For many years now, Muslim families have been struggling with their children having to choose between schoolwork and their faith. Is it necessary for kids to play catch up for missing one day of school for Eid? It would be much simpler if it was a holiday they could enjoy with their families without having to worry about all the work and class lessons they are missing. Instead, they have to struggle with double the homework and awkward notes to teachers from their parents regarding their excused absence. Some students prefer not to miss school because of the workload that they would have to make up — making their holy day not as enjoyable or spent as it is supposed to be.
The Muslim community of Montgomery County in Maryland spoke out for the Muslims who have been facing this conflict for years. They asked the school district for the simple recognition of their holiday. Rather than using this opportunity to encourage unity and equality, the Board of Education for the Montgomery County instead chose to eliminate all named religious observances from their calendar. But, that’s not all: like previous years, Montgomery schools will still be closed for the Christian and Jewish holidays, but without the label of a “religious” day off.
Zainab Chaudry of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and co-chair of the Equality for Eid campaign, says that the board’s decision “shows they would go to any lengths, they would take drastic measures to deny the Muslim community the right to have the Eid holiday on the school calendar.”
“Muslims in Montgomery County have lobbied for school closures on Eid holidays for at least 10 years. The school district established guidelines a few years ago allowing Muslim students to take excused absences on Eid days, which are also considered non-testing days.”
However, a sophomore student by the name of Hannah Shraim attested to the fact that in the eighth grade, her teacher scheduled a math test on Eid. This was despite guidelines by the board that stated that no tests can be scheduled on religious holidays. Due to this negligence, she had to skip the Islamic holy day in order to attend school for her test. Students are unable to miss school, which invalidates the proposal.
The board members stated that most school closures are due to the number of absences on a particular day and are not derived from religious celebrations. From this they continued to argue that in the past, the Muslim holiday did not conclude in a high number of absentees. Last year, families were encouraged by Muslim leaders to keep their children home from school for Eid al-Adha celebrations. According to the Washington Post, only 5.6 percent of students and 5 percent of teachers were absent. This did not make a significant difference than any other day.
“There are at least 12,000 Muslims living in Montgomery County, and local Muslims say that eight mosques and anecdotal evidence suggest their numbers have indeed grown significantly in recent years.”
As the Muslim population and family size grows, so will the number of students in the school system leading a higher rate of absence on Eid. Cities around the country are closed on Eid due to the rising Muslim population, including Dearborn, MI. Using last year’s polls to state that there was no significant drop in absence is inaccurate due to the fact that many Muslim students choose not to miss school on Eid day. And, all this begs the question: is that really what’s important when it comes to acknowledging a religious community?
Most would agree that it is exceedingly important for students to be aware of the varied forms of religion that exist in this world. Instead of incorporating something into the school system that would expand their knowledge, schools are choosing to ignore it all together. This could have a negative effect on Muslim youth who may slowly learn to lose their identity as Muslims. Of course, there is always the load of make-up work that results from missing school on Eid, but, most importantly, parents are worried that their children are more likely to lose their sense of identity and belonging when they aren’t able to celebrate these holidays. After all, Muslims only have two holidays in a year. If these religious traditions are lost at a younger age, then they will not be continued and valued as the child gets older. As a result, the Muslim youth may not be able to connect with their religion and understand the meaning and beauty behind it. Instead, Islam will be viewed as a faith that does not incorporate celebration because we were not given the opportunity to do so.
The school board chose to remove the names of all religious holidays rather than support another religion’s holiday, which shouldn’t be an issue in our nation of religious freedom — especially not in 2014. Fox News divisively covered this as “dumping Christmas to appease Muslims.” The Muslim community leaders, however, were surprised at the response and clearly indicated that they did not want to alienate all holidays but rather make things equal. They just want Muslim students to have their holiday recognized, just as other holidays in the Christian and Jewish faith have been recognized for the past several decades. Saqib Ali, a former Maryland state delegate and co-chair of the Equality for Eid campaign said,“They’ve cherry-picked a handful of religious holidays for favored communities and used a secular excuse to grant only those days”. He also says,
“By stripping the names Christmas, Easter, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, they have alienated other communities now, and we are no closer to equality.”
Muslim communities around America will continue to press for equality within schools in hopes that it will have a positive outcome rather than a ignorant one.