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Monday, April 04, 2005

Case Study #1

A Muslim student applies to defer an exam because it falls on the day after Eid. She claims that she cannot adequately prepare for the exam because she will be spending the day of Eid celebrating. She is unable to study before Eid because she is occupied with the special worship and reflection that is common near the end of the month of Ramadan. What should the University’s Examination Committee do? Should the committee permit her to defer the exam to a later date, or require her to write the exam on the day after Eid?


  • At 4/05/2005 12:13:00 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 4/05/2005 02:42:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    You make a good point and I apologize for deleting it. Feel free to post your comment again.

    I've deleted your comment because I cannot tolerate profanity. Call me a prude, but I have never been one to swear and I hear enough of it outside to have to withstand it here too. I want my blog to be a clean space.

    If you need help with swearing, visit this website:

  • At 4/05/2005 03:41:00 a.m., Anonymous Deena said…

    They should allow her defer because of Eid.

  • At 4/05/2005 04:19:00 a.m., Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said…


    Can u provide a bit more info for us non-Muslims as to what is involved? Does she objectively have NO time beforehand to study? Is she forbidden to study on Eid or just too busy? This is an issue that many religions are faced with.


  • At 4/05/2005 06:54:00 a.m., Blogger ephphatha said…

    I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I think in general, schools should accomodate people's religious observances as far as practical. On the other hand, going to college is optional.

    Let me explain a little by using a non-religious scenario. Let's say somebody applies for a job that requires them to be at work by 6 AM. But after accepting the job, they say they can't make it to work by 6 AM, because they have a child who, for whatever reason, needs tending to until 7 AM.

    In a scenario like that, one person might say, "Well, tending to the child is something that's necessary for the parent to do, and since it's necessary, then it's unreasonable for the job to expect the person to come in at 6 AM. They ought to let the person come in at 7 AM or whenever."

    But another person might make the following argument: "The person knew when they applied for the job that it required them to be there at 6 AM. If they also know they could not make it by 6 AM, then they should not have applied for the job. You shouldn't apply for a job you know you can't do. If you apply for a job, then you're agreeing to do the job as described, and if you can't do it, then the employer is perfectly within his rights, and reasonably so, in firing you."

    By the same kind of reasoning, one person might say universities and colleges ought to try to work around people's religious observances. But on the other hand, the school is perfectly within its rights to set up some schedule that conflicts with some religious observances, and if people feel their religious observances are necessary, then they shouldn't sign up for those classes. Signing up for the classes is optional, and as long as it's optional, it isn't unreasonable for requirements to be made that conflict with religious observances.

    So I don't know. I think both arguments have some merit.


  • At 4/05/2005 05:00:00 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As a Jew, I often encountered situations where the universities' schedules conflicted with our holy days. There is little I was able to do other than to ask the professor on a case by case basis to consider offering me an alternative date or exam. If the prof wasn't forthcoming, it became up to me to determine what is more important. I think there are too many religions out there to accomodate everyone.

    TM (

  • At 4/06/2005 01:40:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…

    It's really interesting to hear some Jewish points of view. A few things to keep in mind.

    1. The student is requesting a deferral on the day after Eid, not on Eid itself.

    2. In answer to TRK, Eid is considered a celebration. It's not like the Jewish Sabbath where Jews are unable to work. But there are only two celebrations a year for Muslims, unlike the many religious holidays for Jews. ;-)

    3. Ramadhan is a gruelling month, but most Muslims are able to work or study during that month.

    4. The university must operate within the principles of fairness and uniformity. However, many universities, at least in Toronto, will allow students to defer exams if it falls on their holiday.

    5. How should universities assess claims for religious deferrals? Does one have to come from a recognized religious group? What about Wiccans, for example?

    6. How do universities ensure students are not just taking advantage of their policy on religious holidays and seeking deferrals just because they have not prepared in advance?

  • At 4/06/2005 01:49:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…


    I'm not sure the job analogy necessarily fits this case because students who adhere to a religion aren't asking for a exemption every day. It will probably just be once or twice a year. So the general rule would be that they come to class regularly, complete their assignments, etc. as required, but there are a few days in which they request an exemption because it is a holy day.

    Plus, going to university is really not optional in modern times, unless of course people are willing to work at Burger King for the rest of their lives.

  • At 4/06/2005 04:36:00 a.m., Blogger ephphatha said…


    Not having a strong opinion on this matter, I can only play devil's advocate, so I'll argue against your point of view. But before I do, I want to have an honest moment and admit that I think you make some legitimate points, and you raise some good question in the post before your response to me.

    The frequency with which a person asks for an exemption to be made is irrelevent in this case. The relevent factor between the job scenario and the religion scenario is whether or not the school or work place has any obligation to accomodate people's lifestyles. It would appear that they don't since taking the job or going to the school is optional. They don't have to accept the job or go to the school.

    And as awful as it may be, working is Burger King is an option.


  • At 4/06/2005 05:49:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…


    Interesting comments. This is another all-nighter, so I might as well comment.

    Would you have a different response for, say, an elementary school student? Since schooling isn't optional, ie. a student must attend until the age of 16, should the school be obligated to make accomodations for religious holidays?

    You're right, technically, attending university or working is optional. But one could raise two concerns: Just because something is optional doesn't mean one can violate rights. One cannot prevent people from doing certain things (or force them) just because the job was optional to them when they took it. This is the reason for workplace safety legislation.

    Second, one could argue that even if university or work is optional, it doesn't really matter, because if you take that line of reasoning, then so is almost everything else in society. There would be no reason to accomodate any religious belief or practice in our society since it is technically optional.

    Liberal democratic societies provide for the basis of individual freedom and dignity without distinction between the public and private sphere. The question, then, is how religious expression fits into this paradigm of liberal democracy. There are no easy answers, I'm afraid.

  • At 4/06/2005 05:45:00 p.m., Blogger ephphatha said…

    Safiyyah, since elementary school is not optional, of course my arguments wouldn't work, so I think elementary schools should make accomodations for religious observances.

    As long as a school is optional, I don't think they are necessarily violating anybody's rights by not accomodating them. As long as school is optional, they aren't forcing anybody to do anything.

    In response to your second point, there are lots of things in our society that are NOT optional, like elementary school. On the other hand, there's a difference between having an obligation to accomodate, and having a reason to accomodate. It's possible that there are good pragmatic reasons for why a university should accomodate that doesn't involve any obligation.

    It seems to me that individual freedom does entail a distinction between the private and public sphere. That's why there's a separation between church and state. That's also why people are free to form societies and clubs centered around particular ideologies that the general public may find reprehensible.

  • At 4/13/2005 04:01:00 a.m., Blogger Safiyyah said…


    I don't the 'optional' argument works if one believes this case falls under the rubric of religious rights. If one does not consider accommodations for religious holidays something that follows from a religious right, then why would elementary schools have to provide for such accommodations? They could do it if they want to, but they would not have an obligation to do so.

    If it's a right, then it must be protected anywhere. If it's not a right, then I think it would be up to the employer or school administrator to make their decision based on other criteria.

    Take care,



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