By Zeinab Diouf
Boston University News Service
On May 2, Muslims from around the globe will flock to their local mosques, clad in their most formal attire of newly bought chiffon and satin. At the command of the imam, or prayer leader, their chatter will quieten. The worshippers stand tall, shoulder to shoulder, and complete their prayer. A khutbah, or religious sermon delivered by the imam will follow, celebrating pious efforts made during the holy month of Ramadan. After the service, Muslims embrace one another. With the women planting lipstick-painted kisses on cheeks and the men leaving residues of heavily-scented colognes in their wake, they will part ways with a fond “Eid Mubarak!”
Eid al-Fitr is an Islamic holiday marking the conclusion of the month of Ramadan in which Muslims fasted from dusk to dawn, made charitable donations and engaged in acts promoting religious awareness.
“The most important aspect of Eid is the Eid prayer or Salat al-Eid,” wrote Imam Abdulqadir Farah of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in an email. “It is in the Islamic belief system that a person who is able should perform this prayer as a way of thanking God and being grateful for all the bounties He bestowed upon us.”
This year’s Eid al-Fitr coincides with the final weeks of the academic year when students are slammed by biochemistry exams or English literature essays — among other demanding assignments.
Eid al-Fitr has no fixed date but is rather dictated by the Islamic lunar calendar or the sighting of a crescent moon. The Islamic calendar, or Hijri, has 354 days, so the holiday occurs roughly 11 days earlier each year.
Massachusetts cities like Cambridge and Hopkinton have adopted the policy of canceling classes for grade school students, thereby accommodating those who observe the holiday. However, colleges and universities in Massachusetts do not currently require a holiday designated for Eid.
Many Muslim college students say they are left at a crossroads, deciding between their religious and academic duty.
“Any institution that comes to refuse this sacred practice to any person is not acceptable,” wrote Imam Farah in the email. “We see it as a violation of the Muslim person’s freedom of religion that is covered under the United States Constitution.”
Students in educational institutions may be excused from classes, examinations and work requirements that fall on days of religious significance, according to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151C, Section 2B.
“It’s seriously so unfair especially since this year it’s around finals season again,” said Rania Khaja, a junior at Boston University. “It’s hard to enjoy and celebrate one of the few religious holidays we have and the university doesn’t make it much easier.”
Boston University’s Policy on Student Absence Due to Religious Observance does accommodate absences due to religious observances, but classes are still held for the general student population. On days such as Eid al-Fitr, some students who choose to forgo class may miss valuable learning.
Boston University’s Office of Student Affairs has no event scheduled to commemorate Monday’s festivities, according to a spokesperson. It also has no official plans to accommodate Eid in the future, which – due to the lunar calendar – will fall during the academic year for the next decade. However, the Islamic Society of Boston University, a student-led organization, is set to host a prayer at 7 a.m on the BU Beach and a banquet at 6 p.m at Metcalf Hall. With final exams just around the corner, late spring semester classes are characterized by review sessions, final presentations and other climactic activities that hold ramifications for students’ grades if they are not in attendance.
“We are excused but if we skip class we still have so much work to make up which sometimes can be a lot,” said Khaja. “It forces you to choose between your academics and your religion which is still unfair.”
As religious diversity increases, conversations regarding cultural humility become more frequent. Many institutions are considering amending the traditional academic calendar, as seen in recent headlines from New York.
In 2021, The City University of New York’s Muslim students collected signatures in an online petition to brand Eid al-Adha a system-wide holiday. At present, the petition has garnered nearly 15,500 signatures.
It remains to be seen whether designating Eid as an official holiday is a prospective route for Boston-area universities, given that the upcoming annual Eid holiday will fall during the academic year for the next decade.