Valley Muslims Seek Equality in School Holidays

January 21, 2007

Author: Daniel Patrick Sheehan

Source: The Morning Call,0,6392682.story

Kulsum Soonasra is one of perhaps 50 Muslims at Parkland High School but 1.5 billion in the world. And, while her argument for public school recognition of Islam's holiest day isn't a statistical one, those numbers mean something.

''We're a huge religion,'' the 17-year-old junior from Upper Macungie said, offering an earnest distillation of her message: that Eid al-Fitr, the prayerful family celebration that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is as important to Muslims as Christmas is to Christians. And if schools are closed for Christmas, they ought to be closed for Eid.

It's an argument being posed around the country as the Muslim population grows, and it's become a challenge to school districts as they try to balance cherished principles of inclusiveness and diversity against the strict demands of the school calendar. The law requires a fixed number of class days a year, so any time off must made up somewhere along the line.

''It's a big hot button issue, for sure,'' said Elinor Pierce, a senior researcher with Harvard University's Pluralism Project, which studies religious diversity in America. ''This is something people are negotiating all over the country.''

And it isn't just Muslims. Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Baha'i - all are represented in the nation's schools, along with other faiths ''from Afro-Caribbean to Zoroastrian'' seeking various levels of recognition, Pierce said.