Muslims in Maryland petition schools to close on Eid, like on Christmas, Yom Kippur ETA: School district calendar
Schools are usually closed on Easter Monday and Rosh Hashanah—why not Eid al-Fitr?
That’s the question Mimi Hassanein, a resident of Brinkow, Md., asks herself every time the Eids fall on a school day. The two most important Islamic holidays —Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha —are traditionally spent praying and feasting with family and friends. But Hassanein says that every year, her grandchildren and other Muslim youth in her school district are forced to choose between their religion and their grades.
“Of course it’s hard when they miss a class and have to make up an exam,” the grandmother told the New York Daily News. “But it’s like asking them to go to school on Christmas.”
Hassanein says the debate is an old one in the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system. It echoes similar discussions brought up by Muslim activists across America. Public schools need a valid secular reason to institute a new holiday — otherwise, they would appear to be favoring a specific religion. But the fact remains that many American school districts have historically scheduled breaks around religious holidays. Following state mandates, MCPS closes for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover.
After immigrating to America from Egypt 42 years ago, Hassanein sent three children through the MCPS school system. She now has 15 grandchildren in the school and worries that they are losing their Muslim identities. The grandmother, along with several other Muslim activists in her state, has started an Equality 4 Eid campaign, hoping to add the two Eids to the list of holidays.
Six American school systems with significant Muslim populations do close down for Eid, according to Maryland’s branch of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MD). As Montgomery County’s Muslim population continues to grow, activists at CAIR-MD say the unequal treatment is getting difficult to hide.
The dates for Eid change every year in accordance with the Islamic calendar. Eid- al Fitr, a festival that breaks the month-long Ramadan fast, took place on Aug. 18 last year. Eid al-Adha celebrates the Hajj pilgrimage. In 2012, it fell on Oct. 25.
Saqib Ali, Equality 4 Eid’s co-chair, said he kept his first grade daughter home from school last October. The 38-year-old dad took her to a mosque service and let her spend the rest of the day playing with her younger sister, eating, and visiting friends — all important parts of celebrating the holiday.
But Ali wasn’t happy that she had to miss school. He sees a clear disparity between how his daughter is treated compared with her Christian and Jewish friends in the Montgomery County school district.
“People of other faiths don’t have to make that choice,” Ali told the New York Daily News.
MCPS decided to close school on Jewish high holy days more than 40 years ago. The district confirmed that there are no historical records explaining why or how that decision was made.
As president of Montgomery County’s Muslim Student Association, Karim says he knows several Muslim students who want to stay home and celebrate but go to school to maintain their grades.
“My Christian friends have Christmas off,” said Karim, an Equality 4 Eid co-chair. “This is our holiday, but we have to leave school and miss exams to celebrate it.”
Calendar decisions are made every November by an MCPS’s Board of Education. Last year, the eight-member committee declined to make changes to the calendar to accommodate the Eid holidays.
This year, Eid al-Adha falls on Tuesday, Oct. 15. The Equality 4 Eid team is asking supporters to sign an online petition. They’re also asking members of the community — both Muslim and non-Muslim — to have their students stay home on and celebrate Eid.
Ali says he’s loathe to have his first-grader miss a day of instruction. But he says this is a “civil rights issue,” one that deserves national attention.
“I think it’s hard to argue against treating people equally,” Ali said.