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Rutgers-Newark professor sends email to student requesting proof for celebrating religious holiday Eid

Upon request for an excused absence from class on Eid al-Adha, a major Muslim holiday, Rutgers University—Newark student Zoha, whose last name was omitted for confidentiality, was told by her professor that she needed to provide documentation from her religious leader as confirmation.

“I am sure that attending classes on a religious holiday is not prohibited in your religion," the professor's email read. "Please bring me a document form your religious leader confirming that you should not attend classes on a religious holiday and I will accept that confirmation as a valid excuse for your class absence.” 

The professor, who requested anonymity, told Zoha that by learning mathematics, she is worshipping God indirectly and the professor does not know any religion that prohibits learning on religious holidays since God wants “us” to succeed in life.

“The email in question was written as a personal email to a student, not aimed for a public discussion. At the time of writing, I was not fully aware of University policies according to which students should be excused from class absence if they wish to observe a religious holiday,” the professor said.

The professor emphasized that he strongly supports this principle. He said he does not think class attendance is the goal for higher education, and the true goal is to learn and to master the material covered in the course.

“What I tried to convey to the student in question was my concern that class attendance does correlate with academic success,” he said. “In my experience, students who miss many classes tend to earn lower grades on exams than students who attend classes regularly.”

The professor said he has already apologized to the student and assured her that her absence from class will have no consequences for her course grade.

Peter Englot, senior vice chancellor for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff to Chancellor Nancy Cantor at Rutgers University-Newark, said when authorities learned of the message through social media yesterday morning, Rutgers—Newark responded immediately.

The University sent a message to the Newark student community reflecting that the professor’s thoughts do not reflect University policy on religious observance.

The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences has spoken to the professor, who is issuing an apology, Englot said.

“We also immediately issued the statement below to all students, faculty and staff, partnering with the Muslim Student Association to remind our entire University community about what our policies are, posting it to our social media accounts, as well, to help assure broad distribution,” he said.

The email distributed to the Newark community said those at Rutgers University—Newark are proud of the extraordinary diversity in many dimensions and they strongly support students in the exercise of their religious practices and that not everyone was so lucky. 

In New York City, 2015 is the first year to observe Eid Al-Adha in schools. The district serves about 1.1 million students and was due to become the largest school system in the United States to shut down for the observance, according to International Business Times. Local Muslims welcomed the move as a symbolic gesture toward the community's acceptance.

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