A demonstration that took place outside a school after a teacher showed a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed in the classroom was “disturbing”, a cabinet minister has said.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the protest was “not right” and that “we shouldn’t have teachers feeling intimidated”.
“That is not a road we want to go down in this country so I would strongly urge people concerned about this issue not to do that,” he told Sky News on Friday.
Mr Jenrick added that reports the teacher is now in hiding are “very disturbing”.
Dozens of people gathered outside Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire on Thursday calling for the teacher involved in the incident to be sacked.
Video footage showed people chanting as they crowded around the school gate, which was flanked by police officers.
The caricature of the prophet, believed to be one published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, was shown to pupils in a religious studies lesson on 22 March, according to a letter seen by Sky News.
Any depiction of Mohammed is considered to be deeply offensive within Islam.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, described the lesson as a “despicable attack on our faith”.
“Our hearts are pained to know a teacher working with 70% Muslim pupils didn’t consider the hurt this would cause,” he said.
Yunus Lunat, an executive member of the Indian Muslim Welfare Society in Batley, told Sky News he thinks the teacher “went off script” and was trying to “provoke”.
The school has suspended the teacher involved, with headteacher Gary Kibble saying: “The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate image in a recent religious studies lesson. It should not have been used.
“A member of staff has also relayed their most sincere apologies.”
The Department for Education last night condemned protests outside the school as “completely unacceptable”.
A spokesperson said in statement: “It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge.
“Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance.
“They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.”
West Yorkshire Police confirmed they were called to monitor the demonstrations, but no coronavirus fines or arrests were made.
Mr Shafiq and Mr Lunat expressed fears the debate will now be “hijacked” by those looking to criticise British Muslims.
“We urge all who love the Prophet Mohammed within the British Muslim community to remember our responsibilities to reject violence and never give in to the narrative that some want to paint us as,” Mr Shafiq said.
Labour MP for Batley and Spen Tracy Brabin said the “upset and offence caused” was “understandable and predictable”.
“I hope the school and concerned parents can now move forward constructively and focus on their children’s education and overcoming the challenges presented by the pandemic,” she added.
It comes after French teacher Samuel Paty was murdered following reports he showed an image of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils at a school near Paris.