The Belfast Islamic Centre says it will lobby for accommodation of Muslim children by exam boards on account of them fasting during their month of Ramadan.
The news comes after it was confirmed that some key GCSE and A-level exams in England and Wales may be moved to the start of the exams season – or be held earlier in the day of the exam – before Ramadan begins in early June.
Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting during daylight hours. It has been gradually moving into the summer exams season in England, which runs from the end of May and throughout most of June, over the last few years. This year it covers most of the exams period.
The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment said there would be no changes in Northern Ireland this year as the timetable is finalised, but that consultation would begin next month for the 2017 timetable.
It is not always possible to meet each and every request but boards aim to be as fair as possible, a spokesman said.
Anwar Mady, spokesman for Belfast Islamic Centre, told the News Letter the proposed changes would be “a good step” for Muslim students.
“We believe it is a very good step forward to allow the Muslim community to have the feeling of belonging and that they are not being marginalised,” he said.
Some people may say it is special treatment for one community, he said, but he did not believe it would affect anyone else if they can hold exams earlier on the day of the exam when Muslims are suffering less from hunger, he said.
Asked if the Belfast Islamic Centre would lobby for the Great Britain measures to be introduced in Northern Ireland, he replied: “This will happen.”
His preference would be to move at least some key exams earlier in the year or at least to hold them earlier on the day.
When children reach physical puberty they may begin the full month of daylight fasting, but it is considered “an offence” to try and impose it on them, he said.
Younger children may engage in fasting of only a few days, he said.
DUP MP and former teacher Sammy Wilson said: “If there is a genuine need and if it can be facilitated then of course it should be done.”
But the measures should not simply be introduced into Northern Ireland for reasons of “political correctness”.
Pupils, parents and schools in Northern Ireland may not be happy with holding exams earlier in the year as it would leave less time for exam revision, he said.
It is entirely up to parents if children are to fast, he said.
“But personally I must say, parents would be daft to send pupils to an exam on an empty stomach.”
TUV South Down Assembly candidate Henry Reilly said: “I was dismayed to learn that exam timetables are to be moved to accommodate Ramadan.”
He added: “Christians in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to even worship in public and have to confine their faith to their homes. Indeed, the conversion of a Muslim to Christianity is punishable by death unless they recant.
“Yet in the UK we are expecting the overwhelmingly non-Muslim majority to accommodate a small minority.
“No one is suggesting that Muslims should not be allowed to practise their religion in the UK – even though practising Christianity in a Muslim country is often impossible at least in public. However, I do object to Ramadan being imposed on our schools in this fashion.”