Keep your children home on Eid, October 15, 2013 is the message activists in Montgomery County are giving everyone, regardless of the faith they practice. They are asking for support from their neighbors and co-workers.
With assistance from the Maryland chapter of CAIR, long time residents of MoCo have called for this initiative. Samira Hussein, a school district staff member and a mother of four Montgomery County Public School graduates, is the co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition (E4E). She is asking supporters to sign a petition to request Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Board of Education to close schools on Eid holidays; a struggle that is a decade old.
“There has been a deliberate accommodation for other faiths and we would like to see the same for ours.” She has watched her children suffer and be penalized for being absent and doesn’t want the same for her grandchildren. “We are tired of excused absences, of making up tests and homework, forced to choose between our faith & studies,” she appeals.
Hussein thinks that this is a teachable opportunity for all the county’s children to learn about their Muslim neighbors and classmates.
“We are not seeking special rights; we are only asking for equal rights,” says Zainab Chaudry, vice-president of CAIR-MD.
Around 50 people rallied on September 23, 2013 in front of the County Offices, including Councilman George Leventhal (D-at-large). This effort would change the school calendar to accomodate the Eid holidays. “In Montgomery County, Maryland Muslims are welcome and safe,” he spoke to cameras and the crowd.
Councilman Leventhal, who is Jewish, will be keeping his son at home on Eid al-Adha in support.
He acknowledges that academic achievement is paramount for his Muslim constituents of ‘deep faith’, who face a conflict every Eid Day, that Christians and Jews don’t face on their holydays. “I am a person of faith, but if school was in session on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, it would be a conflict, because I don’t want my children to miss important lectures by their teachers and I don’t want [their] attendance record to suffer, but that’s not a conflict for my family because [many years ago] the school system decided to close on Easter, on Christmas and on Rosh Hashanah,” he declares to a cheering crowd.
Despite anti-Muslim bloggers scare tactics, there has been a strong response from local faith-based groups. Pax Christi of the Catholic faith, Jews United for Justice, Christ The Servant Lutheran Church (Montgomery Village), Greater Olney Interfaith Ministerium have also expressed solidarity and members will not be sending their children to school on Eid- al Adha. Equality For Eid: Stay home from school day in MCPS- reads the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition ticker on their website.
The Board of Education has stated that school close on Jewish holidays because of a high amount of absenteeism. According to Leventhal, the school system cannot document that absenteeism was used to determine school closure for Jewish holidays. He thinks it will be very simple for the schools system to implement the change on the calendar and doesn’t think it will impede learning.
Mimi Hassanein, one of E4E co-chairs, has 13 grandchildren in the school district and worries that they are losing their Muslim identities. “I don’t want my grandchildren to go through what my children went through. MoCo is the best county to live in, let’s move forward and get this done,” she announces. Her granddaughter, Khalila Ibrahim, shy on the podium has shared that she doesn’t want to miss a day of school; she wants to celebrate without guilt.
‘American Muslims deserve equal rights’ stated neon signs held up by school children to oncoming traffic in front of the Rockville City Hall as the evening news channels and local newspaper reporters swarmed around the speakers to get some choice soundbites.
Joshua Starr, the superintendent of schools of the MCPS has noted in in a letter to the Montgomery County Council that currently the “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 class work and/or quizzes and tests. Absence due to a religious holiday is considered excused.”
Anhar Karim, a senior at Northwest High School in Germantown and co-chair of the E4E, says that having a Math Unit test scheduled on his holiday and homework assigned from seven classes that is due the next day is a reality that he and many other students face. “I am put behind in class, because I chose to celebrate my holiday,” he says.
“I don’t want to fall behind,” asserts Noah Khan, an eighth grader at a magnet school. His parents want him to stay at home for Eid but one day could cost him in his highly competitive school.
There are Muslim families who do not agree with the date for Eid being set ahead of time. Those who follow the local moonsighting method of determining the new month will be celebrating Eid on October 16th. Chaudry says that even if families do not celebrate Eid that day they should still keep their children home in support of this initiative. “This issue is about the recognition of our faith in the school calendar,” she says.
Other counties in Maryland are rooting for the Equality for Eid initiative in MoCo. Talib, a father of kindergartener in Prince George’s County, shared that his daughter didn’t get a perfect attendance award as she missed one day of school which was Eid day. “We are watching this closely,” says Jameel Johnson, President of the Prince George’s County Muslim Council.
“This is an important issue as Islam is the fastest growing religion in this country, and there will be more Muslims in public school; if we can be proactive, hopefully positive results will come with it,” says Najwa Kareem, of Gaithersburg, MD, who was attending the rally, “when I was in school I had this dilemma as a conscientious student.” Some years she didn’t miss school and felt guilt for not attending Eid prayers.
About ten percentage of Montgomery County is Muslim, according to some estimates. These estimates are based on the the number of masajid and attendance at Eid Salah across the county.
Wrapping up the rally, Zafar Mirza of the Muslim Community Center and co-chair of E4E, urges everyone to skip school on October 15 to join in celebrating diversity in Montgomery County.