PRINCE WILLIAM – Muslim and Jewish students in Virginia’s Prince William and Fairfax counties are struggling to win a recognition of their religious holidays in the school calendar.
“`Eid is like our Christmas,” Khadija Athman, a Prince William county Muslim resident, told The Washington Post.
“I grew up … being so excited about `Eid and I wanted to raise my kids with that same excitement.”
The sweet memories faded as her two daughters, Nusaybah and Sumayyah, were denied the perfect-attendance certificate each time they decided to mark the religious holiday.
The girls were not alone. Most Muslim and Jewish students feel they are compelled to choose between faith and school.
“They don’t want to observe the holiday with their family because they don’t want to miss school,” said Meryl Paskow, a volunteer with the interfaith group Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement.
Over a year ago, the group adopted the inclusion of religious holidays as its cause.
“These are great students,” said Rabbi Michael G. Holzman, with the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.
“They don’t want to miss a test.”
Earlier this year, the interfaith group persuaded school leaders in Northern Virginia to avoid tests and big assignments on those days.
The change brings the two Northern Virginia school districts in closer alignment with other diverse school systems in the country, including several in Maryland, New York, and New Jersey.
“I want them to be proud of their heritage, to be proud of their religion,” Athman said.
“It feels more like a competition when it shouldn’t be a competition. You should be able to practice your religion without having to compete with school.”
Hanan Seid, a graduate of Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, recalled challenges she faced each time she approached teachers for permission to make up assignments or tests that fell on Eid.
“You’re asking a teacher not to give you a test. You’re not sick,” Seid said. “For kids sometimes, [it feels] like they’re asking for too much.”
To her, having the day off would symbolize a broader acceptance of Islam.
It would convey the message that “they do like us here. They do understand. They do accept us, and they’re willing to learn,” Seid said.