CAIRO - Two young Muslim students have been banned from school classes for refusing to shave off their beards, after the schools administration decided to place them in "isolation" from the start of the new term.
It is "pure discrimination," a relative of one of the youngsters told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph.
"Because these boys cannot shave their beards for religious reasons, they are being put in isolation for six-and-a-half hours every day. They are not being allowed to mix with anybody or speak to friends. It is pure discrimination.
"They chose that school because it is within their area and has good results. The school has to have an open policy and they have to take in people from all religions, he added.
Studying at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic high school in Accrington, Lancashire, the two 14-year-old Muslim students have been barred from classes after they refused to shave off their beards.
The decision to put the students in isolation started from the first day of the new term.
The headteacher, Xavier Bowers, said the matter was not one of religion but about dress code.
"We have not taken this decision lightly. I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders, Bowers said.
"There is nothing specifically written in the Qur'an about wearing a beard. It is a choice those boys are making. However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain."
In response to this week's beard ban, Bowers added that the clean shaven rule had been in place for some time, although two boys were allowed to keep their beards on religious grounds as an "exception" last year as their exams approached and the school did not want to place them under "unfair pressure.
He said that a number of other Asian boys were then spoken to and it was made clear they must return from the summer clean shaven.
Britain is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million.
Wearing a beard is a Sunnah in Islam.
Not Backing Down
On Thursday, Bowers issued a statement via Lancashire county council to confirm that the school was not backing down from its stance.
"I am fully aware of the sensitive nature of this issue and have done my very best to be as understanding and reasonable as possible when dealing with situations of this nature, he said.
"When necessary, we place pupils in our learning support centre who do not comply with our school policy regarding uniform and appearance.
"Here at Mount Carmel RC high school, we believe that it's important to maintain high standards in every aspect of school life, including appearance and uniform. Pupils and parents are reminded frequently of the rules on appearance, know that they apply to everyone and are regularly reminded of this.
"In my experience, families choose to send their children to this school because of our high standards and expectations."
Earlier in January, a local Conservative councilor strongly warned the school after its staff including the headmaster posted a spoof version of themselves dancing to the hit Korean pop song Gangnam Style.
Teachers appeared in the video, which was viewed thousands of times, wearing towels from the waist down.