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Religious Tolerance logo


Accomodating Muslims

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When most North Americans think of prayer in the public school system, they usually consider:


Brief morning exercises involving the entire class, or perhaps invocations given at a School Board meeting.


Prayer in student-organized and led religious clubs whose right to exist is guaranteed in most public schools by the Equal Access law.

That may be true for Christians and followers of many other religions. Their religion allows them to pray at random times during the school day and through the week. But Muslims represent a special case. They are expected to pray at specific times each day. 

Muslim prayers are one of the duties described in the Five Pillars of Islam. The second pillar is the performance of the salat (prayer) five times a day, whenever possible. This is recited while orienting one's body towards Mecca. 1 It is done in the morning, at noon, mid-afternoon, after sunset and just before sleeping. The noon-hour prayer may happen during lunch hour. More often, it will conflict with classroom time. The timing of afternoon prayer varies by many hours during the year, and might also interfere with classes. 2 Industries, offices, commercial establishments, etc. present similar problems. Some have attempted to accommodate the religious practices of their Muslim employees by dedicating a space in their building for prayers. 3,4

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Conflicts over accommodating Muslim students -- 2000-AUG to now:

bullet 2000-AUG: CA: Anaheim, CA: A father complained that he was denied a request that his son be allowed to leave school after the fourth period each Friday for prayer in the mosque. 5
bullet 2000-OCT: VA: Fairfax County Public Schools: Students in Falls Church, VA, had been allowed to leave classes to hold Friday Prayer in their school during the 1999-2000 academic year. The principal terminated this arrangement, on the basis that the students leaving class was too disruptive. 5
bullet 2000-NOV: NJ: Absegami High School: A student's mother asked that her son be permitted to leave wrestling class and pray in an empty school room. Her request was denied. 5
bullet 2000-NOV: TX: Kerr High School, Houston: The principal threatened to suspend 30 students if they prayed during lunch hour. She suggested that they pray either before or after school hours. 5
bullet 2000-DEC: OH: Franklin Heights High School, Columbus: Four students were allegedly denied permission to pray during school hours. 5
bullet 2001-FEB: AZ: Tucson High School, Tucson: Seven students were allegedly refused permission to take a ten-minute break from class to accommodate their noon prayer. 5
bullet 2001-DEC: Canada: Ryerson University, Toronto ON :  Some Muslim students are frustrated at having to use halls, student lounges, or a tiny Multifaith Center to pray. They have enlisted the support of Hakeem Olajuwon - a devout Muslim and a 7-foot tall basketball star who plays center for the Toronto Raptors. He wrote a letter to the university administrators, asking them to provide students with a larger prayer room. Administrators have said it's not Ryerson's responsibility to provide a bigger space. 6
bullet 2001-NOV: NY: New York City public schools: Chancellor Harold Levy stated that the city would facilitate prayers for Muslim students during the lunar month of Ramadan -- an Islamic holy time of fasting and spiritual activities. Students would be allowed to leave classes briefly to pray. Prayer rooms would be established where they could worship. Response was varied:
bullet Some have objected to the linkage of religion and public schooling; they regard Levy's decision to be a violation of the principle of separation of church and state.
bullet Others object to special privileges for one faith, and the exclusion of all others. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League "commended Chancellor Levy for his decision to endorse the rights of Muslim students.  However, he told Levy that 'in the spirit of inclusiveness,' it was only fitting that public schools extend that same respect for religious tradition to every child."
bullet Others point out that Islam is the only popular faith in the city which needs to be accommodated in this way. Islamic prayers are expected to be said at specific times during the day. Christians and others can organize Bible Clubs and similar groups which can hold prayer sessions outside of classroom hours.

After a flood of complaints, Chancellor Levy decided to abandon his plan. His office issued a news release saying, in part: "Students of all...faiths can always pray but it cannot disrupt class and it cannot be offered in the form of a special prayer room." 7,8

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet Separation of church and state issues

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  1. Dr. Monzur Ahmed publishes QiblaCalc, a Windows program that calculates the Qibla direction -- the direction of the Kabbah -- from any location on earth, as determined by a compass. See:
  2. Al-Islam web site has a prayer time calculator at:
  3. "Siemens USA Accomodates Workplace Prayer in MN: Technology firm dedicates room for employees to worship," Council on American-Islamic Relations. at:
  4. "An Employer's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," Council on American-Islamic Relations, 453 New Jersey Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003-4034. Telephone 202.488.8787; Fax. 202.488.0833. They have a web site at:
  5. "The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States -- 2001," Council on American-Islamic Relations, at:  You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from:
  6. Stephanie Cesca, "Basketball Star Backs Bid for Student Prayer Room: Raptor Hakeem Olajuwon sends letter to Ryerson," The Toronto Star, Toronto, ON, 2001-DEC-7
  7. "Culture Facts: NYC Pays 'Lip Service' to School Prayer," Family Research Council, 2001-DEC-7, News release.
  8. From private Emails received.

Copyright © 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-8
Latest update: 2001-DEC-9
Author: B.A. Robinson

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