Students 'forced to read Koran'
HIGHER Education Minister Blade Nzimande has launched an investigation into what he called a violation of students' religious rights.
He has instructed senior officials to meet management and students of the Muslim-run As-Salaam further education and training college, in KwaZulu-Natal, where a dormitory was burned down two weeks ago when students protested against Islamic rules being imposed on them.
Christian students claimed Bibles were not allowed on campus, that they were forced to read the Koran and were made to attend daily Islamic prayer sessions.
"The rights of the students have been violated. What do you do with those who do not even subscribe to any religion? It cannot be correct to force religion on people," Nzimande said.
The college, with more than 500 students, is run from premises the department of education leases from a Muslim NGO.
"I wish to state that, as a constitutional democracy and secular state, no student in any public institution can be forced to practise any religion," Nzimande said.
"I am deeply concerned and worried by these developments and arrangements, which are completely unconstitutional and violate the rights of the students," he said.
Student representative council president Vincent Nsibande called for urgency in dealing with the problem.
"We are trying to get accommodation for all those students evicted after the protest. What is important now is for the students to be able to write their exams," he said.
Nsibande said some students were funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and could not afford to pay for accommodation elsewhere.
Zjunaid Khan, chairman of the college's managing committee, said Islam was not forced on students but house rules did apply because the college had an Islamic ethos.
The secretary-general of the KwaZulu-Natal Council of Muslim Theologians, Jamiatul Ulama Rafiek Mohamed, welcomed the investigation.
"The Jamiatul Ulama in KwaZulu-Natal certainly condemns any actions by a religious institute that endeavours to compel non-Muslims to practise any Islamic practices. This would be tantamount to mockery of the Islamic faith," he said.