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Md. schools should take off Muslim holidays too

When I was in 10th grade, I missed Eid (which means visiting the mosque, dressing up, seeing old friends, attending parties and eating wonderful food) to take the PSAT (which means finding the testing location, dressing down, seeing everyone you don't want to, attending a noisy school and wishing there was something to eat).

As an American Muslim, I miss two school days annually to celebrate Eid, which is the name of my religious holiday. And yes, my friends are jealous of my extra days off, but making up quizzes or having to stay after school to finish an art assignment kind of takes the fun out of it.

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So this year, when I started thinking about Eid, which falls on Thursday, and planning what I'd miss, I thought about other things too. Namely, the dramatic policy changes I've seen in Baltimore County over the past couple of years (ID cards, anyone?) and in Maryland (PARCC testing is fun, isn't it?). But amid all this system improvement, there's one thing Maryland hasn't touched: making the two Muslim Eids school holidays.

The closest we got was last year, when the Muslim community was hoping for the Montgomery School Board of Education to add these two holidays to their school calendar. But the county caved. Instead of adding Muslim holidays on the school calendar, the school board decided to remove mention of other religions. They called it fairness, while still keeping schools closed on Christian and Jewish holidays. Here, Baltimore County has denied similar requests.

Critics typically cite the following reasons to deny Muslims these two holidays: that our numbers are small when compared to Jewish and Christian students, that all states are united on this decision, that there are not enough days available on the calendar, and that non-Muslim students and/or teachers would have a problem with it.

I disagree with all of them.

First, the claim that the absentee rate on Jewish and Christian holidays is higher than Muslims on Eid is inaccurate and discriminatory. Montgomery County was limiting the rights of Muslim students because there weren't enough of them. The county claimed that the Muslim absentee rate was just 5 percent, but it didn't release absentee rates for Christian and Jewish students. So not only is there no standard of comparison regarding the absentee rate, the absences themselves aren't even held to the same standard. And let's keep in mind that no such comparison was required when Jewish holidays were mandated in 1976.

Second, making Eid a school holiday isn't an unprecedented move. New York City did it. Last I checked, they're still around.

Third, making Eid a holiday wouldn't even require two school days annually. Since the Muslim Eids are calculated according to the lunar calendar, they move 10 days earlier each year, often coinciding with weekends, summer, or winter holidays. Sometimes, Eid falls on an existing Jewish or Christian holiday. According to a New York City study, declaring two Muslims Eids per year as a holiday would only knock off nine school days over the next 20 years.

Fourth, if Eid were declared a holiday, it's easy to see that students would enjoy an extra day off, teachers wouldn't have to worry about accommodating absent students, and administrators would be glad to see a drop in absenteeism.

Declaring Eid a holiday would only do good. It would be a gesture of acceptance to the Muslim community — at a time when presidential candidates like Ben Carson openly declare that a Muslim like me should not be a president — and a step toward religious equality.

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson said, "this sacred principle … though the will of the majority is to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression." Now, it's Maryland's responsibility to protect the equal rights that the Muslim students possess, instead of violating them. Because at the end of the day, having an extra day off for Yom Kippur is well and good, but having to attend school to miss your own religious holiday because it's not deemed worthy of similar recognition isn't fun.

Shireen Younus is a senior at Perry Hall High School. Her email is shireen.younus@gmail.com.

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