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Quebec Muslim leaders 'outraged' over school prayer room ban

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Muslim community leaders from across Quebec are up in arms over Education Minister Bernard Drainville's move to ban public schools from setting up prayer rooms on their premises.

In a joint press release sent Thursday evening, representatives of several mosques that are members of the Table de concertation des organismes musulmans expressed their "indignation" at the minister's decision.

"We are also indignant that this decision is made in the middle of Ramadan, a month of blessings, fasting, meetings with all fellow citizens and prayers for Muslim citizens of Quebec," they wrote.

The authors represent the Islamic Cultural Center of Quebec, the Islamic Association of Rimouski, the Islamic Cultural Association of the Eastern Townships, the Association of Muslims of Greater Levis, Mac-Quebec, the Socio-cultural Islamic Association Louperivoise and BelAgir-Quebec.

Their statement comes a day after Drainville announced that he will send a directive to all school service centres to ban prayer rooms in Quebec public schools.

The father of the Parti Québécois (PQ) Charter of Values, now a CAQ minister, said he had been presented with at least two cases of schools in Laval where students could gather in a room to pray, in violation, he said, of the spirit of the law on secularism.

PQ MNA for Matane-Matapédia, Pascal Bérubé, also noted that a third school, in Vaudreuil, was added to the list.

Muslim leaders said they were "shocked and surprised by the allegations" of young people praying in schools. Students they describe as "clean in their minds and dedicated in their studies and especially far from the delinquency that we know."

"We are also outraged that the minister is attacking the young people who are the future of all of us," they continued in the statement.

"We say to the minister that you are not offering us the path of dialogue, but you are pushing us to take the path of law that the two Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights and Freedoms recognize, to fight against this decision," the authors add.

According to them, it would have been wise for Drainville to meet with Muslim leaders in Quebec to find appropriate solutions "without disrupting either the youth or the institutions of the education sector.

They conclude by stressing that they are "willing to work with the authorities so that solutions are found without making waves or animosity."

On Wednesday, at the initiative of the PQ, the elected members of the National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion stating that "the establishment of places of prayer, regardless of denomination, on the premises of a public school goes against the principle of secularism.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on April 6, 2023.

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