No Student Tests on Two Muslim Holidays

Elisabeth Hulette, Capital Gazette (Annanpolis), July 18, 2010

No tests will be scheduled in the county’s public schools on two Muslim holidays this year: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

Local Muslim leaders have been requesting the change for two years, arguing that students who practice Islam and are granted excused absences on those days shouldn’t have to miss exams.

School officials finally complied in the calendar for next year, acknowledging that it makes sense in light of the growing number of Muslim students.

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Other religions are also acknowledged in the school calendar, most notably through the Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, which annually are included in the winter and spring breaks. And about five years ago the schools began closing for two major Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, and Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

But no Muslim holidays have appeared on the school calendar–until now.

Eid al-Fitr (Sept. 10) is a celebration at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting, and Eid al-Adha (Nov. 17) is a day of sacrifice honoring the prophet Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son at God’s request. On both, Muslims pray and give to charity.

No tests will be scheduled on either holiday in the schools this year, and no sports games will be scheduled on the previous evenings, since–like the Jewish holidays–both begin at sundown, Tudor said.

The Anne Arundel County Muslim Council has been asking for two years that no tests be scheduled on the two days, said Rudwan Abu-Rumman, the council’s president. The group would have asked for the schools to close, but decided to temper their request to something more reasonable, he said.

One way or another, it’s important for those days to be considered by the district so that Muslim teachers and students feel welcome here, Abu-Rumman said. And it’s particularly important now, because schools here and elsewhere are trying to recruit Arabic language teachers.

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Statewide, the Maryland Muslim Council also has been pushing for schools to close on the two holidays, said Rizwan Siddiqi, a spokesman for the council, which estimates there are more than 350,000 Muslims in Maryland.

The state Board of Education has been receptive, he said, but the discussion keeps touching on a disagreement within the Muslim community.

The holidays are scheduled on the lunar calendar, and for 1,400 years Muslims looked to the sky to decide whether festivities would occur the next day, Siddiqi said. Now that scientists can predict lunar cycles, some more liberal Muslims would like to schedule the holidays in advance, which would allow them to be marked on school calendars. But more orthodox observers prefer to wait and follow the moon.

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A small fight also has been brewing in Baltimore County over the two Muslim holidays. According to Charles Herndon, a district spokesman, the schools have long refrained from scheduling tests on the two Eid festivals, but now a Muslim group is asking the schools to close completely.

District officials have been refusing on grounds that the state doesn’t allow days off for religious reasons. For Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana, on the other hand, they close for secular reasons: So many students and teachers were taking off on those days that instruction was disrupted.

No such disruption has been observed on the Muslim holidays, Herndon said.

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