Should exams be rescheduled so Muslims can fast for Ramadan?

Religious freedom must be considered in the light of children's well-being


Will this year’s GCSE and A-Level examinations be rescheduled to accommodate fasting Muslim students during Ramadan?

As the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, Ramadan shifts slightly each year, meaning Muslims will be fasting from June to July this year. Pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will sit GCSEs and A-levels between May 16 and June 29 this year.

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, said it had held discussions with Muslim leaders about the timetabling of exams this summer, but a report in the Guardian late on Thursday suggested that there had been some misunderstandings.

The council said the timing of Ramadan had been considered in the same way as other events – such as the Queen’s diamond jubilee in June 2012 – and that the timetable was not open to change. I expect more details will emerge in due course.

What has interested me, however, is the response of some people who believe this is a good way of accommodating fasting students.

The potential rescheduling of exams is not as important to me as the fact that we are not talking about mature adults who can make an informed choice, but children upon whom there is no obligation to fast, as well as encouraging them at a very young age to fast as soon as possible.

That these are young children depriving themselves of food and water seems to go largely unsaid. If non-Muslim children were to deprive themselves of food and drink for nearly 20 hours each day for a month, I suspect the response would be different.

Last year, there was uproar when a headteacher of the Lion Academy Trust – which runs four schools in London –  advised parents to tell their children not to fast as it could be harmful. Instead of support, the decision was criticised by certain Muslim groups, saying it was not the school’s place to interfere.

Brushing aside the ironic fact that some of these groups try to interfere in the lives of Muslims, when did it come to this? Instead of praising children and parents for showing so much devotion to their religion, better time and energy would be spent on schools and these ‘faith leaders’ – assuming they influence the people they claim to represent – on telling parents and the wider communities to encourage their children not to fast.

If headteachers are truly concerned over the ‘negative effects’ that a clash between Ramadan and exams could have, then they should follow the example of the aforementioned headteacher.

Coming from a Muslim background, I appreciate that sense of unity one feels during Ramadan, knowing your fellow Muslims are all fasting and feeling hungry and tired, and perhaps you will all share a meal together at sunset.

But this should not come at the expense of a child’s health and well-being. If they really wish to fast then they should make up for it when they do not have exams or when they are off school.

Schools should not be making too many concessions in the name of religion – who knows where this will lead to and what the next issue will be.

Iram Ramzan is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter
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47 Responses to “Should exams be rescheduled so Muslims can fast for Ramadan?”

  1. bannedbythetelegraph


    Next question.

  2. jacko

    Who are these ‘Muslim leaders’? What are their names, what positions do they hold, how were they elected?

    Whenever you read a phrase like ‘community leaders’ or ‘faith group leaders’ you can be assured that it is journalistic hyperbole and that no such group of people exists.

  3. Stay Puft

    I think this entire country should just be made an islamic republic. Failure to do so would be islamophobic. Just forcibly convert everyone to islam any behead anyone who refuses as per the commandments of the holy prophet who married a 9 year old.

  4. Alex Ross

    It’s an interesting question. I work for a University (won’t disclose which one) and we’ve had a policy in place for a few years allowing people to have their exams re-timetabled for “religious reasons”. We have a substantial Muslim community but have only had something in the region of 10 applications over four years to resit based on religious reasons. About half of those were from Muslims and the other half from Orthodox Jews who were annoyed that we moved Law exams to a Saturday (Shabbat) – which was a bit of a cock up on our part as we have previously had an informal arrangement not to do so and that was quickly fixed.

    I get the feeling that the two groups that tend to get worked up about this stuff are (a) over bearing white liberal types who see themselves as the paternalistic guardians of minorities and (b) Daily Mail types who think that we are about to morph into Saudi Arabia imminently.

  5. Thanks Tank

    No, of course not.

    It is the parents beliefs that have their children starving themselves to appease a sky fairy.

    If their delusions about a 7th Century warlord who left earth on a flying horse are more important than their children’s future why should wider society have to endure a change to accommodate it.

    Changing the times will make it awkward for many multiples of the few it will appease.

  6. Mike Stallard

    I am a Catholic.
    If Muslims (or Catholics) want to live and work in this country then we have to abide by the rules. Personally I have to put up with a lot of things that I find seriously wrong (divorce for one). But – hey – I live here!


    Religious abstinence could be helpful for around a few years maybe more. However the nutters will emerge and go on their killing spree. The Papists thought they were dafties and along came Islamists the ultimate dafties. Jeremy Corbyn seems normal. Aye.


    Catholics and Muslims have their rules and are not compatible with the thinking person.

  9. Mike Stallard

    James allow me to quote a Rabbi to you:
    “If Neo-Darwinism is true and reproductive success a measure of inclusive fitness, then every Neo-Darwinian should abandon atheism immediately and become a religious believer, because no genes have spread more widely than those of Abraham, and no memes more extensively than those of monotheism. But then, as Emerson said, consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.”

  10. Sid

    The islamification of the UK continues…..

    What do the trendy feminists now say about organised islamic sexual abuse at railway stations in Germany and elsewhere?

  11. Comrade Darling

    I teach in a school with a 70% B&ME population, 85% of whom are Muslim. Muslim families have a range of responses to Ramadam and fasting as far as their children are concerned but the pupils in our school have parents who are largely pragmatic about the tradition. The simple fact is Muslims vary greatly in my school and around the world, much like Christians who range from Jehovah’s Witnesses or the lunatics who murder people going into family planning clinics to the hatch, match and dispatch type Christians. The point here is that those out on the far right characterise all Muslims as sword wielding murderers for political reasons when this is a long way from reality.

    I would further add that the parents I have spoken to go to great lengths to adapt to the society they live in if immigrants, though most were born in the uk. British Muslims I know in the main will be mortified that this debate has arisen on their behalf at all for they are well aware that it simply adds more grist to the right wing mill.

  12. Brien

    This is the apologist denials which are harmful to the community. Of course many of the Muslim families have a range of responses, but we are talking about the few who actually make enough noise to not just force the debate but to achieve the divisive goals.

  13. Vice Squad

    What about kids who’s religion it is not to do exams or partake in any kind of questioning in relation to assessing their iintellegence ?

  14. Comrade Darling

    If you wish to condemn an individual for something they say or for being what you consider divisive I have no problem with that, just don’t assume that all members of the community agree with the position or blame the entire community for what individuals say is all I ask.


    Religion is a personal believe based on something the believers cannot prove exists. The State should not subsidise in any shape or form religion. If the faithfull wish to worship then fine but do it in their own time in their home or whatever building they pay for.

  16. Aslam

    GCSE’s and A Levels are taken by 16 – 18 year olds (i.e. post-puberty individuals who are capable of getting married and joining the armed forces). The issue surrounding Lion Academy Trust, a primary school (i.e. pre-puberty children), has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue of exams and fasting. I would agree with the headteacher of Lion Academy Trust re primary school children fasting. I do not see the link between the primary school and the current news re exams. If young adults want to fast that is entirely their choice. The real question is whether exam boards should accommodate Ramadhan in the same way other events are accommodated. There are arguments both for and against (I, myself, am undecided on my views on this). This article does not discuss that issue at all.

    It seems the author of this article has decided to use this occasion to go on an entirely unrelated rant about fasting.

  17. Brien

    When part of the community ignores the facts on the ground and use your sort of excuses to NOT admit the problem, or don’t agree as you wish to put it, then your ignorance, or apathy puts ‘our’ community in peril. You don’t have that ‘right’!

  18. Mike Stallard

    As a Catholic I entirely agree!
    We should also be allowed, of course, to educate our young in our faith, just as you will be wishing to educate your young in your own faith too. We also, because of our faith, do a lot of “outreach” into the community specialising and concentrating on the less well off. Then, of course, we deserve – and get – state funding.

  19. Comrade Darling

    I have every right to decide what I believe imperils my community, just as you have.

    It is not ignorance or apathy to decide that an individual who proposes something such as moving exams for religious reasons poses a threat or if I agree with them or not. What I know is the whole group cannot be blamed for the actions of one of the group.

    Personally I am not worried by the proposal at all, or that it is being given consideration because, unlike you, I don’t feel threatened by multi culturalism and this requires consideration being given to all cultures in our society. Consideration in this instance will mean government, exam boards and heads will give their views and a decision will be made. But, I maintain, if an individual wishes to propose a policy consideration to maintain a religious tradition then let them, they have every right and those with the power have every right to grant or deny.

  20. JackieHolt

    In general, the principle should be that if the majority group isn’t penalised by doing so then there is no reason not to cater for the minority. However, then I read this –

    “…children upon whom there is no obligation to fast”

    – which seems to me the salient point. If there is no obligation for children to fast then they shouldn’t do so at any time, regardless of the exam timetable, because it’s detrimental to their education.

    We shouldn’t cater to these parents, it’s akin to those forcing their daughters to wear the veil well before the age it is normally demanded by the religion / culture. These people are playing a game of rights one-upmanship, moving the stake posts further with each concession. It is far better to ask the Muslim community to inform parents that their children shouldn’t be made to fast.

  21. JackieHolt

    Mike, unless you’ve been divorced yourself you’ve not “had to put up” with it. No-one is impinging on your beliefs and freedoms by allowing people to divorce. You’ll be pleased to learn that you won’t be expected to embark on a same-sex marriage either.

  22. jj

    Silly, children shouldn’t be forced or even allowed to fast, how is that in any way healthy while growing up?
    If it didn’t have religious reasons it would be called child abuse, in my eyes it already is…

  23. jj

    Mainly elderly ultra conservative men who have a twisted view of most things.

  24. jj

    Ramadan isn’t in any way healthy for developing children, it is basically child abuse and shouldn’t be inflicted on anyone. If it wasn’t religious, face it, it would be investigated by social services and the parents convicted of child neglect. Ramadan for children who can’t exactly make up their own minds on such matters, is an abomination, why you as a teacher support it is beyond me!

  25. Comrade Darling

    I said earlier, parents take a pragmatic view of fasting from what I have seen where I work. This is not support for the tradition, if fact I think all religion and consequent traditions following from it are archaic nonsense and were I to see distress caused in a child then I would make a child protection referral.
    What I take issue with is the attempt at political capital the extreme right are trying to make by replacing Jews with Muslims in the political scapegoating they use in their political methods. Atheist socialists like myself defended the Jews in the past and the Muslims today for the same reasons, politics not religion.
    As a point I think circumcision is barbaric but but this doesn’t mean Jews, Muslims and others shouldn’t be defended.

  26. jj

    Problem is when you start defending the indefensible.
    I have seen this in the extreme with reference to the Cologne attacks.
    People are actually defending the attackers, merely BECAUSE they are foreign, non white, Arabic, mainly if not all Muslim, this is just plain wrong.
    Why defend a single bloc of people regardless of the actions you see some, not all of course, but some do.
    We need to criticise such things, not doing so is a disservice to the victims.
    With regards to Ramadan, many parents will force children to fast, there seems to be no law in place stopping this, why Jewish people have anything to do with this, I will not know? Why mention Jewish people?
    Children don’t always show signs of abuse, you will not always know they are suffering from it. Fasting for a child, any child is simply ridiculous and unhealthy.

  27. jj

    Kids shouldn’t fast… period, it shouldn’t be the ill informed decision of a parent that results in a child going hungry and a little senile too (lack of food does that to people).

  28. Comrade Darling

    A group of people have to be defended from an attack aimed at the group when only a faction of the group are responsible for a crime or moral wrong. To blame an entire group for the actions of a minority is bigotry.

    The left have always been forced to defend groups to block the creation of scapegoats by the right, as I said, with Jews who have traditions such as circumcision that I disagree with the left still defended and continue to defend the group. This is politics and in a world of rising hate against Muslims which the right wing extremists are trying to exploit this is essential.

    What is more, there is no contradiction in defending a group and at the same time being critical of traditions of the group. To be concrete, I am against all religion for the way that the ills of society that are human made can be excused by the idea that it is gods will but that I also know that in politics the imperative is that Jews and Muslims are not made scapegoats for the ills of society, or for that matter Christians as they are in other societies.

  29. jj

    Its interesting though that it is in fact Christians who are the most persecuted faith group on earth, according to Pew Research.
    Too often the bigotry of the Muslim community is swept under the carpet and ignored, because its perceived as ‘bigotry’, and that fails victims.


    Seems children have no choice. Adults just cloning them in their own image. My three grown up children did not need religion to teach them right or wrong.

  31. Comrade Darling

    I am not sure if you are right there, but clearly I never swept it under the carpet as I raised the point. I will try never to ignore and always criticise what I feel deserves criticism. My fear is that in a growing mood of islamaphobia then every criticism will feed into the frenzy so ask yourself when making public comments how the criticism is couched.

    These are dangerous times and leading to the 6th February the right clearly hope to capitalise on the rising tide of anti Muslim sentiments on a European level, these are times when the question ‘which side are you on’ becomes more pronounced and stark.

  32. steroflex

    As I see it, society is not just a mass of individuals, but an organic whole. I am expected to agree that divorce is just a lifestyle choice. I am expected to smile at gay marriage. I am expected to teach the boys who are destroyed by their parents’ divorces. I am expected to agree. If I say anything, it is very unacceptable. I do not agree with your comment therefore. If you believe something – anything – outside the mainstream than you stand a very real risk of ostracism.

  33. steroflex

    Oddly enough, religion is not about right and wrong and judgement as much as hoping, trusting, risking. If you believe in a God who cares desperately about you and your fellow human beings and who is there to help and protect, then that is lovely and it makes you happy. It also binds you to the most unlikely people.
    Education is imposing – rather offering – your beliefs. At the moment in most state schools religion of all stripes is more or less banned. That is making a very bold assumption in my opinion.
    Let’s leave all the emotive language – cloning, in their own image, need shall we?

  34. Brien

    I repeat – you do not have that right!

    When this becomes a shooting war, then you will be considered a collaborator, and a traitor to your nation.
    I, too, have, up to this present cohort, defended and encouraged multi-culturalism.
    This group from the ME is opposed to multi-culturalism.
    You have deluded yourself so badly that you no longer can see the course of actual events, and the danger to our society.

  35. Comrade Darling

    Whatever mate. Fact is that in any civil war you and I are already opposite sides of the barricades, I’m out there with the lefties, where are you going to be?

  36. Brien

    With the liberals trying to save freedom and liberty, and the last remnants of our human rights, including women’s rights.
    I know of other disappointed commies like you!

  37. JackieHolt

    Society is an organic whole with a diverse set of beliefs. We can all agree that murder is bad, so there is a law against murder. We don’t all agree that divorce is wrong, so there is no law against divorce. No-one has fielded a convincing argument for gay marriage being detrimental to the whole, so gay marriage is now permitted.

    In such a society you still have the option of believing that divorce is wrong and living your life accordingly (and ditto with gay marriage). What you don’t have the right to do, is force others to live by your code.

    In secular societies, laws are based on reason: those with the strongest arguments win. If the argument against gay marriage is seen as much weaker than the argument for it, then gay marriage ought to be legal; we had that debate and gay marriage’s proponents won decisively. Ditto with divorce, ditto with abortion. You can’t just foist your beliefs on the rest of us, you need to convince us by with ration arguments (and that doesn’t mean pointing to a bit in the holy book).

  38. Mike Stallard

    Jackie you are making a lot of assumptions which I do not share.
    I see the bedrock of society as the monogamous family. I cite several thousand years of our history in support of this. I also see what you call “the Holy Book” in total agreement. I believe in the Holy Book and in the Church too.
    I am not forcing this on anyone. I do have the right to believe it though, just as you have the right to believe whatever you want to as well.
    Consider though that I may be right. Consider that perhaps gay marriage is not real marriage at all and that sodomy is actually a sin as well as being a severe health hazard. Consider that divorce is attacking the very bedrock of our society and that it is the children who really come to bits when it happens. I may be right. Just as you may be wrong.
    If you look in the “Holy Book” you will of course see that Jesus himself joined children and divorce together.
    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that a society which abandons its religion will soon cease to exist. I just point to the very low birth rates…

    I am in the minority. But so what? I have to live with it and shut up.

  39. JackieHolt

    Monogamous marriage is not the bedrock of society if we survey all societies in history and across the world. So what you’re really saying is: monogamous marriage has been an institution in British society ever since the Romans arrived; which makes it seem less like society’s bedrock, and more like an attribute of Roman and Judeo-Christian society. That’s not to say it isn’t important, but it seems a bit of a leap to claim it as the ‘bedrock’, because we lived in social groups before the arrival of the Romans, we lived in social groups after their departure and we continue to live in social groups today, long after Christianity has left the stage and has been confined to whispering prompts from the wings.

    You are of course free to believe whatever you like. The beauty of secular society is that many religions can co-exist together, provided they accept that in such a society laws must be derived from rational secular principles, rather than the edicts of any religion.

    In secular society statements like “sodomy is actually a sin” are pretty preposterous outside of religion. Society isn’t interested in enforcing one religion’s edicts on the whole population, what you’d need to do is provide evidence that sodomy is detrimental to society and thereby convince people with a rational argument.

    Ditto with divorce. We had the debate, no-one thinks divorce is a great wheeze, but on balance it was concluded as less harmful to society to allow divorce than to deny it.

    BTW, I have a potential solution for low birthrates: any woman who has paid NI for 10 years earns the right to become a salaried mother (a state employee), starting on the national average wage for the first child and rising by £10K for every additional child for up to 3 children. Low birthrates are the result of state policy, not godlessness.

  40. steroflex

    I have lived in West Africa and seen the results of African family life in my school.
    Divorce causes havoc among the children involved. Please take a look at Jeremy Kyle.
    If you play in a sewer, you get ill.
    Is that logical enough for you?
    All over European Western world, mothers and fathers are not producing enough children. This leaves the way open to people who do. They are not all nice Liberal Free Thinkers…
    PS Poland has just passed the law which you suggest – to the delight of the Catholics! And our policy on contraception and abortion are surely relevant to this conversation?

  41. chizwoz

    No, no public or state run event should ever be adjusted to fit in with ANYONE. You adjust to fit the state or you lose out on the advantages it gives you. Simple.

  42. areopagius

    Whether it’s popular or indeed right, to not make allowances would be to put many Muslim students at a disadvantage and to sacrifice so many students on a point of principle would seem more than a little vindictive.

  43. Keith M

    Well said Mike.

  44. Keith M

    Agree 100%

  45. TheLyniezian

    On the one hand, as an ex-Christian agnostic/borderline atheist I’d suggest that the practice of Ramadan and the keeping of the lunar calendar are rituals of a bygone era and another part of the world entirely. That a majority non-Muslim country should have to adjust its schedules so that kids can starve themselves (or be made to) does seem irrational. At the same time, I realise that religious beliefs are deeply-held and not the kind of thing people are easily willing to compromise on; it must be for each person or people-group to come to that realization for themselves. So, some accomodations do seem sensible. But what?

    I wonder what about, say, sex segregated seating in school assemblies or public meetings to accommodate conservative-minded Muslims? Most would be up in arms about it but it seems less burdensome to the system than rescheduling exams at least for a few people. If we think it reinforces sexism, unhealthy views of gender roles, whatever, sure, but to impose that on those who don’t share that iew seems totalitarian.

    Surely, as the author points out, the health and well-being of the child should come first, and in this respect I agree with the author’s views.

    There is the culture clash element and of course many non-Muslim Britons would feel that any such accomodations part of a creeping Islamicization of the country. Again, fair enough. But I’d sooner win the war with reason.

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