By TALIA WIENER
Laila Khan, 11, of Montclair was talking with her grandparents when they asked her why she did not have the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr off from school.
Her family and friends in New York City, Clifton and Patterson all were off for the day, which marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-dusk fasts of Ramadan. She didn’t know the answer.
“I didn’t think it was fair that we have all the other holidays off like Christmas and Yom Kippur, but we don’t get to have Eid off,” Laila Khan said.
She decided to write an email to her principal at Bradford School, the recently appointed Frances Aboushi, who is also Muslim. In her email, Laila Khan asked that Eid be made a holiday at the school so she could spend the day celebrating with friends and family, and not worry about missing classwork. On Eid this year, Laila was off, but missed a practice test.
Aboushi noted the holiday as a special occasion on the Bradford calendar (but without the day off) and said she would ask teachers to lighten the workload during the week of Eid, Laila’s father, Saiful Khan, said. Aboushi also recommended the Khan family start a petition asking the district to give all students off for Eid, he said. The board of education recently approved a calendar for 2022-23; neither that nor the 2021-22 calendar give students off for Eid at present.
The schools superintendent’s office has not responded to a request to speak with Aboushi for comment.
On May 19, the family started a Change.org petition. Within a week, it had nearly 1,000 signatures. Laila Khan was slated to address the school board at its June 2 meeting.
“Recently, my 11-year-old fifth grader wrote a letter to her new principal urging her to consider making Eid a school holiday,” Saiful Khan wrote on the petition page. “She pleaded for inclusivity from her school and my wife and I plead for your support from and for our town.”
The Khan family hopes to present the petition to the Board of Education and explain why they think it is important for Eid to be a district holiday.
When Saiful Khan was growing up, he said, people did not know what Ramadan was. Awareness has grown and he said he wants Laila to be able to share her religion with her community.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could celebrate with our friends and family that aren’t Muslim?” Saiful Khan said. “I’ve been to so many seders, Christmas dinners with my friends. But I haven’t had that opportunity and Laila hasn’t had that opportunity to invite her best friend to run around with us for Eid.”
Eid is spent visiting family and sharing meals together. This year, it fell on May 13. Saiful Khan said this year, the Khan family visited 15 houses, eating a meal at each.
“The tradition is every house you go to, you have to eat something,” Saiful Khan said. “Aunties cook their best recipes and a lot of them overlap so it’s like a mini contest, unspoken of.”
One in four people in the world celebrate Eid, the petition says, “and the number would be much higher when we are allowed to include our friends and neighbors if school were to be closed.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 24% of the global population is Muslim and 3% of adults in New Jersey are Muslim.
“My Jewish friends invited me to their homes for their holidays, and I want to invite them to my home for my holidays,” Saiful Khan said. “I want to share the same thing, and I think I’m not the only one.”
Laila Khan said she knows making Eid a district-wide holiday may not be a quick or easy process, and she is prepared.
“I don’t care how long it’s going to take, I just want it to happen,” Laila Khan said. “If we go there and they say no or they’re not that interested, I’m not just going to give up and throw it all away because of one no. I’m going to stay persistent and keep going until I get a yes.”
Any changes to the calendar must be approved by the Board of Education. In September 2020, the Board approved the addition of Juneteenth to the district calendar.
Saiful and Laila Khan say they are optimistic about making Eid a holiday in the Montclair school district. Montclair, of all places, should be supportive of the change, Saiful Khan said.
“It’s really confusing to me that Montclair is touted as one of the most progressive, inclusive towns, which is one of the reasons we moved here,” Saiful Khan said. “This is a small ask.”
Laila Khan’s current goal is to keep collecting signatures whether they’re from “strangers on the street or family and friends,” she said.
“There might be many Christians in Montclair but not everybody celebrates Christmas,” Laila Khan said. “Even if there was one person in Montclair who celebrates Eid, they still deserve to have that holiday off.”