A Muslim family is embroiled in a row with a Johannesburg school for not allowing their Grade 8 son to grow his beard as part of the boy’s Islamic practices, notes a report in The Mercury. The family believes the actions are part of the ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘racist’ practices of denying Muslim pupils their religious rights at prestigious Gauteng schools, and has threatened to take the fight to court.

Ashton International College’s Benoni, Ekurhuleni, branch has been found by a Department of Basic Education (DBE) legal opinion to have acted unconstitutionally by refusing to allow the pupil to grow his beard. The pupil’s father labelled Ashton College ‘Islamophobic and racist’ after the school allegedly told the parent that the pupil should either shave his beard or leave the school.

Ashton College, however, emphasised that it was an ‘independent Christian school’, where all prospective parents were informed of the institution’s ethos.

Advocate Charles Ledwaba, the DBE’s director of legislative services, asserted in a legal opinion that the South African Schools Act enforced religious observance – in line with the country’s Constitution – to both public and independent schools.

He quoted case law stemming from both the Constitutional Court and the High Court, in which both courts had found school rules could not supersede supreme law.

Ashton College declined to comment on the DBE’s legal opinion, saying it had engaged lawyers and had been advised not to make public statements.

Full report in The Mercury (subscription needed)