Muslim leaders ask for equal billing with Jewish holiday on Montgomery calendar

Muslim community leaders in Montgomery County this week asked that the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha be given equal billing as the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur on Montgomery’s 2015-2016 school calendar.

They described the issue as symbolic but important.

In 2015, both holidays will fall on Wednesday, Sept. 23, but a calendar draft does not give them the same weight. Yom Kippur — for which county schools will be closed — is listed beside the date. The Muslim holiday is included in a parenthetical notation: Eid al-Adha also falls on this date.

Muslim leader Saqib Ali asked at a school board meeting this week that the calendar be changed to say: Yom Kippur/Eid al-Adha.

“We need to see equal treatment,” Ali told the board. “Here is a case where, on a piece of paper — this is strictly a symbolic issue — but on this day when schools are closed, even on this day, the Jewish holidays are given sort of precedence or elevated.”

The calendar question comes after Muslim leaders have repeatedly asked that at least one of the two major Muslim holidays be recognized with a day off school in Montgomery.

This week’s calendar request, signed by six other leaders of the Eid coalition, “is a very, very minimal request,” Ali said. He said the convergence of the two holidays is a “happy coincidence” for Muslim families, but more is needed.

“If MCPS can’t list the holidays equally, if they won’t even grant that, then I think people are going to start asking questions about MCPS’s general attitude toward the Muslim community,” he said.

Board Member Christopher Barclay asked district staff to look into the request. He also said he believes a standard is needed for school closings.

Muslim families push Montgomery County for school holiday to mark Eid al-Adha

October 14, 2013

 

Muslim families in Montgomery County are pushing to make the Islamic holy day Eid al-Adha a full-fledged school holiday.

Muslim leaders have started a petition in recent weeks and have won support from some elected leaders and religious groups. Montgomery County has a growing Islamic population, though there are no county or census figures on the Muslim community.

This year, the Eid al-Adha holiday falls on Tuesday. Some families plan to keep their children home from school, even though they will miss classes and sporting events. But they point out that school is closed for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and for the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“It’s like we don’t feel equal to other people who get their holidays off,” said Hannah Sharim, 14, who is a sophomore at Northwest High School in Germantown.

Former state legislator and co-chair of the new Equality for Eid Coalition Saqib Ali said this is a civil rights issue.

School officials said they give excused absences to students who are absent for religious holidays but that they can’t legally close schools for religious reasons. They said granting a day off requires a secular reason, such as minimizing the impact on instruction because of high absenteeism rates on a holiday.

The school board asked staff to examine attendance on Muslim holidays last year, but the numbers showed little impact on attendance.

In the 1970s, Montgomery schools began giving students the day off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

“Our understanding is that decision was made for operational reasons,” schools spokeswoman Dana Tofig said.

Muslim leaders object to the county’s focus on absenteeism to justify an official day off. Some families have often sent their children to school on the religious holiday so that they wouldn’t miss instructional time. But leaders said Christian and Jewish holidays haven’t been under the same scrutiny.

“We think it’s not right when there are different standards for different people,” Ali said.

 

The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/muslim-families-push-montgomery-county-for-school-holiday-to-mark-eid-al-adha/2013/10/14/82d971cc-34d8-11e3-89db-8002ba99b894_story.html

Montgomery’s decisions on school holidays

MUSLIM LEADERS in Montgomery County stress that, in petitioning school officials to set aside an Islamic holy day as an official day off, they are not advocating for any of the currently recognized holidays to lose their designations. The unwillingness to broach that possibility is understandable, given the sensibilities and traditions attached to these holidays. But the issues of fairness and equity raised in the county’s debate over when schools should close require renewed scrutiny of a calendar that may no longer be relevant given changing demographics.

The Montgomery County Board of Education decided Tuesday not to add Eid al-Adha to the lineup of days off in the 2013-14 school year. “All we’re asking for is equality under the law,” said Mudusar Raza, president of the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations as he ticked off the litany of Christian and Jewish holidays on which schools close.

It’s hard not to be sympathetic to the struggle of Muslim students and their parents in balancing school and religious obligations; students who miss school for religious holidays are excused, but many say they feel they can’t miss class for fear of falling behind. Yet it’s also hard not to see the problems that would result if Montgomery were to further balkanize its calendar to accommodate even more religious holidays.

Montgomery officials say they close schools not to recognize a particular faith (that would be unconstitutional) but for valid secular reasons. The Jewish holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah are days off because officials say there would be high rates of absenteeism for both students and teachers. Good Friday and Easter Monday are days off because of an anachronism in Maryland law that gives local officials no choice in the matter.

Montgomery County school leaders to discuss closing for Muslim holidays

When Montgomery County Council member George L. Leventhal sent a letter to school leaders late last month asking for schools to be closed on two Muslim holidays, he cited the county’s significant Muslim population and religious fairness.

But school systems in the state cannot declare days off — in this case, Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr — solely because they are religious holidays, no matter population demographics, said Rochelle Eisenberg, of Towson-based Pessin Katz Law P.A., a lawyer who specializes in education and employment law.

Leventhal (D-At Large) asked Superintendent of Schools Joshua P. Starr and Board of Education President Shirley Brandman in his letter to consider fairness, respect and inclusion.

Dana Tofig, a schools spokesman, said the board would consider Leventhal’s request.

County schools are closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Christmas Eve and Christmas, Good Friday, the day after Easter and other nonreligious holidays.

State law requires the Christian holiday closures. The county school system requires the Jewish high holy day closures.

No school systems in the Washington area take days off for Muslim holidays, but some school systems across the country have decided to, such as in Cambridge, Mass., Burlington, Vt., Dearborn, Mich., and Trenton, N.J.

Maryland court rejects Islamic divorce

After the wife of a Pakistani man filed for divorce in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Irfan Aleem responded to the move in writing in 2003 – and not just in the courtroom. Aleem went to the Pakistani Embassy in the nation’s capital, where he asserted that he was divorcing his wife, Farah Aleem. Irfan performed talaq – an exercise of Islamic religious and Pakistani secular law that allows husbands to divorce their wives by declaring I divorce thee three times. However, this month, Maryland’s highest court has stated that talaq can’t be used in the state. The state Court of Appeals issued a unanimous 21-page opinion declaring that talaq is contrary to Maryland’s provision giving women and men equal rights. In Islamic tradition, talaq can only be invoked by the husband, unless he grants the same right to his wife. Irfan Aleem, who worked for the World Bank and is worth an estimated $2 million, may have to give Farah Aleem half of this under Maryland law. Farah has stated that over the years, the lack of financial support from her husband has been a hardship for her and her daughter, currently a college student.