the school gates, any chance of having a sensible debate just dies.’
The source added: ‘I feel really sorry for the children. They’ve been through a year of losing out on school because of Covid and now they’ve got this to deal with.
‘There’s never been any question of any racial problems or religious problems between the Muslim children and the non-Muslim children. They mix after school too at each other’s homes That is why this is all so ridiculous.
‘At least the school will be closed from Monday for the Easter break until April 9th, so hopefully things will cool down while they work out if the teacher can be brought back.’
Protesters gathered outside Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire
Chained gates at Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire
Robert Jenrick (pictured, file photo) said protests taking place outside the school were ‘not right’, adding that suggestions the teacher was in hiding are ‘very disturbing’
Teacher who sparked Batley school ‘blasphemy’ protests wrote of his love for his ‘fantastic’ job
The RE teacher who sparked a blasphemy protest at the gates after allegedly showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to students is a ‘burly Yorkshire lad’, it was revealed.
The amateur rugby player, who is in his late 20s, had trained to teach in the mid-2010s after going to university in the north of England.
In an article about life as a trainee teacher, he wrote: ‘Teaching is a fantastic profession. One which I cannot wait to start.’
He added: ‘You also teach them about life’.
He had spoken of his experiences as a trainee teacher, saying how it was a ‘fantastic’ profession that he ‘could not wait’ to begin, The Telegraph reports.
One neighbour called him a ‘nice man’, while another called him a ‘good, honest, burly Yorkshire lad’ who ‘always had a smile for us’.
Meanwhile, Mr Jenrick has said children should be taught ‘contentious issues appropriately’. He told the BBC: ‘It must be right that a teacher can appropriately show images of the Prophet Muhammad.
‘In a free society, we want religions to be taught to children and for children to be able to question and query them.’
He also told Sky News: ‘I was disturbed to see scenes of people protesting outside the school – that is not right.
‘We shouldn’t have teachers, members of staff of schools, feeling intimidated, and the reports that a teacher may even be in hiding is very disturbing.
‘That is not a road we want to go down in this country, so I would strongly urge people who are concerned about this issue not to do that.’
On Thursday, the school ‘unequivocally’ apologised for showing ‘totally inappropriate’ material to children, and said a member of staff was suspended pending an investigation.
A protester speaking ‘on behalf of the Muslim community’ read out a statement outside of the school on Friday, in which he said: ‘The teachers have breached the position of trust and failed their duty of safeguarding, and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
‘We do not accept that the school has taken this issue seriously, given that it’s taken them four days to merely suspend only one of the teachers involved.’
He called on the entire British Muslim community to review the materials being taught in their children’s schools.
One protester, whose children attend the school, and who only wanted to be identified as Mr Hussain, said: ‘What people are trying to convey here to the media, and to the British public at large, is we would not like any form of extremism, any extremist viewpoints, to be taught to children.’
He said the western world ‘is at a loss in understanding the reaction’ from the Muslim community when the Prophet Muhammad is ‘insulted in any way, shape or form’.
He said: ‘A Muslim is required to stand up when Prophet Muhammad is insulted, and when all the prophets are insulted, including all the prophets of the Old Testament, including Jesus.’
Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Tracey Brabin, condemned those who ‘seek to fan the flames of this incident’, and welcomed the school’s apology.
‘No teacher should be facing intimidation or threats, there is no excuse for that,’ she said. The focus must be on the welfare and education of the children at this school.’
Mr Jenrick said the Department for Education (DfE) is working with the school and local council as it investigates the incident.
‘What I can say is there has to be an appropriate balance – we have to ensure there is free speech, that teachers can teach uninhibited but that has to be done in a respectful and tolerant way and that’s a balance to be struck by teaching professionals and the schools concerned,’ Mr Jenrick said.
Baroness Warsi, former chairwoman of the Conservative party, said the incident has been ‘hijacked by extremists on both sides’ to create a culture war.
Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire, where a teacher has been suspended for reportedly showing a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils during an RE lesson
Protesters take part in a prayer outside Batley Grammar School in Batley, West Yorkshire
Speaking to the Today programme, the peer said she had spoken to pupils and parents over the past 24 hours, and ‘it’s obvious that many pupils were left distressed because of what happened’.
She said: ‘What we’re forgetting in all of this is the most important party in all of this, which is the kids and their learning.’
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the school should be allowed to investigate the matter ‘without a running commentary in the media, on social media, and outside the school gates’.
Baroness Kishwer Falkner, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: ‘Children’s education should not be disrupted by protests in what has already been a difficult year.
‘The school is taking action and ought to be trusted to do so. A teacher’s identity being shared, making them fear for their safety, is simply unacceptable and could result in enforcement action from the police.
‘Schools are places where children learn about ideas, values, difference and respect. This sometimes involves exposing them to contentious issues and different views and ideas.
‘For schools to meet their legal duty to foster good relations between people from different groups, this should be done in a balanced, respectful and sensitive way.’
The DfE came under fire for amplifying divisions after it branded the protests ‘completely unacceptable’, and said they included ‘threats’ and ‘intimidation’.
Muhammad Shafiq, chief executive of Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, said: ‘It is alarming that the Department for Education chose to amplify those divisions by attacking the parents and pupils rather than looking how we can come together to have a respectful discussion and seek an end to this issue.’