Eid exams conflict frustrates students at UCT

17 May 2018 - 07:00 By Nora Shelly
University of Cape Town. File photo
University of Cape Town. File photo
Image: UCT Student @UCTStudent via Twitter

For the second successive year‚ Muslim students at the University of Cape Town will have to contend with exams while celebrating Eid in June.

Throughout the exam period‚ students will be able to take a short break during evening exams to break their fast. For those with exams on Eid‚ UCT said they would have the option to defer the exam altogether or start a morning exam late in order to complete early-morning prayers.

Members of UCT’s Muslim Students Association said the exam accommodations announced by UCT on Wednesday were fair‚ but that they shouldn’t have to be made in the first place.

“When you have to choose between religious obligations and academic workload‚ it’s not a decision which you’re supposed to make‚” said Daiyaan Samaai‚ a fourth-year student involved in the MSA.

Previously‚ students who applied to have their exams deferred had to wait months to write them make them up‚ which posed a problem for those wishing to graduate or study abroad. Samaai and fellow MSA member Tauriq Abrahams said the group worked with UCT to get the exemptions for Muslim students approved‚ but they hope they don’t become the precedent for how future schedule conflicts are handled.

“The fact that exams are scheduled on Eid in the first place speaks directly to the broader policy issues which are present at this university‚” said UCT student Tashreek Miller in a WhatsApp message.

Abrahams and Samaai said applying for an exam deferral can be a challenge to students‚ especially because in order to be granted a deferral‚ you have to have proof from a religious leader that you are a member of the religion. Some students‚ they pointed out‚ don’t have a relationship with an Imam but still celebrate Ramadaan and Eid.

This isn’t the first time exams and Eid have conflicted at UCT.

Third-year student Ayesha Tape said last year‚ she had a take-home exam that was scheduled for the weekend of Eid‚ when many were planning to travel home to visit family.

Because some of the students didn’t have the resources at home to complete the exam‚ they would have had to cram it into one day while other students had the whole weekend.

Tape and the other students asked their lecturer to move the exam‚ but had to turn for assistance from administrators to get the matter sorted. Although they eventually were given more time for the take-home exam‚ Tape said fighting for herself and other Muslim students can become difficult.

“We’re a fair amount of students‚ and it’s frankly discrimination‚” she said‚ noting exams have been moved in the past to allow students to attend concerts.

“When it comes to us it’s kind of a no-go zone.”

Abrahams said they hoped to change UCT’s exam-scheduling policy so it is more accommodating for different religions. Although the date of Eid changes every year‚ Abrahams said they want to make sure the exams schedule doesn’t conflict with holidays in other religions as well.

“As much as I think it’s fair and we’re actually quite content with the conditions UCT gave us today‚ we do realise that there’s a bigger picture‚” he said. “At the end of the day‚ it’s not fair‚ to prefer one student over another.”

UCT said on Wednesday that students who wished to break their fast or say prayers during exams that started at 5pm would be able to do so.

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"Students have on previous occasions sat quietly at their desks and broken their fast‚" said a UCT statement.

"Students are also allowed to take a short break should they wish to exit an exam session‚ during which they will be escorted by an invigilator."

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