Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mecca can wait

Life is a matter of choices, as every adult knows. You choose one thing and give up someting else. Safoorah Khan and the Obama Justice Department are having a hard time getting their heads around this. After just 9 months teaching middle school math, Ms. Khan wanted 19 days' leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Nothing wrong with doing her religious duty. Meanwhile, there is the small matter of the school kids who actually need a teacher, pilgrimage or no pilgrimage. Ms. Khan was refused her leave, resigned, and made the pilgrimage anyway. The Justice Department is suing on her behalf for religious discrimination.

I am one who welcomes attempts to incorporate peace-loving Muslim citizens into our national life. A Muslim may be your doctor, accountant, the engineer at a local plant, or the hard-working business analyst who occupied the cubicle across the aisle from me for several months. I am disgusted by yahoos who think all Muslims are secret agents of terror and want to harass and intimidate people who merely want to build secure and prosperous lives for themselves and their families in the United States.

Having said that, I wonder if 19 days of leave after only 9 months would have been expected by an adherent of any other religion: a Christian wanting to spend Easter week in the Holy Land, a Buddhist wanting to honor the Buddha at one of the venerable shrines of Japan or Cambodia, a Wiccan wanting to visit Stonehenge. I think not.

“This was a profoundly personal request by a person of faith," said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, who compared the case to protecting "the religious liberty that our forefathers came to this country for.” Thomas, please. It was a profoundly inconsiderate request by a person who can see only one side of her faith—a particular duty, which doesn't have to be performed in your first 9 months on a job—while overlooking the larger context of that faith, which includes a strong teaching on alms-giving and our duty to those in need. Which, for a schoolteacher, would include children. Funny that someone should overlook something so obvious.

© Michael Huggins, 2011. All rights reserved.

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