Hindu Council of Australia calls for removal of school prayer rooms amid fears students are being radicalised

Bethany Hiatt
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The Hindu Council has called on schools across the country to act to “combat conversion and the promotion of radical ideologies”.
The Hindu Council has called on schools across the country to act to “combat conversion and the promotion of radical ideologies”. Credit: The West Australian

The Hindu Council of Australia has called for the removal of prayer rooms from public schools because of fears they could be used to promote “radical ideologies”.

National president Sai Paravastu said the council was “profoundly disappointed” to learn of a parent’s complaints that students attending a prayer room at Rossmoyne Senior High School were being encouraged to watch videos of controversial Muslim fundamentalist preacher Zakir Naik.

The peak body for Australian Hindus was also concerned about “similar instances where prayer rooms have been misused for purposes contrary to their intended function, including attempts at conversion and the promotion of radical ideologies”.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

James, a 16-year-old student from Rossmoyne who was fatally shot by police on Saturday night after he stabbed a stranger in a Willetton car park, was a regular visitor to the school’s prayer room.

The boy, who had been in a deradicalisation program for two years, said in a final message sent shortly before he stabbed the man in the back that he was “on the path of jihad”.

A parent’s complaint sent to police weeks before the tragic incident claimed their son had been “forced” to attend the school’s prayer room, where students were “targeting other students for conversion”.

Mr Paravastu said the Hindu Council called on Rossmoyne and all schools across the country to act to “combat conversion and the promotion of radical ideologies”.

“It is crucial to strike a balance between upholding the rights of students to practice their faith freely and safeguarding against activities that may undermine the safety and cohesion of the school community,” he said.

“In our view there should not be a prayer room in public schools which is funded by taxpayers. Removal of prayer rooms from public schools serves to uphold principles of neutrality, inclusivity and respect for multiculturalism within the Australian education system.

“Additional monitoring should be in place for signs of conversion and radicalism in schools as it has become the need of the hour — schools should create environments where students feel empowered to keep their faith identities while safeguarding against potential risks to their wellbeing and security.”

Rateb Jneid, president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said while it respected the right of the HCA to express its concerns, it was “generally inappropriate” for one faith group to advocate for the removal of facilities used by another.

“Prayer rooms in schools, like any facility dedicated to personal reflection and faith, do not inherently lead to radicalisation,” Dr Jneid said.

“There is no substantial evidence to support the assertion that these spaces contribute to radical ideologies. Rather, they provide a peaceful place where students can connect with their faith, which is crucial for their personal development and wellbeing.

“Removing these spaces could lead to exclusion and discomfort among students who observe religious practices during school hours.”

On Friday, Premier Roger Cook said he would leave any decision on school prayer rooms to education experts.

“We want our schools to be inclusive environments — we want every kid to feel like they belong, because we know when they do that, they get the best possible education,” he said. “So I’ll leave that up to the authorities to make a call.”

Asked if he expected the Education Department to review supervision of Rossmoyne’s prayer room, Mr Cook said he thought they would be reviewing and reconsidering everything they had done, “just to make sure they’ve got it right”.

The department’s director-general Lisa Rodgers said this week that under the Discrimination Act, a principal may be required to provide a prayer room if requested “to ensure students are not discriminated against on the basis of religion”.

She has said the boy was closely monitored at school, with no access to a smartphone or the internet, and there was “no evidence” he had been radicalising his peers in the prayer room.

“There’s a big gap between practising faith and radicalisation,” she told 6PR on Wednesday.

A petition that started this week has called for prayer rooms to be kept in WA schools, while an earlier petition protesting against their inclusion in schools has been removed.

“These rooms are completely optional to use and don’t push their beliefs on others,” the petition reads.

“For many religions, mandatory prayer times are set that can only be performed at school as otherwise they will miss the prayer — this is specific to Islam.

“The recent tragic event of the 16-year-old Perth boy attempting to become ‘jihad’ has left a horrible image on Islam and has tainted many people’s perceptions of this peaceful religion.

“A significant number of people have petitioned to close down prayer rooms in Perth, which is understandable due to circumstance, but is also irrational and harmful to the broader community.”

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 17-05-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 17 May 202417 May 2024

Shadowy South American crime figure at centre of alleged gambling scandal that’s rocked Aussie sport.