CAIRO – Four French Muslim trainers have been sacked from a children’s summer camp in France for fasting during the holy fasting month of Ramadan, sparking a heated debate about religious freedoms in the European country.
“How can you judge the capacity of someone to do their job on the basis of their religious observance?” Mohand Yanat, lawyer for the sacked Muslim workers, told The Telegraph on Tuesday, July 31.
Four Muslim trainers have been sacked from a children’s summer camp in Geenevilliers, a Paris suburb, for fasting during Ramadan.
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City council officials argue that abstaining from eating and drinking affects their ability to perform their duties.
“They did not respect the terms of their contract in a manner that could have endangered the physical safety of the children they were responsible for,” a Gennevilliers spokesman said.
The council said that a child was injured three years ago in a road accident while travelling in a vehicle driven by a female instructor who was not eating.
“This lack of nourishment and hydration could have resulted in these employees not being in full possession of the means required to ensure activities at the camp were correctly and safely run, as well as the physical safety of the children in their charge.”
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.
Fasting is meant to teach Muslims patience, self-control and spirituality, and time during the holy month is dedicated for getting closer to Allah though prayers, reading the Noble Qur’an and good deeds.
But the dismissal was condemned by French Muslims as a violation of their religious freedoms.
"You can't force someone to eat,” Samir, one of the sacked instructors, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“You can't prove that missing a meal deprives you of some of your faculties," he said, describing the dismissal as “unfair and unacceptable”.
The umbrella French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM) was also critical, saying fasting was a basic religious right for Muslims.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right and you cannot in any circumstances ban someone from practicing their religion,” CFCM spokesman Abdallah Zekri said.
France is home to a Muslim minority of six million, Europe’s largest.
French Muslims have been complaining of growing restrictions on their religious freedoms.
In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places. Several European countries followed the French example.
France has also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has adopted a series of measures to restrict Muslim freedoms in an effort to win support of far-right voters.
Under Sarkozy, the French government a national debate on the role of Islam in French society.
The French government also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight far-right leader Marine Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.Muslims have also complained of restrictions on building mosques to perform their daily prayers.
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