The Muslim Accommodations Task Force
The Muslim Accommodations Task Force (MATF) of MSA National works to make campuses better places for Muslim students. "Muslim-friendly" campuses are ones that embrace diversity by fulfilling the needs of their Muslim communities. Students and administrators work hand in hand to promote programs that facilitate multiple facets of a student’s life, ranging from praying to learning to dining.
We believe that every campus can improve in meeting Muslim student needs. As you will see, becoming "Muslim-friendly" is not a one-size-fits all process. This guide is created to help you explore the options available, select the level appropriate to your campus, and tailor your efforts accordingly.
Know that achieving Muslim accommodations on your campus requires planning and persistent effort. As a source of inspiration, we share with you a hadith. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "..he who finds relief for one who is hard pressed, Allah would make things easy for him in the Hereafter." (Sahih Muslim Book 035, Number 6518). Inshaallah the results of your efforts will make life easier for generations of students after you, and thereby leave you with a legacy of reward.
Please refer to the resource section at the end of this guide for information on services we provide. Sincere thanks is due first to Allah (swt) then to all the students, alumni, and advisors who contributed their experiences and thoughts.
What are Islamic Holidays?
The two annual Islamic holidays are Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The term Eid is Arabic for festivity or celebration. Eid al-Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, a month long period of worship and contemplation. During Ramadan, several restraints are placed upon the daily lives of Muslims. Among other things they are not allowed to eat or drink during daylight hours, and the fast is broken at the end of the day with prayer and a meal. The fast is resumed the next morning. Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) occurs at the end of Ramadan and is marked by a special congregational prayer in the morning, followed by visiting and celebrating with family and friends, elaborate meals, and the exchange of gifts. Eid al-Adha is the commemoration of sacrifice endured by Abraham, who was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice of his beloved son Ismail. It also marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage season. Similar to Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha begins with congregational prayer and a sermon in the morning and is followed with time with family and friends feasting and exchanging gifts.
On Fridays, Muslims have a weekly holiday hour, when they must congregate for the Friday talk and prayer, Salatul Jumua. Friday prayer is at the time of the early afternoon prayer, typically between 1:00 and 2:30 depending on geographical location and time of the year. The prayer must be performed within a specified time frame and the congregation must be of at least four people.
Choose The Right Level To Meet Your Needs
Almost all Muslim accommodations come in different levels. The key is to recognize what your campus and especially Muslim students on campus are ready to sustain for the long term.
Declaring tentative Eid al-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr dates on all academic and/or religious calendars.
Announcing confirmed Eid dates and informing the campus community of possible Muslim student absence by e-mail or voicemail.
Not scheduling exams on the days of the two Islamic holidays and/or during the Friday prayer.
Making Eid an official campus holiday.
Making Friday prayer hour an official campus holiday hour.
The Process: Steps to Islamic Holidays on Campus
Engaging in the assessment process in consultation with the Muslim community at large will inshallah serve two benefits:
- It will provide MSA representatives a solid proposal, backed with facts and evidence, with which to negotiate with university officials.
- It will ensure community support for and participation in a sustained program. As with any type of Muslim religious accommodation, a failed experience will make future negotiations with university officials more difficult.
Before you begin to lobby your university administration to recognize Islamic holidays on campus, it is critical to assess both
- The current meal offerings on campus (Supply)
- The size and needs of the Muslim population at your school (Demand)
In evaluating the status quo of what holidays are available, it is important to keep in mind the following questions:
Current Holiday Recognition (Supply)
- Are any special interest groups receiving accommodations at your college/university? Which Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant holidays are currently acknowledged or recognized?
- Precisely what is the current level of accommodation offered (if any)? Levels include: Declaration of Islamic holidays on calendars, e-mail or voicemail announcements, exam scheduling consideration, and official suspension of classes.
It is important to make sure that the type of holiday accommodation the university may be willing to offer matches the needs of the Muslim community on your campus. To a large extent, what the university is willing to offer will depend on Muslim demographics and demonstration of current hardships imposed on the Muslim community.
Muslim Population Size and Needs (Demand)
Therefore, it is necessary to survey the relevant Muslim population (students, faculty, administrators, doctors, employees, etc.) to determine the following:
Size (or relative size to other groups receiving special treatment, ie Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant students)
Size is a useful indicator to know when negotiating with university officials, to strengthen the case for needing such a program.
Demographics (current and projected)
Demographics can help to demonstrate the need and should draw upon national, state, and local (your campus) statistics.
In the absence of recognition of Islamic holidays, what are Muslim students currently doing? Are they missing classes and being deprived of academic benefits? Are they being forced to choose between taking an exam and observing a holiday?
Where do students currently go to observe Islamic holidays? Is an Eid service held on campus? What about a Friday prayer service? How far do students go for these services, and how much time is involved?
Anticipated holiday dates
During which holidays are classes in session? Are required classes, labs, and exams held during Friday prayer? Will either Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha coincide with final exams in the next five years? Will either Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha coincide with existing campus holidays (winter break, spring break) in the next five years?
As with most MSA tasks, leadership is essential. Once your MSA decides to make a case for Islamic holidays on campus, effective leadership will play a major role in the outcome of the endeavor. We recommend one or two committed students who agree to oversee all aspects of the project. Ideally, these students should have played a role in the assessment phase, and if not, should have a thorough understanding of the nature of assessment. They should also review the definition of Islamic holidays, and be prepared to express the Muslim students needs based on findings from the assessment phase. Because of the possibility that the endeavor will take more than one term, leaders should thoroughly document everything. Practically, this can be as simple as a notebook of meeting dates, times, participants, and minutes.
Contact Administrative Allies
Administrators that the MSA interacts with on a regular basis (faculty advisors, Dean of Students, Student Programs Director, Campus Ministry or Student Religious Life Office) typically are excellent people to discuss your proposal with. If you have positive relations with any administrators, you should inform them of your intention to increase recognition of Islamic holidays on campus, get their input, and see if they are interested in helping or have procedural suggestions. These allies will help you to determine what steps are needed to make such a change on campus - a presentation to the Senate, approval of the University President, discussions with the provost, or other means.
Communicating your proposal
In conversations with administrators who become involved in approving the project, emphasize the following points which are relevant to your campus’s context:
Explain what the two Eids represent, and how important they are in a Muslim student’s life. Take a calendar of projected Islamic holidays along with the academic calendar to show how the two intersect. Administrators will be happy to know that some holidays do not interfere with class schedules (when Eid is on a weekend or on a scheduled university holiday). Particularly in oral presentations, try to put a personal touch to the Eid experience - a story of joyfully celebrating Eid with family as a child or the difficulty experienced in missing a class for a holiday in the past.
Most campuses include respecting diversity as a part of their mission statement. They consider enrollment of diverse students an asset to the community, as they enhance the classroom learning experience and enrich student life. Try to find these statements specific to your campus, and explain that recognition of Islamic holidays would serve as a practical example of upholding these ideals. If any cases of bias against Muslims took place on campus in the recent past, present the proposal as an opportunity to foster cooperation and increase understanding.
Muslim students need
The information gathered during the assessment phase should help to articulate Muslim students needs concretely - demographics, current hardship, and current observance. Additionally, if special holiday recognition is being offered to other faith communities (Jewish, Catholic, Protestant), Muslims have strong grounds to make a petition for equal consideration of their holiday requirements.
National trends and publicity
Other campuses already have recognized Islamic holidays, and are being recognized nationally for their efforts. The college or university will benefit by having a reputation for caring for their Muslim students. Provide a complete list (updated on www.msanational.org/matf), then give detailed examples based on what you consider to be the ideal option for your campus.
Throughout the presentation phase, education most likely focuses on administrators and key decision makers among the student body. Once an Eid holiday is approved, education should spread to include the entire campus community. The MSA should sponsor Eid related events, create educational Eid displays, and publish a news story in the campus newspaper.
Determining Eid holiday dates
The exact date of Eid can be a contentious issue among Muslim communities. Many believe that the date of Eid cannot be determined except the night before Eid al-Fitr, or ten days prior to Eid al-Adha because of lunar sighting requirements. Muslim students and their communities have successfully dealt with the ambiguity related to Eid in the following ways:
For calendars that must be printed months in advance, the tentative date is printed, with an asterisk (*) and a footnote explaining, "Subject to lunar sighting"
For e-mail and voice-mail announcements, the MSA stays in touch with the administrator in charge to communicate the confirmed Eid date.
For official suspension of classes on Eid, the campus Muslim communities decided they would rather have an Eid holiday celebrated one day off the mark than to not have one at all. There is still a good chance of having the first day of Eid coincide with the predicted date, and if not, it most likely will fall on one of the three days of Eid. Additionally, the day can be used as an opportunity to educate the community of the Islamic holiday, whether or not it is on the exact day.
Now that the Eid holiday has been recognized, the MSA should work to help the program grow and improve. At least one MSA member in communication with the MSA Executive Committee / Shura should be in charge of overseeing existing Muslim accommodations. The MSA should have a regular Eid holiday campaign, including decorating the campus, hosting events for the campus community, and possibly distributing Eid treats or creating a display right before Eid. For Eid al-Fitr, the entire month of Ramadan provides an opportunity to host events that explain Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Similarly, the ten days of Hajj prior to Eid al-Adha can be used to increase awareness of Hajj. The MSA should be sure to thank supportive administrators and invite them to join in festivities. They should also contact the media (on campus, local, national) to publicize the recognition of Eid on their campus.
To sustain approval of Eid holidays for the long term, the MSA should try to link the Eid holiday recognition to recognition of any other religious holidays (Jewish, Christian, Protestant.) In this way, all holidays will be approved or rejected together.
In order to institutionalize the program, publicity should reach every student and prospective student. Practical publicity points to sustain a long-term program include roles for administrators and the MSA. Calendars and announcements should be made to include Eid, and whoever designs the calendars for the university should know how to find out projected Eid dates. Offices of Campus Ministry, student life, or religious life should be made aware of the holiday. The MSA should be in regular contact with administrators to inform them of projected Eid dates. The MSA should include information on Islamic holidays on their website section for new students and inform them at orientation events. Report the success to MSA National www.msanational.org/matf so prospective students will know of Islamic holidays on your campus...they may even decide to attend your campus instead of the closest competitor because of the Islamic holiday program.