Muslims seek timetable rejig

March 10, 2006

Universities will be urged to consider not scheduling exams and lectures for two hours on Friday afternoons to allow Muslim students to pray, if a student vote is passed this month.

Up to 1,200 students will debate whether university timetables should be cleared between midday and 2pm on Fridays at the National Union of Students' annual conference at the end of this month.

Newcastle University's student union has proposed a national vote in support of its 200-strong Islamic Society, and last month voted 95 per cent in favour of the changes.

If the motion gets national backing, university managers will be under pressure to reconsider their lecture schedules, although they are under no compulsion to make changes.

Early afternoon on Fridays, known as Jumah, is the most important Muslim prayer session of the week. The prayers are also at a set time according to the seasons.

Raed Al-Ahamdi, president of Newcastle's Islamic Society, said that lectures at all universities should finish an hour later on Wednesdays, with an extra hour added to Friday's lunch break.

The -year-old masters student said devout students were forced to choose between their religion and their studies. He said: "We miss lectures and tutorials, and that is not fair. We are not asking the university to change the timetables to fit every prayer session throughout the week, just the one on Friday afternoons."

Amar Latif, a 23-year-old medicine student at Nottingham University, said he missed half an hour of classes on a Friday because of a clash with prayers. He said: "I am based on the Derby campus and have to go to a mosque for communal prayer on Fridays. I have a lecture at 1.30pm but cannot get back to the university until 2pm. This puts me in a difficult position. I understand that other Islamic societies have wanted this to be changed for many years."

But Brendan Ferguson, chair of the Academic Registrar Council, said universities were already limited in when they could schedule exams and lectures during the week. He said: "There is a finite number of slots in which to fit lectures and exams. We will have to examine the logistics of this.

"However, universities seek to embrace all faiths and creeds ... and these changes could have support so long as they do not jeopardise the academic experience of the student body."

Managers at Newcastle University are considering whether to adopt the changes regardless of the outcome at the NUS meeting.

There are 700 Muslim students out of a total of 18,000 at Newcastle.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show the institution has the second-lowest proportion of first-year students from ethnic minorities.

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