A petition in support of a teacher suspended for allegedly showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to pupils has garnered more than 50,000 signatures.
The Batley Grammar School RS teacher, who has not been named, was temporarily removed from his post on Thursday pending an independent formal investigation.
Dozens gathered outside the West Yorkshire school’s gates in protest after it was claimed a cartoon of Muhammad, thought to have previously been published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was shown in a religious studies class.
Angry parents demanded to speak to the headteacher as they accused the school of failing to take the issue seriously and called for the teacher to be sacked.
Any depiction of the prophet is deeply offensive to Muslims but some have defended the use of the image using freedom of speech arguments.
A petition, launched by a group who claim to be students at the school, insisted the teacher should be reinstated ‘due to his pure intentions’.
It read: ‘The RS Teacher was trying to educate students about racism and blasphemy. He warned the students before showing the images and he had the intent to educate them.
‘He does not deserve such large repercussions. He is not racist and did not support the Islamiphobic cartoons in any manner [sic]’.
‘This has got out of hand and due to this, students have missed out on lessons because of “peaceful” protestors’, added the petition which has gained more than 53,000 supporters.
Headteacher Gary Kibble said the cartoon shown was ‘completely inappropriate’ and apologised along with the RS teacher.
According to the Mail Online, the teacher allegedly called an upset father who had left a message with the school asking to speak with him following the incident.
He told the parent that he had warned pupils that some would find it offensive – but his aim was to pose a question to his class.
It was claimed the teacher believed he was ‘right’ to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, as he wanted to discuss whether the cartoonist was to blame or the terrorists who had committed murder over it in France in 2015.
In a group Whatsapp message shared among parents and protesters who have demonstrated outside the school, the father said he was not satisfied with this explanation.
The messages, seen by MailOnline, are believed to have read: ‘I expressed I was not happy with his actions and he had caused offence to the community. He should have known better, after all these images caused international outrage.
‘He was not apologetic and was arrogant in his response that what he did was right. He stated that he knew some of the pupils would tell their parents.’
Protesters gathered outside the school on Thursday and returned on Friday, with reports suggesting the teacher had gone into hiding and hadn’t been seen by neighbours for days.
Police officers attended both protests after dozens of people stood outside the school amid concerns Covid-19 rules were being breached.
A local community leader ‘speaking on behalf of the Muslim community’ said on Friday: ‘The teachers have breached the position of trust and failed their duty of safeguarding, and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.’
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said suggestions that the teacher was in hiding were ‘very disturbing’, and branded the protests as ‘not right’.
‘It must be right that a teacher can appropriately show images of the Prophet Mohammed,’ he said.
Dr Alyaa Ebbiary, a researcher in Islamic studies at the SOAS University of London, disagreed with Mr Jenrick’s comments.
‘From the majority Muslim community perspective it’s safe to say that showing images of the Prophet Muhammad would not be considered a ‘right’, but at best disrespectful, and at worst a provocation,’ she told the PA.
‘For some pious Muslims, it’s so hurtful to the point of going beyond the realm of common decency – I know that’s hard for a Western liberal mindset to understand.
‘The matter of depicting a Prophet in images is very problematic in the Islamic tradition, and so creating images, in and of itself, is considered disrespectful to someone held to be sacred.’
West Yorkshire Police said a number of complaints have been made in relation to the incident.
A police spokesperson said: ‘As might be expected given the high public profile of what has happened, there have been a number of complaints about various matters relating to this issue.
‘These are being reviewed in more detail but this is an ongoing situation.’
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