Tiny Muslim minority in Maryland fails to force holidays on everybody else

Public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland won’t close for two major Muslim holy days because attendance records show the increase in absences among all students on those days is completely negligible.

The issue has been festering for several weeks now. On Tuesday, a group of Muslim families spoke at a meeting of the Montgomery County Board Of Education, reports CBS DC. They and other supporters of the calendar modification want to add Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr as official school holidays.

Eid al-Adha occurs in the fall and honors Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son on God’s command. As part of the holiday, Muslims who can afford it are expected to sacrifice their best domestic animal (cow, goat, camel, sheep, etc., depending on the region).

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and has no set date.

Both holidays change dates every year because they follow the lunar calendar of Islam.

Muslim speakers at the meeting compared Eid al-Adha — the Feast of the Sacrifice — to Yom Kippur or Christmas — two of the holiest days in the other Abrahamic religions.

School board members said they approved a 2014-2015 calendar which doesn’t give students the day off for Eid al-Adha because public schools can only close for religious holidays if problems such as absenteeism would otherwise arise.

This year, Eid al-Adha occurred on Oct. 15, a school day. The district monitored student absences for several days before and after that date, according to The Gazette, a local newspaper.

The absentee numbers were very low.

A letter from school district superintendent Joshua P. Starr to a county councilman indicated that approximately 5.6 percent of students and five percent of teachers took Eid al-Adha off this year. On the same day of the week the previous week, just over three percent of all students and just over four percent of all teachers were absent.

Numbers for the day before the Muslim holiday this year were 5.5 percent of students and 6.3 percent of teachers. The day after Eid al-Adha, the numbers were about four percent of students and 4.6 percent of teachers.

Another reason that students won’t be missing any school days next year for Eid al-Adha, by the way, is that it occurs on a weekend. (Eid al-Fitr occurs in the summer in 2014.)

As The Gazette notes, Montgomery County schools accommodate Muslim students already by prohibiting testing on Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, and by excusing Muslim student absences.

Some members of the Muslim population in Montgomery are not satisfied with this policy or the school board’s decision.