Textbook definition of discrimination

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On June 4, the Muslim community in the United States celebrated Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim festival marking the end of the fast of Ramadan.

If your children go to a public school or a Jewish day school, you might not have been aware of this important Muslim holiday. That’s because public schools were open and students came to school, just like any other regular school day. But for Muslim students, it wasn’t business as usual. They were forced to make a choice: Stay home and celebrate with their families or attend school and miss the Eid celebration.


I believe that’s an unfair choice. Rather, I propose that all Montgomery County schools be closed for this holiday.

You may wonder: why would a proud Jewish girl request to have a Muslim holiday as a day off?

https://www.washingtonjewishweek.com/enewsletter/

As a Jewish student in a public high school, I have experienced what it’s like to be a member of a religious minority who needs to attend school on many sacred days. While it is unreasonable to close schools for every Jewish holiday, Jewish students are given the privilege of having a day off for Rosh Hashanah and for Yom Kippur.

Needless to say, Christians have Christmas Day and Easter off.


Why aren’t Muslim students given this same privilege?

I attend Northwood High School, where a number of my Muslim friends had to attend school and take exams during Ramadan. I know that one of my friends, Kadijah, loves to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and was torn between celebrating with her family and coming to school. Is it fair that she should have to face this
dilemma?

It’s true that Muslim students can take their holiday off and report it as an excused absence for religious reasons.

However, it’s not fair that Muslim students are expected to do this for every holiday while for Jews and Christians, schools are closed for two of their holidays. When only Muslim students need to miss classes and take make-up exams for all their holidays — that’s a textbook definition of discrimination.

The First Amendment’s freedom of religion clause protects all citizens from religious discrimination. Granting two religious holidays to Jews and Christians while neglecting to do the same for Muslims can be seen as a form of religious discrimination.

In a study by personal finance website WalletHub, four Maryland cities — Gaithersburg, Germantown,
Silver Spring and Rockville — were ranked in the top 10 most ethnically diverse cities in the country. It is
inspiring that Montgomery County can boast of its diversity. Yet I find it difficult to boast of diversity when we neglect to recognize and respect the Muslim faith. Our county should live up to its culturally diverse name by recognizing and respecting citizens of different faiths. Designating Eid Al-Fitr as a
county-wide day off would enhance interfaith relations between Jews, Christians and Muslims, and foster
tolerance and mutual respect.

It is not a zero-sum game: Recognizing other faiths’ holidays does not diminish in any way our own holidays. Rather, it makes us a better and more pluralistic society, and teaches an important educational lesson to the county’s youth (and their parents) about equality and inclusion. n

Abigail Leibowitz is a sophomore at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, and a student activist and synagogue youth leader.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Abigail, thank you for your great article!

    I’m an American Muslim who lives in Montgomery County. I have worked on this issue for years. You may be unaware, but a couple of years ago, MCPS promised to close the school for all students on Eid by scheduling a teacher’s “professional day” on those holidays: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/muslim-community-wins-day-off-of-school-on-major-holiday-next-year/2015/11/10/cd615d46-87d2-11e5-be8b-1ae2e4f50f76_story.html

    This year, June 4th — the date of Eid-al-Fitr — was scheduled to be just such a professional day. However, due to excessive snow days this past winter, MCPS needed an extra day and converted this professional day to a normal school day.

  2. When the Muslim community becomes substantial in numbers as the Christian and Jewish communities are now, I agree that it would only be fair to declare their holiest days school holidays. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that it will enhance their tolerance and respect of others. They will interpret it as a sign of weakness and submission to Islam as is their due, as they view all other acts of tolerance and consideration towards them by non-Muslims, and only increase their contempt for the infidels.

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