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The Council on American-Islamic Relations is helping petition a Maryland school district to add a pair of Muslim holidays to its calendar of school closings.
An organization called Equality 4 Eid Coalition, which is sponsored by CAIR’s Maryland chapter, is seeking signatures to petition the Montgomery County Public School system, or MCPS, to close on the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The first holiday marks the end of the month of Ramadan, and the second marks the Hajj pilgrimage, the dates of which change every year because of the Islamic lunar calendar.
The MCPS includes over 200 elementary, middle, senior high and alternative schools, and already closes for some Christian and Jewish holidays.
“Montgomery County Public Schools close for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover,” the petition itself states. “However MCPS doesn’t close on the two annual Muslim holidays of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. It’s time to treat Muslim staff and students equal to those of other faiths by closing schools on these holidays.”
The organization lists six other school districts that it knows of, where schools close for the Eid holidays: Burlington, Vt.; Cambridge, Mass.; Dearborn, Mich.; Paterson, N.J.; Skokie, Ill.; and Trenton, N.J.
Dana Tofig, spokeswoman for MCPS, told the New York Daily News the district already makes allowances for Muslim students to observe their faith’s holidays.
“Teachers are encouraged not to give tests on days that many students will be absent,” Tofig told the newspaper. “Students can’t be penalized for observing religion.”
“Absence due to a religious holiday is considered excused,” Joshua Starr, superintendant of schools, explained in letter to the Montgomery County Council. “The Maryland State Department of Education testing calendar does list Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as days that state exams will not be administered. It is possible that quizzes or tests may occur on holidays when school is open; however, a process is in place for students to make up missed classwork and/or quizzes and tests.”
But merely making allowances is not sufficient, area Muslims claim.
“My Christian friends have Christmas off,” argues Anhar Karim, 17, an Equality 4 Eid co-chair and president of Montgomery County’s Muslim Student Association. “This is our holiday, but we have to leave school and miss exams to celebrate it.”
Mimi Hassanein, a resident of Brinkow, Md., who immigrated to America from Egypt 42 years ago, told the Daily News she’s worried her 15 grandchildren in the MCPS are losing their Muslim identities and wishes they didn’t have to choose between spending the holiday with family or doing make-up work at school.
“Of course it’s hard when they miss a class and have to make up an exam,” Hassanein said. “But it’s like asking them to go to school on Christmas.”