THE BLOG

Gammongate: Hammed Up Story Hiding Bigger Picture

05/08/2013 10:34 BST | Updated 03/10/2013 10:12 BST

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Many stories during Ramadan have come to media attention - the serving of pork actually occurred some months ago, but the story broke in the last few days. Bigger issues of children fasting seem to be in the background.

When the dinner lady story broke in the Sun regarding Alison Waldock serving Gammon to a child of Muslim parents, consumption of which was prevented by beady eyed headmistress Caroline Peet, some questions occurred.

  • Did the child choose the gammon?
  • Or was the child offered the gammon?
  • Did the dinner lady Alison Waldock have a history of breaking dietary conditions?
  • At any point did the child know that gammon comes from a pig - thus making it non-halal?
  • Should a child be allowed to chose to eat food which did not go against health needs (e.g. a fatal nut allergy) but went against the wishes of parents for their religious (Islam) or ethical reasons (vegetarian)?

In The Huffington Post Mehdi Hasan has answered that Alison Waldock is said to have on several occasions broken the dietary restrictions imposed on children. She has said to the best of her knowledge this is not the case, and the child requested the meat. The father of the child responds that Khadija Darr had a packed lunch, in addition to knowing what is halal and what is non-halal.

Trivia, a storm in a tea cup compared to other things happening in the world some say. We will come on to the impact fasting may have on children later.

Yet should a school support restrictions on dietary intake if a pupil chose to go against them? That is what stands out for me, more so than a dinner lady who has lost her disciplinary and appeals procedure to keep her job - assuming it was a fair and just process.

The picture being painted is someone wilfully breaking dietary restrictions on children on numerous occasions - which led to the private contractor failing in the service they were contracted by the school to do, and failing to meet the expectations of parents who were allowed by school policy to impose such restrictions on their children.

The issue that may be being lost in discussions is to what extent a school policy should reflect the faith of parents, or should parents accept school policy if it goes against their faith?

Ramadan

Other stories to take with a pinch of salt are those where all children are denied water during class, and whether schools should be at liberty to make a best interest decision to break a child's fast during Ramadan against parents wishes.

Islamic theologian Usama Hasan makes clear here these points I summarise:

  • Children are not supposed to be subject to the Ramadan fast, only adults
  • At all times the health and well being of a person comes first.
  • School policy and social service policy acting in a child's best interest by safeguarding take precedence over the religious belief of parents.
  • Schools are an authority to be respected in this regard as our social services.

Are scare stories being paraded to appeal to our prejudices or distract us, or are schools acting out of ignorance or best intentions which actually fail children? An example of failing children is the photo above where primary school children of non Muslim parents are eating in the restroom during Ramadan in Sungai Buloh, Malaysia.

The thought process that denies water to children for 18 hours, or segregates in a demeaning way, is contemptible and should not be encouraged. Clearly children should be exempt from fasting, their welfare should trump restrictions parents place even when claimed to be for religious reasons.

Do not lose sight of this with "Gammongate."

The above photo was placed on Facebook to be shared with all.