NATIONAL EID COALITION: The Importance Of Establishing Muslim Holidays In Academic Calendars

Physician Uzma Syed on championing equal treatment for Muslim kids forced to choose between their faith and their education when it comes to religious holidays.

Growing up as an American Muslim, my childhood was pretty normal and filled with happy memories. I remember riding my bike around town, having sleepovers and hosting Eid parties. As the only Muslim in my peer group, I taught my friends about my faith, the month-long fast in Ramadan and, of course, the celebratory feast of Eid al-Fitr following the fasting month.

Living as a minority in a majority non-Muslim country, I didn’t have allocated time off during the holidays to celebrate with family. However, Eid would often coincide with my school’s winter break, so I never missed out on this important time with family.

Once I entered adulthood, the American Muslim community around me continued to grow, and I began to feel a stronger sense of belonging. I became more involved in my faith and in doing so, observed how the holidays had changed since I was a child. With every passing year, Ramadan and Eid continued to overlap with the school year, not school vacation — often during vital final exams and state mandated standardized testing. I noticed a lack of youth presence at our holiday gatherings, as children were forced to choose education over faith. As a whole, families were fearful of academic decline due to missing school or examinations, which would fall on our holy days. Therefore, despite fasting for the entire month and balancing faith, didactics and extra-curriculars, students were willing to sacrifice their right to celebrate and feast with loved ones due to fear of delinquency within the school system.

By scheduling examinations and coursework on holidays, the children and youth who are our livelihood and the pulse of our community were indirectly given the message they did not have the option to partake in Islamic festivities.

Needless to say, this was not something I would accept for others or my own children. I felt the urge to be an advocate for these unheard voices — young, impressionable students who were quietly practicing their faith without asking for recognition from their peers or educators. I wanted to lead by example, and soon after, petitioned the Syosset Central School district in New York to have Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha recognized as official school district holidays. By Allah SWT’s grace we had unanimous approval from the entire school board to have both holidays approved.

Shortly after, this sent a ripple effect across Long Island and the nation as people wanted to know how they could obtain this goal for their respective districts. I held many public forums and established both the Eid Coalition of Long Island and the National Eid Coalition in order to help nearly three dozen school districts in the United States obtain the same victories.

Moving forward, students held their heads up a little bit higher and parents felt redeemed as contributing citizens of their American communities. The engagement that followed both during and after the process was remarkable. American Muslims were more integrated into the decision-making process within school districts like never before. American Muslims  personally felt that they were viewed as valued members of society, not the  malicious members  that the media portrays. Students who had been marginalized, bullied, and those who bore the brunt of Islamophobic comments in the hallways or classrooms felt a sense of belonging again. For many, this was normal. Sadly, they did not know a world absent of hate.

The adoption of a single religious holiday into the calendars of a school district which recognizes other Abrahamic holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter and Passover had a tremendous impact in bringing unity to our communities both locally and nationally. Today, there are roughly 3.45 million Muslims in America, with estimates of these numbers doubling by the year 2050. Muslims here are now changing the narrative and taking control of their right to honor valued religious beliefs and share these special memories with loved ones.

Ramadan Mubarak. May our prayers, fasts and charities be accepted, and may we welcome another Ramadan again next year!

Note: Updates from Dr. Syed can be found on her new website.

Dr. Uzma Syed is a board-certified Infectious Disease specialist, Chair of the COVID-19 Task Force and is the Director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Center of Excellence at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center. She also co-founded the Eid Holiday Coalition Long Island and founded the National Eid Coalition helping nearly three dozen school districts obtain Eid holidays.

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