BOYDS, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — Muslim children from Montgomery County are joining their families Tuesday in celebrating a religious holy day that they believe should be a full-fledged school holiday.
As many as 7,000 people, including nearly 1,500 children, gathered at the Discovery Sports Center in Boyds to celebrate Eid al-Adha, an Islamic holy day that Muslims compare to Christmas or Yom Kippur.
Muslim leaders in the county — who are pushing Montgomery County Public Schools to recognize the holiday’s importance by giving all students and staff the day off from school — have started a petition in recent weeks and have won support from some elected leaders and religious groups.
Montgomery County has a growing Islamic population that is estimated at about 12,000 people, though there are no county or census figures on the Muslim community.
This year, the Eid al-Adha holiday fell on Tuesday, and some families kept their children home from school, even though they will miss classes and sporting events. But they point out that school is closed for Christmas, Good Friday, Easter and for the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“It’s like we don’t feel equal to other people who get their holidays off,” said Hannah Sharim, 14, who is a sophomore at Northwest High School in Germantown.
Former state legislator and co-chair of the new Equality for Eid Coalition Saqib Ali said this is a civil rights issue.
School officials said they give excused absences to students who are absent for religious holidays but that they can’t legally close schools for religious reasons. They said granting a day off requires a secular reason, such as minimizing the impact on instruction because of high absenteeism rates on a holiday.
The school board asked staff to examine attendance on Muslim holidays last year, but the numbers showed little impact on attendance.
In the 1970s, Montgomery schools began giving students the day off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.
“Our understanding is that decision was made for operational reasons,” schools spokeswoman Dana Tofig said.
Muslim leaders object to the county’s focus on absenteeism to justify an official day off. Some families have often sent their children to school on the religious holiday so that they wouldn’t miss instructional time. But leaders said Christian and Jewish holidays haven’t been under the same scrutiny.
“We think it’s not right when there are different standards for different people,” Ali said.
(TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)