In a landmark judgment for the country, Uganda's Constitutional Court has ordered the government to refrain from having students sit for national exams on gazetted Muslim holidays like Idd-ul-Fitr and Idd al-Adhuha.
In a unanimous decision issued on Tuesday, five justices of the court held that government, through the Uganda National Examinations Board (Uneb), has been infringing on rights of Muslim students by doing so.
“I would issue a permanent injunction to order the first respondent (Uneb) to refrain from conducting examinations on any day coinciding with any of the relevant Muslim religious holidays to which Idd-ul-Fitr and Idd al-Adhuha,” ruled Justice Elizabeth Musoke, who wrote the lead judgment.
“The practice of the first respondent...is inconsistent with the right to freedom of religion of Muslim students, in particular the right to manifest their practice of religion through observance of religious holidays guaranteed under the Constitution,” he added.
Justice Musoke ruled that going forward, exams should be postponed should they fall on such days.
Justice Muzamiru Kibeedi, one of the other four justices, said the two religious days are designated in the Public Holidays Act to be observed and kept as public holidays, and that there is no lawful justification for not honouring them. The other justices were Fredrick Egonda Ntende, Irene Mulyagonja and Cheborion Barishaki.
The case arose when two Muslim students, Sadiki Kakaire and Suleiman Isotah Magumba, sued Uneb and its then chairperson, Mr Fagil Mandy, for forcing Muslim students to sit exams on Idd-ul-Fitr and Idd al-Adhuha. They argued that this was inconsistent with several provisions of the Constitution such as 7, 20, 21 (1), (2),( 3), 24, 29, 37, 43 and 44.
Mr Mandy was accused of declaring that national exams would be conducted on Idd al-Adhuha back in 2013.
The ruling comes in time for the Ugandan Muslim community as it marks Idd-ul-Fitr.
The judges, however, declined to award the petitioners any damages on account that they did not adduce evidence to show that they suffered any unique inconvenience due to the actions of Uneb.