Not all South African Muslims will be celebrating the culmination of the fasting month Ramadan on Friday with the religious holiday of Eid al Fitr. Muslim students at the North West University (NWU) are scheduled to write exams on Eid day.
Final year chemical engineering student and former chairperson of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) Hasan Varachia is one of the students whose exams are scheduled to be written on Eid day. Varachia will be writing biotechnology at 09:00 on Eid morning.
“I tried to be silent, I tried to allow the processes to unfold, I told myself this year the NWU will be different. I tried to look at this from a bird’s view and I kept telling myself to just hold on, but how do I when I am 250km away from home and have to write an exam,” Varachia wrote in a Facebook post.
Varachia said he will miss out on the rituals and customs that his family practises on Eid including prayers, sharing meals, visiting the old, the sick, and the cemetery to visit those who have passed on.
He laments that both the University of Cape Town and the University of the Free State had made concessions available to its Muslim students.
Last year, Varachia asked the university to shift a test scheduled for Eid day. The university declined but said it would place exam dates scheduled on Islamic holidays into consideration in the future.
The MSA at NWU was negotiating a change of date two months prior to the start of exams.
NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs told The Daily Vox that the university had met with MSA chair Unaisah Latiff at the beginning of the year to discuss various issues with regards to Muslim needs, including the exams scheduled on Eid.
Jacobs said he was advised that male Muslims to have a prayer session between seven and eight in the morning on Eid day, and then again much later in the day. “Apart from this directive, the day of Eid, albeit a Holy day for Muslims, is treated as any other day by Muslims,” he said.
After the discussions, the university concluded that scheduling exams at nine in the morning would not have any prejudicial effect on Muslim students on the day of Eid.
After consulting elders within the Muslim community as well, the university learned that Eid is reserved as a day whereby Muslim families meet during the evening to celebrate the day itself.
Regarding this, Jacobs said: “Muslim students who chose to miss any assessment on Eid in order to attend to the family meeting on the 15th of June 2018, will utilise the second opportunity (free of charge) set aside in the general academic rules of the NWU.”
Varachia said second opportunity exams are known to be more difficult and that it is unfair that one of his chances of passing the exam are taken away from him.
“University management had informed us last year via email that this will not occur again. This university has changed exam dates before, why couldn’t they have accommodated us?” he said.
Jacobs also said Muslim students who wish to travel to their family could probably still do so after the assessment on the 15th. However, if a Muslim student has to travel extensively then assessments falling after the 15th would also be at risk and special arrangements made for such students could be considered prejudicial to others.
“Eid is not ignored by the NWU, and in fact much has work has been done with the representatives of the student Muslim Council in this regard,” Jacobs said. He said alternative arrangements like drafting third papers will “seriously impact on academic integrity” and rescheduling of a very complex time table is not feasible.
NWU said the university is not intolerant towards religion and that consultations and arrangements are also being made with other religious groups, such as the Seventh Day Adventist about the issue of writing exams on a Saturday.
“Eid is regulated by the lunar calendar. Eid will for the next eight years not fall within the assessment periods of the university, and as such no alternative arrangements will have to be managed on a long term basis at this stage,” he added.