Catholic schools discuss meeting needs of Muslim students

Summary

The Catholic education network has announced that schools with significant number of Muslim students will have a dedicated prayer space and will allow headscarves and extracurricular classes on Islam

“No decision yet”

The Catholic education network (VSKO) is discussing the possibility of schools with a majority of Muslim students having a dedicated prayer space, allowing the wearing of headscarves and providing lessons on Islam after school hours.

According to De Morgen newspaper, the decision represents a major paradigm shift for the Catholic education network, by letting other religions play a more prominent role in its schools. This means that Muslim students, and those of other faiths, will be respected and will not be confronted with conversion attempts, said Lieven Boeve, the head of VSKO.

Schools with large numbers of differing faiths are to get a separate prayer space and they will be allowed to provide extracurricular classes and activities.

“It's an ambitious project, but research shows that our identity will fade if we do nothing,” said Boeve. “The times when education was offered by the Catholics for the Catholics are gone forever. The Catholic identity no longer has to be expressed by every student and by every teacher. Just as long as they support the school project.”

Last week, Karel de Grote University College in Antwerp announced it will be offering training in interreligious faith studies. According to Boeve, this should encourage more Muslims to take on teaching jobs in Catholic schools, a shift he considers to be of great importance. “Muslims teachers can be role models for Muslim children and build bridges between school and home,” he said.

Boeve's plan came under scrutiny by the liberal party Open VLD and the nationalists of N-VA, who argue that a significant majority of Muslim children are already enrolled in Catholic schools. “Why should we distance ourselves from our identity,” said N-VA president, Bart De Wever.

Johan Bonny, bishop of Antwerp who serves as the representative of VSKO in the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, said no concrete action has been taken. “This is just an idea”, he said. “Nothing has been decided.”

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