For UC students on the quarter system, Thursday marks the first day of classes for fall quarter. For Muslim students on UC campuses, Thursday also marks the Islamic holiday of Eid-ul-Adha.
Eid-ul-Adha commemorates the story shared amongst the monotheistic religions when, in a dream, God tested Abraham’s faith by commanding him to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. When Abraham, with his son’s support, was about to complete the sacrifice, God told him that he had fulfilled the command. Instead, God delivered a sheep for Abraham to sacrifice. The sacrifice is both a spiritual and physical one. Muslims strive to strengthen their obedience to and faith in God, and sacrifice meat to give to the poor.
As a Muslim, I will attend the morning Eid prayer this Thursday with my family, but we will skip our traditional family gatherings in the afternoon and evening as I head to campus for my afternoon classes. It will be a hectic morning as I prepare for prayer and also for classes while simultaneously keeping an eye on the time, listening to the Eid sermon, and rushing to greet family and friends.
Students who have morning classes may have to skip Eid celebrations altogether or risk missing their first day of classes.
Just last year, the scheduled first day of the fall quarter was postponed a week to accommodate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This was a result of the 2007 UC policy supported by representatives of the Jewish community that was intended to avoid religious conflicts with move-in days. For now, no similar accommodations are expected to be made for Muslim students wishing to celebrate Eid with their families and communities.
“I didn’t really expect any accommodations,” said Aya Labanieh, a second-year cognitive science major. “But if classes were postponed for the Jewish students just last year, then shouldn’t the same change be made for Muslim students as well?”
According to the University of California Undergraduate Experience Survey from 2010, the percentage of Jewish students on UC campuses exceeds Muslim students by 1.5%.
Yet, this is not simply a matter of numbers, but also about the importance of a holiday and the number of students who will miss classes as a result of the inconvenience. Just as Rosh Hashanah is an important holiday in Judaism, Eid-ul-Adha is a very significant Islamic tradition, and is one of the two major annual holidays in Islam.
“I will move in on Saturday, come home for Eid on Wednesday night, and then go back to campus for class on Friday,” said Earaj Afzal, a fourth-year psychology major at UCLA whose family lives in Irvine.
Students who plan to attend Eid prayers and miss classes may have to coordinate with their professors in advance, or risk falling behind at the onset of the new quarter.
“I can’t miss Eid so I’ll have to make arrangements with my professors to make sure I don’t fall behind,” said Hala Yosef, a second-year political science major at UCI.
I am grateful to the Jewish community for proposing this policy, but I believe both the Jewish and Muslim communities should be equally entitled to it. To postpone the start of the 2014 fall quarter by a week to accommodate Rosh Hashanah and to not do the same for Eid in 2015 seems to give greater privilege to one religious group over another.
Undoubtedly, postponing classes will result in conflicting dates and their consequences. As a result of last year’s accommodation, winter break was shortened to just two weeks, making it difficult for students to visit families, travel abroad and complete seasonal jobs.
Perhaps a potential solution would be to include members of all faiths when creating academic calendars in order to accommodate for students from different cultures and religions without having to shorten breaks within the academic year.
My request is not unconventional. After years of campaigning by the Muslim community, New York City became the first major city in America with a school system that marks both Eids as holidays in the school calendar. The school system also marks Rosh Hashanah and other national holidays.
Ultimately, this is not only a convenience for Muslims, but also a means to educate the entire student body about Islam and religious tolerance. By making religious holidays official school holidays, the UC system shows that these days are significant, and therefore asks students respect them as such. Such an action acknowledges that despite the prevalence of racism and Islamophobia, Muslims play an important role in this nation’s progress and their holidays deserve respect. In a university system that prides itself on its diversity and inclusiveness, we should consider how all religious holidays can be accommodated by the academic calendar.
Iman Siddiqi is a second year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.