"They Use It as an Excuse": Are Muslim Students Abusing the Policy?

Interviewing Faribault High School students, the issue of Muslim students possibly violating the prayer policy came up in three interviews, two with non-Muslim girls and the third with a group of Muslim girls. Veronica, for example, thought that there was too much religion in the school. Unasked, she went on to talk about Muslim prayer:

"I think it comes up a little too much, ’cause like some people use it as an excuse to be late to class, to get out of class… In one of my classes, like a lot of the students will get out of the class, and then they’ll come back in with an excuse, like “I had to pray” or “it’s a religion thing.” Which sometimes, it’s not really necessary. Cause some students can’t, which is like unfair. That they can just use an excuse."

Veronica is opposed to the prayer policy because she thinks some students abuse it, using it as an excuse to get out of class. It is likely that Veronica, a self-identifying non-believer, does not understand the centrality of prayer to Muslim students and that for some Muslim students it really is necessary to leave class to pray.

Muslim students are well aware that some FHS students do not understand why they leave class to pray and accuse Muslim students of using it as an excuse. After all, Muslim students do acknowledge that there are some students who do use prayer as an excuse to leave class, or who do pray but then do not return to class promptly. Explained Fadumo, “sometimes people like don’t, they make it as an excuse and that makes it a problem for those of us who are really praying.”

Fadmuo was not alone in this. When talking to six Muslim girls, the issue of prayer, and how some abuse the policy, soon came up. (The conversation can be seen below.) Noted Marujo, “they think like, we walk around and play around.” But she then acknowledged, “some students after they pray walk around and don’t go back to class.” She, along with Najmo and Sharho quickly noted that this then caused problems for the students who really are praying, as teachers begin to distrust the students and mix together those students who follow the rules and those who don’t. This is hardly surprising as in many issues where a few students break the rules, the entire group also gets punished. As Hibo said, “when one person does that, they think everybody walks around.”

When talking with these students, you could easily hear their frustration in getting blamed for the actions of others. Because some students do use the prayer policy as an excuse to leave class, teachers and students assume that all Muslim students are simply using their religious practice as an excuse to cut class.

Fadumo attributed at least part of the problem to issues of communication. Women, she noted, do not have to pray when they are menstruating.

And the girls, when you’re on your period you don’t have to pray… [But Muslim students] think that if you say ‘I’m not praying this week’ the teacher won’t ever let them [pray], so they just kinda hang out near the bathroom, which causes other problems for us. It’s difficult I guess.              —Fadumo

Out of fear of loosing their right to pray with a particular homeroom teacher when they do not pray one week, Muslim girls will ask to be excused to pray but then not pray. Few female students are comfortable talking about their menstrual cycle and its impact on prayer with teachers. However, the problem appears to be broader than just some female students not praying during one week. Many non-Muslims students dislike the prayer policy not just because some Muslim students violate it. To recall Veronica’s comment at the beginning, some students see the policy as “unfair,” privileging Muslim students over others in a supposedly non-religious, secular setting.

A Conversation
Hibo: They don’t let us to go pray. We’ve been having issues about that.

Najmo: Yeah, we even have issues praying in here.

Interviewer: What issues?

Hibo: Yeah, like we can’t go during classes.

Najmo: Yeah, only home time, I mean homeroom time.

Marujo: They think like, we walk around and play around. We don’t play.

Hibo: Even homeroom, some kids, like some students, they don’t let them go to pray, some students, yeah.

Asho: Some do, but some don’t.

Marujo: It’s true, some students after they pray they walk around and don’t go back to class

Najmo: The only thing that makes teachers unsure if you’re doing anything right, some students just get out for not praying…

Hibo: And then they be walking around the hallway, some do that.

Najmo: …and they mix the whole list, you know? Of like, I don’t trust you; they did this, you’re doing the same thing.

Saharo: So they’re going to mix all students, and they think…

Hibo: When one person does that, they think that everybody walks around, you know.