CAIRO - A suggestion to recognize Islamic holidays and religion lessons at schools is stirring controversy in Florida's Broward County with supporters seeing it as a chance to surpass vocal slogans to actual support for diversity in the community.
"This is about inclusive diversity, and the Muslim community has too long been excluded," Roland Foulkes, chairman of the Diversity Committee, which debated the proposal Thursday night, told Sun Sentinel.
"This is long overdue, and we need to move beyond the lip service of diversity in the community and reflect the full diversity of everyone."
The request was submitted by the Florida chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, or CAIR.
If applied, Broward County would be the first in Florida and one of only a few districts in the country to recognize Muslim holidays into its calendar.
The proposal offered valid reasons to close, citing the fact that about 18,000 Muslim students are enrolled in the school district about 7 percent of the population and they're forced to take off those days.
The district currently closes on several Jewish and Christian holidays and cites large absenteeism as the reason.
Muslims worldwide celebrate two Islamic holidays -- `Eid Al-Fitr, which follows the holy fasting month of Ramadan, and `Eid Al-Adha, which follows Hajj.
Elsewhere across the US, recognizing Muslim religious holidays is gaining ground.
In Boston, leading schools Cambridge Public School District issued a decision in 2010 to recognize two Islamic holidays, making it easier for Muslim students to honor their holiest days.
Several cities in New Jersey close school on Muslim holy days.
Dearborn, Michigan, where nearly half of the 18,000 students are Muslim, is believed to be the first city to close school on Muslim festivals.
In September 2010, public schools in Burlington city, Vermont, also closed on `Eid al-Fitr for the first time.
Following a heated discussion on the issue, the district's Diversity Committee failed to reach an agreement.
"It's about fairness, respect and inclusion," said Ghazala Salam, Florida community relations director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Objecting to the suggestion, Committee member Jeanne Jusevec made a motion to refer the request to the Calendar Committee; which is assigned to make formal recommendations to the School Board on holidays.
She added that the district can't give days off for religious purposes.
"The reason you have days off is that attendance is low on those days, like the day after Thanksgiving," she said.
"Parents simply do not send their children on that day and the staff doesn't show up."
Committee member Barbara Williamson disagreed.
"They're not asking to support their religion. They're asking for equity, and that's what we're supposed to be about," Williamson said.
"We need to go back and read history and read what we're about."
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of seven to eight million.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, US Muslims have complained of facing discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.
An April 2011 forum, sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, warned of a growing violence by bullies against Arab, Muslim and South Asian students.