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Muslim students in Seattle face choice between graduation and Eid al-Adha celebrations

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Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash

For months, high school seniors attending Seattle Public Schools have been asking their teachers, principals, and school board leaders to change graduation dates in June. That’s because Eid Al-Adha, one of the biggest worldwide Islamic holidays, will coincide with the district’s graduation week.

The dates of Eid al-Adha, or what students call “the big Eid,” are determined by the Islamic lunar calendar. This year, the holiday is expected to begin around June 16 and celebrations can last for about three days. Graduations for various Seattle high schools are scheduled between June 13 and June 18.

“I feel like we sort of have to pick between one or the other, which is kind of frustrating,” one student told KUOW. "It's unfair.”

The student is one of three who agreed to speak with KUOW on the condition of anonymity, citing a fear of being targeted over their Muslim faith.

“This graduation is our first step into adulthood. And whether that means advancing our career by going to college or following another pathway, this is a really defining moment in our life,” another student said.

Traveling long distances is an inherent part of the holiday. Many people travel to Makkah in the Mecca province of Saudi Arabia to honor the Muslim prophet Muhammad, or to visit family for celebrations elsewhere.

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“This is the only time – for many — where we see our family members, where we can gather together and celebrate,” a third student said.

Ahsen Nadeem, the youth director for the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Redmond, said he commends Seattle Public Schools for trying to accommodate students from many different backgrounds, but thinks the district could do more to make Muslim faculty and students feel included.

"I think Muslim needs — especially as students — have not been met," he said. "When you have situations like this, it kind of adds to that frustration. I think what we need to do is just sit down and talk to Muslims."

When it comes to religious celebrations, Nadeem said, the district making Eid al-Adha accommodations could also open the door to better inclusion for other religious groups.

The dilemma Muslim students face now could happen again in 30-something years, when the next Eid al-Adha holiday coincides with graduation season, said Adam Jamal, an Imam with the Muslim American Association of Puget Sound. But at present, he added, it’s especially important for Muslim students to feel welcome among their peers.

“Especially in a time where Islamophobia incidents have increased…young people want to feel like they're part of society, and that society recognizes them, their culture, and their religion,“ he said.

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In April, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations surveyed 20 Muslim youths between the ages of 13 to 18, asking them how they felt at school. A third of those students said they’d experienced discriminatory policies and practices, like not being given time to pray or being required to dress in a way that didn’t align with their religious practices.

52% of respondents reported hearing biased remarks targeted towards others, including Islamophobic remarks a few times a month or more frequently. Roughly the same percentage said they had experienced heightened discrimination since the war between Hamas and Israel began in October.

Change might not happen this year, but Nadeem said he thinks it would be helpful for the school district to communicate with parents to find a solution.

Following the original publication of this story, Seattle Public Schools said in a statement that it "has opened a conversation with religious leaders within the Muslim faith community in response to concerns expressed by several Muslim students regarding a potential graduation ceremony date conflict with this year’s celebration of Eid."

The statement continues, "While this year's graduation schedule will proceed as originally planned, SPS will remain in conversation with faith leaders regarding possible recommendations for next year’s commencement planning....SPS will continue to work diligently to plan and schedule the most inclusive ceremonies possible while honoring state requirements to certify graduates in a timely manner."

In response to students' requests, school board members proposed having a separate graduation day for students celebrating Eid al-Adha. But students who spoke with KUOW said that would still feel exclusionary.

“We want to be there with all of our friends [and] with all of our teachers to celebrate together,” one student said.

For now, each of the students remains undecided on what they’ll do: cancel plans to visit family, or find a way to combine graduation and Eid al-Adha celebrations. In either case, a sacrifice will have to be made.

Update notice, Thursday, 5/23/24 at 9:39 a.m.: This story was updated to include a new statement from Seattle Public Schools.

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