An Australian school principal’s decision to let over 30 Muslim students step out during the national anthem has sparked a fierce debate over religion, immigration, and integration in the island country.
It’s typical for Australian schools to hold a weekly general assembly that opens with a singing of the Australian national anthem, “Advance Australia Fair.” But last week at Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School in the Melbourne suburb of Cranbourne, principal Cheryl Irving allowed several dozen Muslim students to walk out until the national anthem was finished.
“Two children got up and said ‘Welcome to our assembly’ [and] with that a teacher came forward and said all those who feel it’s against their culture may leave the room,” grandparent Lorraine McCurdy, who was at the assembly, told the Herald Sun. “I saw red; I’m Australian and I felt ‘You don’t walk out on my national anthem’.”
Irving has defended the decision, saying that the students are Shia Muslims celebrating the holy month of Muharram. For many Shiites, the first ten days of Muharram are spent mourning the death of Imam Hussein, the faith’s great martyr. Accordingly, Irving says the students should not be compelled to take part in joyous occasions, such as the singing of the national anthem.
The decision is splitting Australians, with some saying cultural diversity must be respected while others argue immigrants must be willing to share Australia’s common culture. Weighing on the debate is a stream of foreign immigration that has steadily increased Australia’s once-tiny Muslim minority.
“The principal is wrong,” said Australian educator Kevin Donnelly in The Age. “All those who live in Australia, especially immigrants, should accept that Australian society is unique and that the types of freedoms and basic rights we often take for granted must be celebrated and upheld.”
Even governments are being divided, with the Department of Education for Victoria (the state the incident occurred in) defending Irving, while that of New South Wales to the north said students would be disciplined if they attempted to skip the national anthem, according to the The Daily Telegraph.
Ironically, the whole mess many not have happened if the Muslim children’s parents had asked a religious scholar beforehand. Musa Naqvi, the head of a Shia Muslim organization in Victoria, told the Daily Mail the mourning conditions of Muharram do not require that children avoid the national anthem.
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