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. Muslim students are granted excused absences to celebrate their holidays, but Muslim leaders argue that students should not be forced to choose between religion and instruction.
Past decisions to close school for Jewish and Christian holidays have been based on state law or student and staff absenteeism, not to honor a particular religion or ethnic or cultural group, Montgomery officials have said. Absences on the Muslim holidays have not been excessive, according to Montgomery officials.
Ali, a former state lawmaker who is co-chair of the Equality for Eid Coalition, said the district has not yet defined what level of absenteeism would be needed for granting a school closing on a Muslim holiday.
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.
“It must be clear to any community: Here’s the number,” he said after the meeting, referring to the level of absenteeism necessary to declare a holiday a day off from school. “I think that’s the only way you’re going to be fair and clear to everyone.”
Montgomery schools spokesman Dana Tofig said Thursday the draft calendar document was an informational item given to board members, not a proposed calendar format. The issue is expected to come before the board in November.