For the past few months, rising Council Rock South junior Iman Azeez has been on a mission.
The Bristol Township school board voted earlier this year to approve the addition of Eid al-Fitr — the large-scale celebration that marks the end of Ramadan — as an official holiday on the school calendar. In an effort to have the Council Rock School District follow suit, Azeez created a petition on Change.org, which garnered over 400 signatures.
During its recent meeting, the Council Rock school board approved Eid to be included as an official holiday on the school calendar for the 2023-24 academic year.
“If you’re going to represent one religion, we’re going to represent them all,” said board vice president Michael Thorwart, who reminded his fellow directors that four years ago, they voted to start closing schools for the Hindu holiday Diwali.
Azeez explained in the public comment portion of the meeting how important Eid is to the Muslim community. For the 30 days of Ramadan, from sunrise to sunset, they abstain from food, water and unhealthy actions, all to better understand those who don’t have such things in life.
According to Azeez, the fasting of herself and the 30 other Muslim students at Council Rock South, not to mention the many others across the district, can be a difficult feat … especially when surrounded by the rest of their peers enjoying lunch.
“These 30 days of hardship only make Eid a larger deal as it is a celebration of the conclusion of this event,” she explained.
For Muslims, Azeez said Eid is comparable to Christmas. There’s a gathering at the mosque in the morning, followed by celebrations with loved ones for the rest of the day.
She shared how Muslim students are forced to take off from school in order to enjoy the festivities. But when they return, especially in their high school years, they have coursework for six classes to catch up on. This, she said, can be so challenging, especially for AP and honors students, that they make the tough choice to miss Eid and attend class.
“Our Muslim students should not have to make the decision of valuing their schoolwork or their religion,” Azeez said, adding that the school calendar didn’t reflect the demographics of Council Rock’s ever-changing community.
Azeez went on to say that, since the board began recognizing Diwali as a school holiday, she’s gained much knowledge about it. In her opinion, giving the district off for Eid would allow her peers to learn more about the celebration and religion, which she said continues to receive hate because of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
“This reduces stereotypes and racial stigmas that occur in school,” she said.
On her Change.org petition, a number of signers commented their appreciation of Azeez’s efforts.
“It is only fair that we give all religious people in the district the same opportunity to celebrate their religious holidays without having to miss a day of school,” said Rocio Suayfeta. “That’s exactly what respecting religious freedom means, that everyone has the same right to practice their own religion freely.”
“Interfaith inclusion helps students recognize other religions and gain respect and new knowledge,” added Barbara Simmons.
Though Azeez and several other meeting attendees were hoping for Eid to be included on the calendar for the forthcoming year, Superintendent Dr. Andrew Sanko said it’s not doable until 2023-24.
However, he and the board assured Council Rock’s Muslim community that certain changes will be made in the meantime. For example, teachers will be asked to give no homework and not schedule exams that day, easing the burden on those students who take off for Eid.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org