MUSLIM girls should not wear a full veil in Catholic secondary schools, new guidelines have recommended.
While no pupil or staff member should be prevented from wearing a religious symbol or garment, such as a turban for Sikh boys or a hijab for Muslim girls, there should be a distinction between the hijab and the niqab.
The niqab (left) is a full veil worn over a Muslim girl's face. The guidelines says that although the wearing of a niqab is a rare occurrence, it would be unsatisfactory for a teacher not to be able to see and engage properly with a pupil whose face is covered.
Similarly they state that it is reasonable to ask a pupil or her mother to uncover their faces for a meeting -- but only on the understanding that no man will enter the room.
The guidelines come from the Joint Managerial Body which represents Catholic secondary schools.
They relate to the Inclusion of Students from Other Faiths in Catholic Secondary Schools and were drawn up by Aiveen Mullally, an expert on religion and culture.
Requests for Muslim pupils to attend the mosque every Friday should require, at the very least, a letter from parents, and while a student may be withdrawn from a religious class the responsibility for supervision will rest with the parents.
On the question of cutlery where Muslims may only use cutlery that is specifically for halal food, the recommendation is that the most sensitive way around the difficulty is to invite students to bring in their own cutlery from home.
Schools have been told that a clear admissions policy, stating that it is a Catholic school and explaining to parents prior to enrolment what that means, avoids a lot of difficulty.
Problems like uniform or religious education should be discussed and resolved before the student is admitted.
The guidelines advise that in the case of religious education, schools should allay fears abut the content and ensure the approach is "not proselytising in nature".
Students of a different denomination cannot insist on their own religious instruction but if there is a large group of a a particular faith, the guidelines suggest it would be respectful to invite ministers or leaders from that faith into the schools during religious education times to meet those pupils.
The guidelines also recommend the recognition of other religious festivals, provided the festivals and seasons of the Christian calendar are prominently acknowledged and celebrated.
Pupils and staff of any tradition should be welcome to the school's prayer room. Prayer mats, small cushions and chairs could be provided to cater for different styles of praying.
If some religions want images or icons removed from the room, it should be explained that this would be equally offensive to the Catholic tradition.