‘RIP the Republic’: Row over postponing French Muslim students’ exams for religious holiday

© Lionel Bonaventure
Ile-de-France region’s decision to allow those celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr to postpone graduation exams has sparked controversy. Critics of the move say France is ignoring the principles of secularism.

The measure was proposed by Maison des Examens (the House of Examination), which manages high-school graduation exams (the Baccalaureat) in the Ile-de-France region.

This year one of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated on July 6. This coincides with the bac exams in France.

On June 30, a directive was sent to head teachers of high schools in Paris, Versailles and Créteil to change the exam schedule for Muslim students if they request it.

Muslim students who opt to celebrate the holiday may skip the exam on Wednesday and request to take it on Thursday or Friday instead, Vincent Goudet, director of the House of Examinations in Ile-de-France, confirmed to AFP on Monday.

The move was immediately slammed by many French officials who say non-Muslim students are being discriminated against. They added that such a precedent would create problems in the French education system.

According to Philippe Tournier, the general secretary of the National Union of management staff of Education (SNPDEN), the idea is “inconceivable.”

“This kind of decision can create a … mess, especially since it contains a lot unsaid things,” he said, as cited by Le Figaro newspaper. “And if all the students say ‘yes’ [to postponing the bac exams because of the holiday], because they prefer to have one more day to review, what will we do?"

Nicolas Cadène, general rapporteur of the Observatory of secularism, told BFMTV that “there is no need for the House of Examination to propose any adaptation, which distinguishes students according to their religious practices.”

A member of the National Assembly of France, Eric Ciotti, wrote an open letter to the national Assembly, calling on Education Minister Najat Belkacem and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to explain the decision. He said it was “unacceptable.” 

Social media also blasted the move, saying that postponing exams for Muslims because of religious holidays was the end of the French republic as a secular entity.

“Of course, all France knows whether or not they have their bac and then you have Ile-de-France who has to wait,” one Twitter user wrote, while another user sarcastically added: “It's a great secular Republic.”

“So Muslim pupils got their bac tests postponed until the end of Ramadan. RIP the Republic,” another user wrote.

Eid al-Fitr, or ‘festival of breaking of the fast’, is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins when a new moon is sighted in the sky. After morning celebrations, worshipers return home and continue the festivities with their families, neighbors and friends.