Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area Wants Schools to Let Muslim Students Leave Class Hours Early Every Week

The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area has a request for public school teachers and administrators. They want children of Muslim parents to be dismissed from school early once a week so that they can attend a mandatory prayer service.

Oh, and by early, they mean 12:30p until the end of the school day.

Because that won’t disrupt student learning at all.

They put this permission slip on their website for families to download and take to their kids’ schools:

Let’s focus on the core of it:

The form cites Florida Statute Section 1006.53 in making the case that schools must “accommodate the religious observance of students.”

When they don’t tell you is that Section 1006.53 includes a key word that the flyer doesn’t mention:

Each public postsecondary educational institution shall adopt a policy which reasonably accommodates the religious observance, practice, and belief of individual students

Missing 2.5 hours of school every week — during the same time period, no less — is hardly reasonable. If you’re in high school, that would mean missing the same classes for 20% of the year.

The form also fails to mention this Florida law:

Each district school board shall establish an attendance policy that includes, but is not limited to, the required number of days each school year that a student must be in attendance

In many districts, there’s a minimum number of hours you must be in class. If you don’t attend class, you don’t get the credits, and you can’t graduate.

As the flyer rightly states, public school districts will grant you time off for religious reasons, but we’re talking a day or two, not half the day, once a week, for the entire school year.

According to the flyer, “it is an obligation to observe this prayer otherwise it is a sin.” But it is also perfectly alright to shortchange children on their education? I would suggest homeschooling is a better option for parents who require this devotion from their kids, but I feel that would only create a vacuum for even more prayer.

Anyway, let’s suppose the schools acquiesced on this and allowed the Muslim students to miss that much class. Depending on the number of students who would be absent, it would wreak havoc on the teachers and other students. It’d be no different than a group of students taking a field trip for another class, requiring my to adjust my lesson plans since I’d have to reteach the material the next day, anyway.

Most teachers, I’d assume, would be more than willing to accommodate students who miss class because they’re sick or have a family thing happening. But when it’s the same students missing the same class, week after week, it becomes much more of an obstacle.

But maybe I’m guilty of treating Muslims differently than I would Christians. I asked Heina Dadabhoy — an ex-Muslim — about this situation and this is what she told me:

Jummah [the Friday prayer in question here] is indeed considered mandatory for boys over the age of puberty. There’s no makeup for the actual Jummah. That said, most Muslim men in non-Muslim countries are forced to skip it because of work and school and instead pray the normal early afternoon prayer…

I don’t think it’s any more preposterous than the fact that a lot of stores and business are closed on Christian-based holidays like Christmas — and, for that matter, that Christian students are guaranteed Sundays off school so that they can attend church without a hitch.

She has a point there. If school took place on Sunday morning, wouldn’t Christians be demanding the same sort of time off? Am I just letting Christians off the hook here because the schedule already accommodates the majority’s religious beliefs?

Then again, church services don’t *have* to take place at a particular time or on a particular day. There’s a stringent nature to Islamic prayer that makes this Friday afternoon timeframe so rigid that students are forced to choose between attending class and being properly devout.

Heina also added that she knew people who prayed during their lunch periods or other times of the day — those students just worked things out one-on-one with their teachers. While I haven’t been in that situation with any of my students, I would just hope there’s some flexibility with the times they need to pray for the sake of their own education.

(via BizPac Review — Thanks to Brian for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Bitter Lizard

    Simple solution: bring the Muslim prayer service to the schools and have all the children participate. The right wing wants religion in school, bam, they got it. The fallout would be epic.

  • Beth

    There are plenty of kids sports teams that don’t practice on Sundays or Wednesday nights because children of some christian families are at church. While sports are not mandatory, the same rules are followed for dance and music recitals and play practice…. Christianity has major privilege here to Heina’s point.
    I’m not excited about Muslims taking their kids out of school…I wonder if we’ll see more homeschooling Muslim families because of this?

  • Edmond

    “According to Islamic teachings, it is an obligation to observe this prayer otherwise it is a sin.”
    It’s a shame that missing school isn’t a sin.

  • eric

    Is that privileging Christianity per se, or just majoritarianism? Privileging Christianity would be if a school is 90% Jewish and they still hold events on Friday nights/Saturdays instead of shifting them to Sundays. If such a school shifts everything to Sundays, its just being pragmatic about when it’s students and parents will show up.
    My gut reaction to the main article was “um, no; you go just like everyone else.” But giving it more thought, I think individual flexibility is the way to go. Have the student try and work something out with their friday afternoon teachers. I don’t think a teacher should be forced into letting a student go early or skip class, but if there’s some accommodation that is fine by everyone involved (student, teacher, admin, law), I see no reason to object to it.
    The only thing I would say would be the old adage; trust but verify. You’re talking about letting teens go from school early on a friday. Check to make sure they actually go to the mosque/prayer. If they don’t, yank the privilege so fast it makes their heads spin.

  • UWIR

    “But maybe I’m guilty of treating Muslims differently than I would Christians.”
    If anyone is treating Muslims differently, it’s the schools, not you. If the prayers start at 12:30, wouldn’t that mean that they’re taking off even earlier to get there on time? Also, am I being nitpicky for noticing the misspelling of “all right”?

    Another thought: obviously, the Koran doesn’t require anything on “Friday”. What if a Muslim were to simply decide to translate the day of the week that prayers are required to be “Sunday”? The days of the week are just social convention, anyway. It’s not like there’s any inherent difference between Sunday and Friday.

  • Chuck Farley

    I’ve been out of school for quite some time, but Catholics used to (and probably do still) get a similar privilege. Kids left early once a week to go to “church school”. It wasn’t 12:30 PM, but they missed the same classes every week.

  • closetatheist

    The real shame is that in a large portion of the Muslim world Islam teaches that sending some kids (girls) to schools is a sin or that sending any child to a school where religious instruction doesn’t compromise at least half the school day also sinful. These Muslims seem like fucking liberals (Not to say that they are right, of course, or should be applauded for this)

  • closetatheist

    As a kid, the privilege of having a half day every Friday would have been enough for me to convert. And is there any possibility of this actually flying? I hope Hemant keeps us posted on this one…

  • Holytape

    Look at the bright side, at least it’s not a permission slip to excuse the girls early, as in before kindergarden to forever.

  • mywall

    Can’t they just move the prayer? I fail to see why people who choose to make this stuff up can’t choose to make up convenient timings for it.

  • cryofly

    I love this idea. But it is not enough. I want Mondays declared a holiday for Christians as Sundays are already off, Thursdays off for Jews as Fridays are taken by Muslims and Saturdays are already off, Tuesdays off for Hindus, and Wednesdays off for Buddhists… Of course all nights must be off for the practitioners of voodoo or whatever, in case the sneaky government tries to make us study or work the nights.

  • Buckley

    We always worked out Ramada issues at lunch time and worked with those kids to make sure they didn’t have to be at lunch hearing, seeing, smelling the food. But, this accommodation did not take away from the learning. Keep in mind however that the Supreme Court ruled that Amish can pull this kids out of school after 8th grade and have no more formal education. I suppose a similar accommodation would be that they can loose 3 hours every week, but will not graduate in a 4 year period.

  • kelemi

    Having grown up in a mainly Jewish neighborhood, Jewish kids were allowed to not attend school on Jewish holidays. When I worked, all companies gave Jewish employees the right to leave work early on Fridays to be home by the Sabbath. They did have agreements with the company.

  • LesterBallard

    I hated school. I would have converted in a heartbeat, then skipped out on the prayers as well.

  • Mick

    “In many districts, there’s a minimum number of hours you must be in
    class. If you don’t attend class, you don’t get the credits, and you
    can’t graduate.”

    Maybe the Muslim business owners are just trying to create a pool of cheap labor from within their own community.

  • 3lemenope

    Funny thing is, it actually probably is. Muhammad at several points emphasizes the importance of scholarship and learning.

  • m n

    Actually, if you’re Catholic, I’m pretty sure it’s required to go to Mass on Sunday. The Vatican made some rule that counts Saturday evening Masses as Sunday ones, but apart from that concession, it’s not like you can just go on Thursday and have that be your church-time allotment for the week. This has to do with the specific Gospels that are being read.

    Of course, you have to attend on holy days as well, in addition to mandatory Sunday attendance, which is where time off from school comes in, for things like Ash Wednesday or what-have-you.

  • 3lemenope

    As a kid, the privilege of having a half day every Friday would have been enough for me to convert.

    Yeah, but it’s not like they’re getting out of class to go to the zoo or something. They’re getting out of one (at least to a kid) tedious boring thing only to have to go to another. As Chuck Farley noted elsewhere on the thread, it’s pretty similar to those Catholic kids that went to CCD on Fridays. They were just trading one class for another (much less interesting, certainly less connected to reality) one.

  • anniewhoo

    But with Catholics, if you sin by missing a holy day of obligation you can simply go to confession and be forgiven.

  • Stephen Burrows

    Had a student in high school who had to leave 30 mins early from last period every day to attend “prayer”, when I was leaving, I’d usually see him smoking with his buddies in the area where all the smokers hid.

  • JasmynMoon

    When I was in high school, we had 8 periods a day. They were 50 min each. So that would mean missing 2 full periods once a week. 2 subjects losing 25% of their class time. That is highly, highly unreasonable.

  • Jamie Carter

    I don’t think this really matters as long as my right to no religion is respected I don’t see why it’s any business of mine what they do for their right to religion.

  • Autumn Treadwell

    I have a colleague that is a Seventh Day Adventist. I met her while we were studying for our Master’s in an online course – there was a four day weekend onsite thing, though, that was mandatory. She missed an entire day of study because it happened on a Saturday. She accepted that. She didn’t protest, she didn’t whine – she accepted she was in a culture where Saturday wasn’t the day off, and she was ready to sacrifice a day of wonderful knowledge and learning for being in her room praying. Interesting note: no one took the Sunday off to go to Church. Anyway, how far is this accommodation going to go? If the Muslim congregation demands single sex classrooms, or the removal of all gay students from classes their children are in, then what?

  • eric

    Hopefully in such a case the district would see a clear difference between a scheduling request that only affects the student that requested it (plus teachers, etc.), and a scheduling request that impacts other students’ ability to be in the classroom. I don’t think the first is an obligation of the school, but if they can make it work for everyone involved, that’s fine. The second should be squashed immediately.
    However, let’s remember that these students have not asked for anyone (else) to be removed. There is really no reason to assume they might want to do that.

  • Aureliano_Buendia

    As if Tampa didn’t have enough to deal with already with the huge Scientologist presence in the area and the giant “Christians! Your vote: use it or lose it!” billboards on the way in on I-75…

  • rhodent

    I think the ISTBA has a point. The whole reason we don’t have school on Sunday is to accommodate Christians. How is this any more a “reasonable accommodation” than not having class on Friday afternoons, if Muslims have religious obligations? And I question the statement that “church services don’t *have* to take place at a particular time or on a particular day”. The “time” part may be accurate, but the “day” part certainly isn’t. Just try suggesting we hold school on a Sunday — even a Sunday afternoon, after just about every Christian would be done with church — and watch the shitstorm that happens next.

    Also, note that the request isn’t saying the students shouldn’t have to make up any assignments or tests. It simply says they should be allowed to not attend the actual class session. Given the fact that the school systems are scheduling class during a time that their religion prescribes religious activity while not scheduling class during any time that Christianity/Judaism/etc. prescribe religious activity, and given the way Florida law is written, I don’t have a problem with what ISTBA is saying here.

  • m n

    Yeah, but you’re not supposed to game the system like that. It’s just rude to the Virgin Mary or cheating or something.

  • Bob Becker

    I think “released time” once a week… usually an hour … to attend rel instruction is fairly common in US public schools. It’s certainly the practice in Utah and was in Brooklyn when lived there.

  • C Peterson

    Any accommodation to students for religious reasons by a public school is at odds with the First Amendment. Even “reasonable” accommodation. Such policies should not be tolerated.

    If schools wish to accommodate religious students, they should equally be required to accommodated non-religious ones. A policy might state that schools must reasonably accommodate students for their personal beliefs, but not for their religious beliefs.

  • 3lemenope

    Any accommodation to students for religious reasons by a public school is at odds with the First Amendment.

    This would be startling news to anyone familiar with the First Amendment.

  • Lurker111

    Instead of “compromise,” I think you meant “comprise.” Strangely enough, either word works.

  • Iron Hat

    I grew up and was raised a catholic and every Wednesday, I, along with about six or seven other kids, left school at about 1:00 for religious instruction at the nearest parochial school. We did this throughout elementary school (in later years, instruction was held in the evening) The kids left behind basically had free time. Our school observed christian, along with Jewish holidays (although no Islamic holidays) This really isn’t much different.

  • Amor DeCosmos

    >It’s not like there’s any inherent difference between Sunday and Friday.

    I think your appeal for such a logical solution will not be heard by those who eschew logic for faith

  • anniewhoo

    Hey, it’s their loophole not mine. ;-)

  • Amor DeCosmos

    I propose Fridays off for secularists. Thursday night is usually cheap drink night, and I’d like to have a late start on Fridays to observe my deeply held belief that sleep and plenty of water are are forms of meditation and spiritual cleansing.

  • invivoMark

    Simple solution: allow the children to leave early, but then append the time missed to days at the end of summer. The students will miss out on their vacation, and, since the teachers won’t want to be there either, the students will be taught by extremely grumpy teachers all day long while their friends are outside having fun.

    After 2-3 years, there won’t be any Muslim children in the state of Florida.

  • Amor DeCosmos

    Sure, but when their right to religion starts to affect you, then it becomes your business. Pulling these kids out of class weekly like that will disrupt all the other teachers and students who don’t follow the same religion. If I was a parent I would be fighting against this with the simple statement that “no religious students should be given special consideration at any public school because all students should be treated equally when their education is funded with taxpayer money”.

    Edit: On the other hand, all students should be given special consideration on a case by case basis. If a child needs to go to the dentist, or a piano recital, or a funeral, or a religious observation, then there should be an accommodation for that, but it is up to the student to make up for the lost time, not the school.

  • C Peterson

    How so? Any accommodation for religious belief that isn’t also made for non-religious beliefs stands at odds with both the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, even if it is currently allowed by legal interpretation.

  • A3Kr0n

    Don’t forget that week off for Christmas, too. I can’t remember, do schools get any time off for Easter, or Good Friday? I was surprised to get Good Friday off where I work.

  • closetatheist

    yeah, good point. Do these prayer sessions really last as long as the school day though? I was imagining an hour long service/prayer time similar to Sunday morning church.

  • closetatheist

    good catch, and I’m enjoying how my goof actually made my point even better…

  • Anna

    Spring Break is usually scheduled around Easter. My school district has it the week after Easter, so students go to school on Good Friday. The neighboring district has it the week before Easter, so students get Good Friday and Sunday off, but return on Easter Monday (also a religious holiday in some circles).

  • Anna

    School schedules are pretty tightly regulated, so that wouldn’t work. However, they could require those students to make up the time they missed in summer school. I bet fewer parents would seek the exemption then!



  • SabsDkPrncs

    Because the people who made this up are long dead so everything must remain the same because who knows which descendent of Mohammed has the divine inspiration to make up some new stuff.

  • ufo42

    I hate to seem intolerant here, but maybe, given that most muslims came to the US in the first place to escape muslim theocracies which provide very few opportunities to get ahead in their home countries, rather than demand US institutions accommodate the practices of the religion which indirectly caused them to flee, they should realize that along with the opportunities for a better life in the USA, they get the responsibility to integrate into US society and need to make that integration a bit of a higher priority in their lives than living up the the letter of the dogma invented out of whole cloth by a pedophile psychopath from 600 CE

  • ufo42

    If the US accommodates the religious practices of every religion represented in the US, there would be at most 3 or 4 days each year when anything could get done. Catholics alone have about 200 holy days of various descriptions which they could demand time off for.

  • TnkAgn

    Generally, I think the school administrators can say, “Well, if your child misses instruction due to his/her (actually your) beliefs, they will have to make them up with alternate lessons.” This, of course makes extra work for teachers, and I can personally testify to that. The courts have mostly gone along with this approach.

    And it is true that most public schools already give cover to Christian parents with “Winter Break” and “Spring Break,” and even schedule inservice days for “Good Friday” and even Halloween. In Halloween’s case it is because the costumes are tasteless and/or offensive, and the school day is shot in the ass anyway.

    As an alternative, why not give Muslim kids a place to do their prayers in school, at a time between regular classes. I have heard that this has been done in some schools with a significant minority of Muslim students. The other alternative, of course, is that Muslim kids can go to their own, private, Muslim school. Even a Madrassa. That’s America for you.

  • Anna

    No school on Halloween? The horror! Where are these school districts? I’m imagining the Bible Belt. About 15 years ago, some fundamentalist group complained about Halloween celebrations in our local public schools, but they were summarily laughed out of the room.

  • Axel Cho

    Be careful of what you wish for. Shudder.

  • JasmynMoon

    That should be 20%. Sorry.

  • pillbucket

    Well, that’s exactly how it was at my dad’s 90%+ Jewish public school.

  • Ann Onymous

    I read somewhere – I think it was in Disbelief 101 – about a hypothetical principal who announces that they’ll now be teaching creationism in science class. Once he’s atop the Christian shoulders, he elaborates: he’ll be teaching Aztec creationism. But if we let in Muslim prayer, there’s a gaping hole in our armor, and they’ll demand similar Christian prayer or cry persecution.

  • AskAnAtheistBecky

    That’s precisely what the statute (which many states have) guards against. It’s reasonable accommodation to give a kids an alternate assessment or makeup day if you schedule a test on a major religious holiday.

  • Robster

    I’ve read that those afflicted with islam have to pray five times a day facing a place called mecca in a middle eastern desert. Five bloody times a day! Jeesus. In Australia, the number of muzzies unemployed is five hundred percent above those afflicted with regular christian nonsense and those unafflicted with any of it. This school is perhaps preparing these students for a life of blissful unemployment, they can then grow to hate a society that doesn’t cave in to demands based on bronze age religious silliness and work to become disgruntled islamic fundamentalists with all they joy that offers.

  • AskAnAtheistBecky

    I have to disagree, Hemant, and I’m a high school teacher too. If a student is released and misses class, even if it is every week, it is an excused absence. The work that was missed is *not* excused. This is the case with my athletes who are pulled out of 7th period on game days, and with my mentored students who get pulled from 5th period weekly for 30 minutes to meet with their community mentors, and my dual-enrolled student so she can leave 15 minutes early twice a week to make it in time for her class at the community college, and so on. Reasonable accommodation dictates that I can accept their work a day later, or that I make myself available one afternoon a week for pre- or re-instruction, or that the student get a peer tutor, etc.

    Where I’m on the same page as you is in criticizing the Islamic Society for legalistic bullying of public educators in a dishonest way, and that these parents are condoning their child missing a tremendous amount of school cumulatively. If parents don’t concurrently support a child’s responsible completion of learning and work missed, then it’s indeed preposterous.

  • Anat

    In my daughter’s high school, missing a certain number of hours in a particular subject in one semester, whether the absence is excused or not, can lead to losing credit in that subject. I really don’t see how missing so many hours in high school can work. If they fail other students for missing class but let the Muslim students off there will be trouble from the other students, and all attendance policies will have to be done away with.

  • allein

    We always had Spring Break the week before Easter. I get Good Friday off at my work, too, though I work in the office of a warehouse that is probably at least 75% Hispanic. They fought for Good Friday years ago.

  • Anat

    As I said, in my daughter’s school even excused absences can lead to credit loss if there are too many of them. Especially if the class involves a hands-on component such as science lab or shop class. Why should a student who is sick for 2 weeks fail but a student who regularly misses half a day pass?

  • Jim Jones

    > Keep in mind however that the Supreme Court ruled that Amish can pull this kids out of school after 8th grade and have no more formal education.

    And now that so many of them have to work in the ‘English’ world they are at a severe disadvantage due to their lack of education.

  • AskAnAtheistBecky

    Neither should fail if they are able to repeatedly (so it’s not a one-time fluke) demonstrate knowledge and mastery of expected skills for the course. It is rare that someone who misses large amounts of class time adequately masters the course material, but it does happen. If a student is accounted for (parent, medical provider, etc.) then I don’t have a problem with it. I actually *very much* have a problem with the child who misses a month due to mono being given an F grade merely because of low attendance if said child does the work by semester’s or year’s end. If he’s unable to complete the work because it’s shop class, he should be withdrawn from that class without penalty. I would lobby for a policy change at your daughter’s school. Bureaucratic barriers to a high school diploma are stupid. Barred from a diploma because of lack of demonstrated mastery or excellence? I’m fine with that.

  • Andreas Müller

    It amuses me that the Florida statue manages to bring the words reasonable and religious together in one sentence, I thought this was impossible without negating at least one of them.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    On the up-side, it’s a new source of profoundly ignorant religious people. We may be in danger of running out.

  • skinnercitycyclist

    In the high school I teach in, you could do this easily. Just expect that it will take you at least 5 years to graduate. Hell, there are kids who don’t come for reasons completely unrelated to religion, and they pay the piper that fifth or sixth or no year until they graduate. If that’s what you want for your kids, parents, inshala.

  • Jonathan D Smith

    seriously …I say let them, we wont have to subject our kids to their fanatical ways, for that much more of the day.. this is just another way to disrupt our kids , in our country… I bet they care about their kids education while in their native country …but then again its not about stickin to the opposition in that case right?

  • Jonathan D Smith

    we dont get special privilege for Christians..”thank science” that makes me happy , and ALL religion is horrible .,. What makes you think we should disrupt our kids for their ways even more than what they propose here ?

  • Ali tink

    The Friday prayer is also considered a makeup session for skipping some of the 5x a day shorter prayers. If they keep up with the daily duties they don’t need Friday.
    Of course there is a multiplication factor. More than 3 people praying together get a mystical volume boost. So the hosting group may be trying to get a crowd for extra credit.

  • Buckley

    I’m not saying it’s right, just that it’s the law. Plus there is the added bonus of eliminating them from jobs we compete against – survival of the fittest.

  • Anna

    It’s terribly unfair to the kids, though. They’re so deprived of education that the ones who leave the sect are utterly unprepared for higher education or anything other than manual labor.

  • Buckley

    Yes, you are correct, it is unfair to the kids. As an educator with many, many years of teaching the lowest of the low (that most will not teach), there comes a point when I have to let some go until they realize what they need. We cannot save them all. I once thought “about the children” but I can’t anymore. A better solution as a humanist is to provide the means for those who come out of this situation and educate them then. I don’t want the religious to tell me what to do, I just have a hard telling the religious what to do in their privacy (so long as they do not physical harm). I just can’t save them all.

  • Ian Glazko

    The only good solution that I can see aside from denying the time off (which wouldn’t be preferable, but would be understandable) is to set up some kind of makeup time. Maybe have them make up time on Saturday, but of course then you run into issues with paying teachers overtime or extra time or even scheduling them around other things.

  • Ryan

    I don’t know how it works in Florida but where I went to school (small town Canada) it was a simple matter to not sign up for classes at a particular time. Not available Friday afternoons? Don’t take classes Friday afternoons! Anyone thus put in danger of not getting enough credits to graduate could take a class or two by correspondence, or attend summer school.

    Maybe that’s too easy? Or maybe they want to be excused from class without making up the work elsewhere.

  • cary_w

    Florida should consider going to the Utah system. The total required credits to graduate high school are 4 classes less that the full school day for four years, students must take a full load of classes unless they get permission to take a period off for religious instruction, work release or possibly other reasons if you can talk the school into it. The Mormons, of course, slap down a seminary building (on private land) across the street from every high school where they offer seminary during most periods of the day and before school, for the kids who don’t want to loose a regular class period. In a few place in Utah, other religious groups have jumped on the bandwagon and set up similar seminary programs. If the Muslims tried to pull this kind of crap in Utah I think the answer they would get is that their kids can take the last period off as “Islamic seminary” or whatever, just like the Mormon kids get, and they will just have to adjust their prayer times to fit that timeframe. Fair is fair, all kids have the same accommodations, this should be more than reasonable accomidations for anyone!