A British teacher’s use of an offensive cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad as part of a lesson sparked an outcry this week, causing protests, the temporary closure of the school and a student petition in the teacher’s defense.
The teacher, who has not been publicly named, was suspended after showing a 9th-grade class a caricature of the Muslim prophet as part of a lesson about blasphemy.
He warned students before showing the image, which is believed to have been taken from the French satirical news outlet Charlie Hebdo, The Times reported. The newspaper was attacked by terrorists who killed 12 people over cartoons in 2015.
A small group of protesters demanded the teacher be fired outside the Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire on Saturday, The Guardian reported. The area has a large Muslim community.
The school was closed and lessons moved online for two days, while the teacher was said to be in hiding for his safety.
The school and teacher both apologized for the lesson.
“The school unequivocally apologizes for using a totally inappropriate image in a recent religious studies lesson,” school principal Gary Kibble said in a televised statement.
“The member of staff has also related their most sincere apologies,” he said.
“It’s important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs. This must be done in a respectful, sensitive way.”
“Protestors warn they will go to Batley school gates every day until teacher is sacked over Prophet Muhammad cartoon”
— Active-Patriot (@PatriotActive66) March 26, 2021
A petition defending the teacher, led by students, had gathered over 7,500 signatures.
The UK education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said, It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers.”
“The nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end,” Williamson said.
The Department of Education said, “The nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions, are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”
One protester told The BBC the cartoon offended “the whole Muslim community.”
“This is a time when we can’t stay quiet, we need to stand up and let them know, the head teacher, the school and the governing body, that this is not something light. There’s a line you can’t cross,” he said.
The founder of a local charity called Purpose Of Life, Mohammad Sajad Hussain, said he was “deeply hurt” by the “insulting caricatures of our beloved Prophet Mohammed.”
The National Secular Society called the protest an “attempt to impose an Islamic blasphemy taboo on a school.”
The protests were reportedly peaceful, and police had not made any arrests or issued fines.
The UK incident came after a teacher in France was murdered in October by a radical Chechen teenager for showing cartoons of the prophet to students during a lesson on free speech.
In 2019, Muslim parents staged protests at a primary school in the central city of Birmingham after it held lessons incorporating same-sex relationships and transgender issues.