Hawo Abdille stands in front of the Dingley Building in Lewiston where she works as an English language learner assessment coordinator for the Lewiston School Department. She said she is thrilled that Lewiston is the first district in Maine to close schools for Eid. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — To Hawo Abdille’s delight, there’s no school Thursday in Lewiston. Thursday is Eid, and it’s a new holiday on the Lewiston public schools calendar.

Eid is an important day for the Islam religion. Eid is to Muslims what Christmas is to Christians. The holiday marks the end of a month of fasting during daylight called Ramadan.

With a growing number of Lewiston students from Muslim immigrant families, it’s time to formally recognize the holiday, said Superintendent Jake Langlais. He said an estimated 40 percent or more of his district’s 5,000-plus students are from immigrant families and most are Muslims.

As a school administrator, when Eid arrived every year “it saddened me that students were torn between having to go to school for a test or practice a major celebration,” Langlais said. “They left school with mixed feelings. They were either letting their family down or their teachers. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that.”

Lewiston is believed to be the first school district in Maine to declare Eid a holiday. There is school on Eid in Portland and Auburn.

Lewiston Muslims are elated the day is being recognized.

“I am beyond thrilled. I’m happy,” said Abdille, an English language learner assessment coordinator for Lewiston schools.

“I feel happy to belong to Lewiston public schools. Lewiston is the first to (declare) Eid a holiday. We’re a small town in Maine who did this compared to bigger populations. I feel like we belong, that this holiday is recognized like Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

From a Somali family, Abdille immigrated to the United States with her mother when she was 9. She graduated from Lewiston High School in 2008.

It was hard, she said, to be a good student and a good Muslim on Eid.

“Do I do the big exam I need” or practice her faith? “Sometimes teachers don’t understand what Eid is. As a student I liked to have a perfect attendance record.”

It’s a relief for parents who, she said, as they were preparing for prayer or family meals, used to get robo calls from school saying their child was absent.

Rilwan Osman, executive director of the Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services in Lewiston, said he’s excited the schools have added Eid to the holiday calendar.

“It means a lot to our community,” Osman said. “As a community that is growing, we appreciate the recognition. Our children in the school system will understand how the school is recognizing them and their holiday.”

Parents won’t have to stress about whether to send their children to school or keep them home to spend time with family, Osman said.

Abdille gave credit to Langlais. “It was the superintendent who brought it up and took this initiative,” she said.

Langlais recommended Eid be added as a school holiday, a decision the Lewiston School Committee approved on Jan. 4.

Langlais said when he was principal at the middle school, he watched as local Muslims packed the armory to pray on Eid. “The place was jammed,” he said. “When it moved to the Colisee, that parking lot was filled. Thousands came.”

As a Catholic, Langlais said Christmas is important to his and other Christian families.

“Knowing that (Islam) is a predominant religion for many of our families, should we be recognizing this?” he said. “The answer is yes.”

Eid marks the end of a month of Ramadan, where the faithful do not drink water or eat from sunrise to sundown. The goal of that sacrifice is to reflect on charity, self-improvement and others in need, Langlais said. “It’s a pretty significant commitment our neighbors are making. It’s good to recognize that.”

Since the Islamic holiday was added to the school calendar, the reaction has been mostly positive, Langlais said. “Some who don’t understand why, it’s a good opportunity for dialogue.”

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