When Religious Lunch Isn’t Reliable: Muslim Students on Eighth Period Frees

Eighth-period lunch, sometimes referred to as “Religious Lunch,” is critical for Muslim students to have a chance to pray during Dhuhr; however, many students who request this program change are not receiving the accommodations they need, pointing to larger underlying communication issues.

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At Stuyvesant, students are rarely satisfied with their schedules, causing them to opt for program changes. While most program change requests are related to course selections, some have a different goal: receiving eighth-period Religious Lunch. Islam has five prayer times each day, one of which is Dhuhr. Islam’s prayer times rely on the sun’s position, and Dhuhr is traditionally attended to after zenith (the sun’s highest point), until an object’s shadow is equal to its size. This means Dhuhr typically falls in the early afternoon, though its specific timeframe changes throughout the year. In some parts of the year, it lasts from 12 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; in the winter, however, the time frame is shorter and lasts from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Thus, it’s necessary for Muslim students to have eighth period free so they can complete their prayer without having to miss class. However, many of Stuyvesant’s Muslim students have reported that they are unable to obtain Religious Lunch in their schedules.

Sophomore Hifza Kaleem is one such student. “This year I don't have Religious Lunch [...] I don't think it was an option when I did course selections for sophomore year,” Kaleem said. While she can make up her prayers after school, not having the time available to pray during the school day negatively affects her. “Last year [when I had Religious Lunch] I could kind of take a break and go and pray. It helped me to connect with my religion and also brought some peace of mind at times,” Kaleem expressed. “It was especially beneficial during Ramadan because I wouldn't be eating lunch. [...] But now it’s like, I have to come home and I have other stuff to do, but I also have to make that up and I have to get my homework done. So now it just feels like there’s more to do when I come home and less of a break during the day.”

Senior Sadat Ahmed, the president of the Stuyvesant Muslim Students Association (MSA), is another student who doesn’t have Religious Lunch despite requesting it. “I’ve been applying for Religious Lunch since [freshman year], but I’ve never been accepted into it ever since my sophomore year. At first, it was like an elective that got in the way, but after that, it’s like just programming never worked out with it,” Ahmed expressed. Though he is able to make up some prayers like Kaleem, he has to miss out on others entirely. On Fridays, the congregational Jummah prayer replaces Dhuhr for Muslim men, and attendance is regarded as an important religious obligation. “[At Stuyvesant], the boys congregate on the first floor at the Hudson staircase [for Jummah],” Ahmed said. However, because the Jummah prayer is done in a group, it cannot be made up at a later time the way a regular Dhuhr prayer might. “There’s a lot of benefits to praying in congregation, and so I’m missing out on them,” Ahmed added.

Many Muslim students who are unable to get Religious Lunch try to find other ways to pray. Some ask their teachers for permission to step out of class. “I know someone who asks their teacher if they could just leave a little bit early on Fridays [for the Jummah prayer] and their teacher was cool with it so they were able to pray,” Ahmed said. 

However, not every teacher allows students to do this. “One of my senior friends [didn’t get Religious Lunch] […] so he asked his teacher if he could sometimes skip the beginning or end of eighth period to pray with us, especially during Fridays, because Fridays are the most important prayer, but his teacher said no,” senior and MSA treasurer Naowal Rahman said. Though it’s understandable that teachers don’t want their students to regularly miss class, this puts Muslim students in the difficult situation of being unable to fulfill some of their religious responsibilities. “[In the winter], my friend’s not going to be able to pray because the time [12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.] is over,” Rahman explained. “You can only make it up if there's a serious reason [...] So from a religious standpoint it's a pretty big problem when it's winter.”

Some students believe the program office should prioritize granting Muslim students Religious Lunch over their academic course loads. “The program office has the difficult job of trying to accommodate all of these students’ requests, but [...] it seems as if classes are being given top priority rather than Religious Lunch. [...] While I understand that in some cases, it’s impossible for a student to take their core classes, fulfill their requirements, and have Religious Lunch, I do think that more attention should be put towards that,” senior Dorothy Ha said.

Others think the issue is largely out of the program office’s power, given the complexity of balancing students’ graduation requirements and additional requests. Not all students requesting Religious Lunch are able to get it simply due to the sheer number of applicants, a problem that’s worsened by the small minority of students that request it for non-religious reasons. “I understand why they do this because in a school with so many students, it could be hard to confirm if every student who requests Religious Lunch actually needs it because I know that people sometimes like to get it so they can have lunch with their friends,” junior Tamiyyah Shafiq said.

Principal Seung Yu explained that another challenge is creating a relatively even distribution of students who have lunch each period from fourth to eighth. “We must spread students out to accommodate those who want to eat in the cafeteria and those who decide to leave the building for lunch,” Yu said in an e-mail interview. “I also think it’s important for students to understand that the school has limitations, considerations, and constraints—we have a very large and diverse school which makes it difficult to fulfill all the multiple and varied requests we receive.” 

Religious Lunch may reveal the larger underlying issues regarding communication between the program office and Muslim students. For example, despite the common belief among Stuyvesant students that Religious Lunch is requested via the “Rel lunch” option on Talos, it is not the official method that Stuyvesant’s administration recommends students use. “[DOE’s] Chancellor Regulation A-630 applies to all students who want to request an accommodation based on their respective religious observances and practices,” Yu stated. “A request for a religious accommodation [including Religious Lunch] should follow A-630, which includes a formal written request so the school can determine if the accommodation can be provided and adjustments can be made, where reasonable.” Yu added, “Additionally, I think it is also important to correct the use of the term, ‘Religious Lunch.’ I believe this has been the shorthand term that has been used previously and in the past at Stuyvesant. The term is inaccurate as there is no Religious Lunch—we have lunch and students are assigned a lunch period either in four, five, six, seven, or eight.” When asked, Yu said he was unaware that there is a Religious Lunch option on Talos.

Stuyvesant’s administration is working on clarifying any misconceptions and making the process of requesting Religious Lunch more transparent. “So far, it’s been student and counselor conversations,” Yu stated. “I’m anticipating including more information when we send out instructions for AP and Electives course preference selections. Because requests for accommodations are case-by-case, the communication is happening on an individual basis.” 

However, some Muslim students say none of their guidance counselors or members of the administration informed them of the official process for requesting Religious Lunch. “My guidance counselor never mentioned [that students should use the written form] to me,” Ahmed said. “I made a program change last year to get Religious Lunch, but then in autumn, it was like an automatic rejection from them. I didn’t understand why and I didn’t get an explanation when I asked.”

 Some Muslim students believe that the fundamental problem with obtaining religious accommodations is the poor communication between Muslim students and the administration, citing the removal of girls-only swim gym in the 2022-2023 school year as an example—many female Muslim students were unexpectedly placed in the difficult position of choosing between fulfilling Stuyvesant’s swim requirement and adhering to Islam's modesty guidelines. “I think [the major issue] is that they’re not communicating effectively with us. And they're not being so transparent about what’s going on,” Shafiq expressed. “Like, they didn’t tell us they weren’t going to offer all-girls swim gym anymore [...] I'm sure if they communicate effectively with us and we can actually talk about it, I think there should be a solution about what's going on,” Shafiq added.

Ultimately, while it is undoubtedly difficult for Stuyvesant’s program office to create schedules that cater to every student’s wants and needs, it is important to prioritize their ability to practice their religion without missing valuable class time. While there’s no easy solution for this, a good place to start would be to clearly update students about changes in Stuyvesant’s policy and to remind them to fill out the A-630 form for religious accommodations. “I would welcome more conversations with the hope we can all come to a better understanding of the different perspectives,” Yu said. “We can and will improve.”