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In a written internal note, a school in Wuppertal, western Germany, has asked teachers to prohibit Muslim pupils from publicly praying. The note has sparked an online debate with the anti-Islam AfD praising the measure.
"In recent weeks it has been increasingly observed that Muslim pupils in the school building are praying, clearly visible to others, signaled by ritual washings in the toilets, the rolling out of prayer mats, and taking up certain postures."
"This is not permitted."
So read an internal message to teachers at Gymnasium Johannes Rau in Wuppertal, western Germany, banning prayer for its Muslim students.
As part of the new measure, first reported by "Der Westen" on Thursday, staff have been asked to "identify the names" and "report" any cases of Muslim students praying in school to management.
The ban should be pointed out to students in a "friendly" manner, the note added.
Social media debate
The message, which was later posted on Facebook, has since sparked uproar on social media, with one user asking: "Why can not they pray? And in this, a country as deeply religious as Germany, which has become as open and tolerant as we are today."
"Even our shepherdess constantly calls upon a thorough knowlege of the Bible," he added in an apparent reference to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Referring to Germany's Constitution, another user asked: "What was that again about religious freedom? Article 4 of the German Constitution?"
Elsewhere on Facebook other users praised the decision: "I think the letter's great. Such things do not belong in a school."
Another asked: "Can we allow them to roll out their carpets in the school?"
Praise from anti-Islam AfD
The Wuppertal branch of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) was also quick to respond, describing the measure as an "interesting and, in our opinion, sensible initiative by the school management."
In a separate Facebook post, the local AfD fraction added: "This openly demonstrated lack of integration is a further proof of a cracking migration policy of the old parties."
Following Thursday's report in "Der Westen," management at the school was unable comment.
Supporting the school in its decision, however, spokeswoman for the local district council Dagmar Gross told DW that "the ban on praying in a 'provocative way' in the school is intended to promote peaceful coexistence and ensure the school peace."
Staff and students at Gymnasium Johannes Rau reportedly felt 'under pressure' by the prayer rituals of fellow students
This measure was intended to provide a solution "since several teachers and students felt themselves under pressure due to the behavior of the classmates," she added.
Despite standing by the Gymnasium, the local district council admitted, however, that "unfortunate choice of words" could be misunderstood.
Prayer is possible Gross added, "if it does not affect the running of the school."
School in talks with affected pupils
Looking forward, Gross said the local education board is now in talks with the school management and will be informed about a further course of action.
"Through discussions with the publicly praying students, the school leadership will now look for ways in which the pupils can practice their religion without others being disturbed or constricted," she told DW.
Legally, however, the headteacher of the school is allowed to implement the ban. The constitutional decree for the functioning of a school and the educational mission (Article 5 of the German Constitution) prevails over Article 4, the right to profess a religious or philosophical creed, Groß explained.
"Therefore, for example, Muslim girls must also take part in swimming lessons," she added.
Prayer court case
The ban in Wuppertal isn't the first instance in which schools have dealt with prayer by Muslim students.
In 2011, a high-school student from Berlin-Wedding went to court, because he was not allowed to pray publicly at his school on Fridays.
Germany's Administrative Court rejected his complaint, however, on the grounds that his prayers would disturb the school peace.