Fidelis Munyoro Chief Court Reporter
Enforcing conflicting religious beliefs of students in schools can be chaotic, the Supreme Court ruled in an appeal of a Muslim pupil who wanted to be allowed to wear beard on grounds of his religious inclination.
The pupil at St John’s College in Harare aspires to become an Imam.
According to his father and guardian, Mr Mohammed Ismail, beards are symbol of faith and the Muslim religion forbids him to shave. But in reminiscent of the old adage, “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, Justice Francis Bere recently threw out the appeal saying the school was an education institution which must be home to students of diverse religious backgrounds.
“If the appellant’s position is taken to its logical conclusion, it would mean that if every student’s incompatible beliefs were to be enforced, a chaotic situation would arise at the school,” he said.
“The school’s mores which identify it would be lost in the mist of that confusion. Everything said, I am more than satisfied that there is no proper basis established to impugn the ultimate decision made by the court a quo (lower court).”
Mr Ismail was seeking to overturn the lower court’s decision. He argued that the school infringed his son’s constitutional rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. However, at the time of enrolment, Mr Ismail signed an acceptance of entry contractual document with the school, which stated the conditions regulating the acceptance of the minor child at the college. Among the conditions accepted by Mr Ismail was the need for all students to maintain a clean shave.
Arguing the matter for the Ismail family, Professor Lovemore Madhuku contended that the minor was studying to be an Imam.
This, he argued, in accordance with strict Muslim religious practices, the child should be allowed to attend school with an unshaven beard.
Prof Madhuku further argued that refusing the pupil access to the school was violating his freedom of religion and discriminating against him.
He cited several sections of the Constitution supporting his argument.
In his counter-submissions, Advocate Thabani Mpofu attacked the contention on the infringements of the minor child’s rights, as untenable in the circumstances. He insisted that pupils should comply with the college’s rules and regulations.