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Increasingly, my school has been recruiting students from Central Asia, so I see 1-3 Muslim students in each section.

Near the end of the last term, one student asked for leave for some religious activity. He was surprised when I said he could go, then he told me he had missed many Friday afternoon religious activities, but his advisor (or perhaps some other school administrators) said he couldn't leave. I heard a similar story from another student.

I realized that many of the other Muslim students may have similar problems, but they are too nervous to speak out and let me know. Since they remain quiet, I'm not sure how to accommodate them.

What are some typical things a teacher can do to accommodate Muslim students?

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Wow... Every semester we get a memo from the provost reminding us to be sensitive to religious practices on the part of students. –  RoboKaren Aug 9 at 4:56
Step 1: get rid of all kinds of compulsory attendance. Done. (I don't see how religion has (read: should have) any impact on teaching, but that may be ignorance speaking.) –  Raphael Aug 9 at 21:51
@Raphael: There are many problems with that, of which the greatest is exams. –  Nate Eldredge Aug 9 at 22:00
I am a Muslim graduate student. In general any Muslim student would need accommodation on three occasions: Friday Prayer time (somewhere between 1 pm and 3 pm, depending on the prayer time at campus), Eid al Fitr (a day celebrated at the end of Ramadan) and Eid al adha (in rememberance of the sacrifice made by Abraham upon whom be peace) celebrated about 2 months after Eid al Fitr. Hope this helps. –  umair durrani Aug 10 at 13:57
In what way does the concern/issue expressed in this question pertain to Muslims only, as opposed to religious ceremonies or activities undertaken by people of other religions? –  Sverre Aug 10 at 15:25

10 Answers 10

There are a lot of places you could go to learn about Islam, starting with wikipedia. It could be interesting to do so: I recently read the Autobiography of Malcolm X and found his description of his pilgrimage to Mecca fascinating and moving. Last semester when I talked about Gabriel's Horn in my calculus course I wanted to be more balanced in my allusions, so I mentioned that in Islam the horn is blown not by Gabriel but by Israfil, and I was strangely pleased to figure out for myself that Israfil is the Islamic counterpart to Raphael (whereas Jibrail's role is expanded from that of his Christian counterpart).

The point of that preamble was: I do not doubt that learning more about Islam would be a worthy endeavor. Nevertheless I am skeptical that such knowledge would directly help you to accommodate Muslim students. Like most major world religions, there is considerable variation in the way it is practiced. I recommend rather that you familiarize yourself with the policies of your university on religious accommodations. Just yesterday I received the yearly memo on Sensitivity to Religious Practices from my upper university administration. It reads:

Many of our faculty, staff, and students commemorate various events of importance to their particular religions. Our institutional practice is to make every reasonable effort to allow members of the University community to observe their religious holidays without academic penalty. Absence for religious reasons does not relieve students from responsibility for any part of the course work required during the period of absence. Students who miss classes, examinations, or other assignments as a consequence of their religious observance should be provided with a fair alternative opportunity to complete such academic responsibilities. Students must provide instructors with reasonable notice of the dates of religious holidays on which they plan to be absent.

As you plan your syllabus and begin communicating with students, please keep in mind that some religious holidays affect a significant number of University of Georgia students and might require a student to abstain from secular activities or attend a house of worship. Different groups within a particular religion may also observe holidays on different dates, making it difficult to provide a comprehensive list of all potential religious observances. You may wish to search online for a religious calendar resource to serve as a guide for the dates of common observances.

Thank you for your cooperation.

At least if you are in the US (as I seem to recall is the case?) it seems very likely that your institution has some equivalent version. You could keep copies on hand and give them to a student like the one you described above. You can direct them to appropriate university administration if they feel that they are not being accommodated within the stated rules of the university. If you really feel strongly, you could try to speak to the relevant administrators yourself.

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The university where I taught in the US while earning my PhD also had a similar policy regarding religious practices and holidays. Though I would like to act one smart teaching policy: require students to inform you of these early in the semester. –  virmaior Aug 9 at 5:28
What @virmaior says is a double good idea, on the one hand, you don't need to worry about all the various calendars; on the other, you show the students you are open in your policies and they can actually come to you and ask. –  Davidmh Aug 9 at 11:48
I had no idea the Gabriel in Gabriel's horn referred to the angel! I always assumed some mathematician named Gabriel had discovered it. –  Anonymous Mathematician Aug 9 at 14:20
@Anonymous: Well, I also spoke of "Torricelli's Trumpet". –  Pete L. Clark Aug 9 at 15:17
+1 for Like most major world religions, there is considerable variation in the way it is practiced. As a religious student, I do not expect, need, or want my professors to know how I practice my religion; I will tell them what kind of accommodations I need. All I expect from my professors is that they follow the school policy on religious accommodations. –  ff524 Aug 9 at 20:31

As a graduate student, my qualifying exam actually ended up taking place during Ramadan. As I was observing, I asked my graduate department to take that into account in scheduling the oral exams, which required two days for everybody to complete. They obliged in giving me an early morning slot, which was helpful compared to a late afternoon slot (when hunger would have affected my mental sharpness).

I would also note that Ramadan could conflict with evening labs, depending on how late they run. In such cases, it would be helpful to offer alternatives, where practical (perhaps the students could be allowed to start earlier or later, so that the meal break does not interfere too much with the lab schedule).

Finally, I should also mention that the observance of the Friday prayers, as well as the dates of the main observances, fluctuate: the former because they're tied to the solar schedule and thus shift during daylight savings time, as well as geographically according to both latitude and longitude, and the latter because they're tied to the lunar calendar but, unlike the Jewish calendar, are not intercalated. (Rough rule of thumb: the Islamic calendar "gains" one month every three Gregorian years.) Eid ul-Fitr this year was about July 28 in 2014; by 2017, it will be approximately June 26.

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My general suggestions, for adjusting your course schedule to accommodate the religious and any other needs of your students, would be:

  1. Don't make attendance compulsory if you can reasonably avoid it.

    Of course, sometimes — e.g. for exams — requiring physical attendance may be unavoidable, but if there's any chance that a student could successfully complete the course without being present on a particular occasion, I'd suggest allowing it.

    This may require some extra effort on your part, such as making lecture notes available for self-study, or scheduling supplementary lab sessions to make up for missed labs. It's up to you (and your department policy) how far you want to go with this, but at the very least, I'd suggest that, if a student tells you in advance that it would be inconvenient or impossible for them to attend a particular session, you should try to accommodate them if it's possible with reasonable effort.

    In particular, IMO there are other reasons to avoid compulsory lectures, anyway. Just make it clear to your students that being absent does not excuse them from learning the material that the lecture was supposed to teach them (but that you're willing to help them do so, as far as practically possible).

  2. Publish your course schedule well in advance. This goes especially for exams and other things that are compulsory and/or cannot be easily rescheduled, as it allows students to plan their schedules in advance and to make an informed decision on whether they'll be able to properly attend your course.

    You may also wish to ask prospective students to contact you if they'd like to attend your course but find the schedule problematic. At the very least, even if you find yourself unable to accommodate them this time, the feedback will be valuable for planning the next year's / semester's schedule.

  3. Ask your students to tell you if a particular time is inconvenient for them, and make it clear that you're willing to make allowances where possible, especially if multiple students find the time problematic. If you do find that you have several students who'd prefer not to come to class at a particular time, bring it up in class (or e.g. on the course mailing list, if you have one) and see if there might be a way to reschedule the class without unduly inconveniencing anyone else, or even if it would simply make sense to skip it.

    This should go for any reason, not just for religious ones, although those obviously do qualify. All the same, if a significant fraction of your students would really like to, say, watch a football match during a particular lecture, rescheduling that lecture could also be a perfectly reasonable request to consider.

    The important part here is to make your students aware that you want them to tell you if your schedule is inconvenient for them for any reason, that no reason is too insignificant to ask, and that, even if you may not necessarily be able to arrange a perfect accommodation, you'll at least consider all requests. Do remind your students that you're not omniscient, and that if, say, an important lecture happens to overlap a religious event (or a football match), that might just be because you weren't aware of the conflict.

  4. Try to anticipate potential sources of scheduling conflicts, such as major religious events, popular celebrations and, yes, even big concerts or sports events. That seems to be the specific thing you're asking about here, but I'm putting it last on the list because I feel that it's of secondary importance compared to the other suggestions above.

    Sure, it's a good idea to be aware that, say, having a class on Friday afternoon could be problematic for Muslims, and that you probably shouldn't schedule anything important on major religious holidays like Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha (or, for that matter, on Christmas or Easter, either). But, ultimately, it's IMO even more important to get your students to tell you if your schedule doesn't work for them, and to be willing to adjust the schedule or to find alternative solutions to accommodate the students' needs, whatever they may be.

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+1 for #3. If the teacher is worried that students are not asking off for what would be legitimate reasons due to thinking they cannot, the solution is to ask those students. –  trlkly Aug 11 at 7:14
Not all courses are lectures and for other formats participation is a major part of the course. –  virmaior Aug 11 at 8:39
@virmaior: True, that's why I added the "if you can avoid it" bit. That said, there are also many non-lecture activities that one could more or less effectively substitute with self-study (or other means, like extra lab / practice sessions), if necessary. –  Ilmari Karonen Aug 11 at 11:00
I guess I would think of that backwards. Don't do lecture courses if at all possible. –  virmaior Aug 11 at 14:02

I think I can contribute here as a muslim. Although some of us avoid it due to laziness, a muslim is required to pray 5 times a day, at certain hours. It is like a ritual that requires a clean and quiet place. But if the person has to do something at that time, he can pray later. So a student doesn't need to leave class to pray. He can pray all day's prayings when he goes home.

There is also friday praying which requires a community to pray with. Unlike the other prays (5 times a day) you cannot do this later or by yourself so it can be good if student is allowed not to attend class friday afternoon.

During Ramadan (which is now during summers but in few years will be during school time again) muslims do not eat or drink anything till sunset but people can eat or drink in front of them. If there are evening classes during sunset, it is best if these students who choose to be thirsty and hungry are allowed not to come so they can do their iftar as they require.

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He can pray all day's prayings when he goes home! he can but he better not leave the prayers outside the specific times –  Wolfgang Kuehne Aug 9 at 22:14
@WolfgangKuehne that is a different topic. I am talking about the possiblity of making up for missed pray that isn't on friday. –  Kogesho Aug 9 at 23:34

I make zero accommodations for Muslim students. I also make zero accommodations for Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Hindu etc. Your religion is your personal business and it should stay your personal business. If my lecture / lab / test runs through your observance time you have two choices: take 10 minutes and keep quiet about it, or leave the room. If it's a test you don't get back in. If it's a lab you may miss something important, like how to handle dangerous chemicals. It would be very ironic if your prayers to your God resulted in meeting Him an hour later because you missed something important.

Tolerance and accommodation work both ways. I simply ask that all observant students show equal accommodation for the rest of the class who are quite happy with a 2:30 start time and don't want to rearrange their day because one person prefers 3:30. My reading of the afternoon prayer schedule, for example, says the time is not fixed: "... till the sun is still bright and enough daylight remains for a person to travel 6 miles". The sun is up until at least 5 in the winter, and 6 miles takes 20 minutes (10 on the highway that runs past campus).

Also, remember on the application form, when the school pointedly did NOT ask any questions about race, gender, color, religion, disabilities, heritage etc.? There's a reason: because the answers are irrelevant to the programs (and schedules) we offer.

one student asked for leave for some religious activity

one student asked for leave for some sports activity

one student asked for leave for some social activity

one student asked for leave for some political activity

How are these questions any different?

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I would be interested to know what kind of institution you teach at: in the US? public or private? As far as I know, most US colleges and universities have official policy about religious accommodations along the lines of the one I copied in my answer. If your university has such a policy, are you advocating ignoring it? –  Pete L. Clark Aug 10 at 4:52
In many countries, there is a subtle hypocrisy in taking this attitude as Christian holidays and practices are embedded in our academic calendar. You claim not to make any accommodation for Christian students but most universities in Western Europe have no lectures on sundays, are closed for Christmas and Easter, etc. Also, most lecturers would also typically be sensitive to issues faced by all students (say public transportation stopping after a particular time of the day). This seemingly neutral stance therefore fails to address the main question here: How should we deal with minorities? –  Relaxed Aug 10 at 17:09
@Relaxed : "How should we deal with minorities?" Trying to keep them off your lawn? One deals with "minorities" by treating them exactly the same way one treats everyone else. I don't care what you look like, where you came from, or do after hours. But you don't get special treatment either - that's discrimination against the 80%. I do have a stop-line for clothing and disabilities, but that's another discsussion. –  peter Aug 11 at 7:30
@Relaxed: I have no objections at all to working Sundays, national holidays etc. Yes, they began as church days but are now, in our culture, simply conveniences - the religious aspect was lost decades ago. And isn't "treat us the same as everyone else" exactly what the minorities have been asking for years? –  peter Aug 11 at 8:45
@trlkly : You have the right to practice any belief system you want. So do I. You do NOT have the right to burden me (or your classmates) with your beliefs. Tolerance is also a two-way street. Where's Mr. Quarterback's tolerance and accommodation for everyone else's schedule (or mine, if I have to make a new test or do a lab twice)? How about this: if you want a lab or test rescheduled, YOU sell it to the rest of the students. If they agree, I will come in on any day you want. –  peter Aug 11 at 8:56

Although the students who move abroad to study in countries which are much different in the religious aspect of they own, do not expect the same religious accommodation as it would be at home, my experience so far has shown that it is a pleasant surprise to them that someone shows interest in accommodating them.

One thing that they appreciate a lot is remembering the Eids (the main holidays) as well as observance of the Holy Month of Ramadan. These days are celebrated together with the family in their respective countries so being far away is hard. In that case receiving some "good wishes" message is very welcomed. Whereas, the best would be if the University of someone organizes the "fast-breaking" (Iftar) dinner.

In addition to that, the Friday prayer is important, if they are allowed not to attend classes during the Friday prayer time, it is very helpful. Last year we received an email from University administration which described their plan of building praying rooms for Muslim students. I have also read that the Katholik University of Leuven has a praying room. That email was very welcomed by the Muslim students.

All in all, I think just acknowledging that you know something about the religion and the important days is heart-warming as they do not expect more than that.

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I would be very surprised to find any major university without at least a makeshift prayer room (eg reserved space in a hall). –  Oxinabox Aug 10 at 11:54
*any major university* - ain't that too broad? major university where? US, europe, asia? –  Wolfgang Kuehne Aug 10 at 12:17
I actually mean any. And by I, I mean me. I personally would be surprised. I could be very wrong (and would be interested to learn). (Looking at the continental data, there is a high enough % of muslims to be a very large (or at least notable) minority everywhere except South America and Oceanic islands). So yes I would be surprised if any major university didn't have at least a make-shift prayer room. –  Oxinabox Aug 10 at 13:04
@Oxinabox I don't think the proportion of muslims in the student population is the issue but the organization of universities and the way they deal with religion differ widely. I might be completely wrong about that but it sounds like you might be generalizing about your experience in one (or perhaps a handful) of countries. Without having looked at the issue thoroughly it indeed seems like a very sweeping statement to make. –  Relaxed Aug 10 at 17:01
My comment was not intended to be generalised at all. It was a statement about me. I was hoping to draw out from Wolfgang (or another user) a explanation of how widely universities differ in how they handle religion. Which could then be incorporated into this answer to improve people who suffer from my misperception (or not if I was not incorrect) –  Oxinabox Aug 11 at 13:28

The student must take their own decision, what is more important at the moment: to sit in the class or to make religious activities. The school should not prevent such, but if the one comes then later and means, he wouldn't take part at examine, cause instead to learn he done his religious activities, so he must get his bad note - religious activities aren't an excuse for non-completion of school duties.

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This ought to be true, cause the rule of personal freedom: you are free to do, what you mean for right. But the environment has own rules too, and if you take your freedom, you must take into account, that if your act disturb third-part rules, you must accept consequences. This isn't my personal rule btw: this rule about religious activities is valid at many schools in Germany, whether you like it or not. –  Evgeniy Aug 10 at 11:40
If a single one means, the rule of community makes for him no sense, so he has to leave the community - simple as that;) –  Evgeniy Aug 10 at 13:48
@O.R.Mapper That is NOT an issue; you are required in most countries (let alone schools) to accommodate people who have physical or mental illness, or who cannot appear for other lawful reasons (jury duty springs to mind). If you are forced to accommodate them, there is no issue in accommodating religious reasons. It is never out of the question. –  Alice Aug 10 at 21:17
@O.R.Mapper Again, that is forcing them to retake the class in everything but name; it's delaying their ability to graduate and go into the world. That isn't accommodation; it's in no way convenient to the student, and it requires no adaptation on the teacher or schools part. –  Alice Aug 10 at 21:27
@O.R.Mapper That's sort of like saying a 9mm bullet is pretty convenient compared to getting set on fire; it may be true some abstract sense, but no one is particularly happy with either. If someone is deprived of their ability to take your exam and unfairly punished for it, that's not just and accommodating (and yes, a significant delay is unfair and unjust); it's your job as a teacher to accommodate them, so saying it's unrealistic smacks of not caring about students. I also don't buy the issue with special exams, as the exams ought (after the fact) be a matter of public record anyway. –  Alice Aug 10 at 21:48

All good answers here. Ramadan expect your students to fast during the day. As a Jewish Man I understood that fasting is a serious tenet of faith. Also, if you are a Jew or Christian the Muslim considers you a person of the book. Extend the same courtesy. Not saying anything bad... They avoid pork, alcohol and games of chance. If you ever speak of Muhammad... After you say his name say may peace be upon him. Five times a day the call to prayer will go out. Facing Mecca prayers will be said on a prayer rug. Most Muslim countries have a system set up to where the faithful can hear said call... I.E. Iraq which I spent time in or in Istanbul which I loved. You will not see pictures of religious figures or icons as you would in Eastern Orthodox churches, Catholicism or Protestant churches. Meat is eaten and prepared in a similar manner to our kosher standards. They just call it Halal. Anyway, it would take forever to list everything.

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Plus to other recommendations (such as advanced scheduling , ...) some tips on cases, when talking about things some how related to Islam (as a course material).

  1. Stereotypes are usually misleading, each individual reflects his/her specific set of beliefs
  2. Consider existence of variance or some times extreme variance in groups which all are identified with Islam label
  3. Consider that many of them are not observant (usually different nationalities show different proportions in this)
  4. Consider that many political orientations and religious beliefs have found blurred boundaries specially in recent decades and for younger generations. So one talking about some political topic might actually considers it a religious topic or vice versa.
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May I recommend paragraphs and formatting, they make answers easier to read. –  virmaior Aug 13 at 8:18
Thanks for the suggestion, applied some formatting improvement. –  Shahryar Aug 14 at 8:43

Muslims are commanded to perform prayers five times a day. These prayers are obligatory on every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty, with the exception being those who are mentally ill, too physically ill for it to be possible, menstruating, or experiencing postnatal bleeding. Those who are ill or otherwise physically unable to offer their prayers in the traditional form are permitted to offer their prayers while sitting or lying, as they are able. The five prayers are each assigned to certain prescribed times (al waqt) at which they must be performed, unless there is a compelling reason for not being able to perform them on time

. from the above quote that I get from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salat , The school has to provide time for students to perform prayer, usually about 20 to 30 minutes every prayer time except for jumu'ah that could be carried out for half to two hour.

disclaimer: sorry if what i write is seem cluttered because i'm not fluent in english

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The school should provide time; it is more difficult to argue that it must provide time, especially given how much variation there is in the times of individual prayers throughout the year. For example, where I live, the afternoon prayer can start anywhere between 14:00 and 18:00. –  aeismail Aug 11 at 10:09

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