Offensive graffiti appearing on the site of a proposed secondary boarding school for Muslim boys, and negativity circulating about the Muslim education system, has dismayed the Al-Noor Charitable Trust.
The former St Patrick's Primary School site, in South Dunedin, was bought in April this year by the Christchurch-based charity which has plans to spend about $8 million building the An-Nur Kiwi Academy - a non-profit school under charitable status which will accommodate about 150 year 11 to 13 boys from across the country.
Publicity about the proposal has resulted in graffiti on the property, with anti-Muslim sentiments and a flurry of comments online which take issue with the Muslim education system.
Trust chairman Mohammad Alayan said the trust wanted to establish the academy because it believed Muslim children attending state secular schools were subjected to an educational environment which pressured them to adopt values contrary to Islamic values, such as evolution theory, sexual relations outside marriage and drinking alcohol.
A comment by a submitter on the Otago Daily Times website says: "I have nothing against Islam and nothing against education, but like drinking and driving it is not wise to mix the two."
Another submitter commented: "An early ideal for education in New Zealand was that it was to be free, compulsory and secular.
"Maybe it would be best for New Zealand society if this ideal was [thoroughly] upheld and any 'religious' education had to be an after-school activity. Then children would have a chance to choose their own values. And there would be no risk of the State nurturing its own ideological enemies."
And another submitter said: "For my money, if those of the Muslim faith choose to live in New Zealand, then they should be subject to the same rules and education as everybody else.
"Go to a Muslim country and tell them that you want your own education system and rules, see what happens."
The comments upset Dr Alayan.
"I understand some people get the wrong impression from the media story, but we want this school to be a place of peace, and we will work hard to be a part of the community."
Dr Alayan said while the proposed school has received some negative sentiments from the community, there had also been a lot of support.
"The comments have been much more positive than negative."
He said the curriculum would be mainly focused around mathematics and sciences (chemistry, biology and physics), partly because the school would not be big enough to focus on other subjects, but also because maths and sciences were the subjects which were most likely to get the boys into some form of employment.
"Maths is very important - it's a primary subject for pursuing other subjects," he said.
The New Zealand curriculum would be taught by 15 to 20 staff, with an emphasis on the Islamic value system.
Plans for the school show a new gymnasium, a large two-storeyed hostel and cafeteria block, and a mosque.
Dr Alayan said it was hoped the academy would be operational sometime between 2015 and 2017.
In the meantime, the trust hoped to make the best use of the premises until construction started, by leasing them to education organisations in a bid to generate income to financially support the academy project.