Go for hajj ... immediately

The Washington Post has a provocative story about the Justice Department suing a Chicago school district for outright religious discrimination. The reporter does a great job of writing the piece in a thorough and impartial manner. The facts are stated, multiple viewpoints are offered, and the result is a very interesting piece. Here's how it begins:

BERKELEY, Ill. -- Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the critical end-of-semester marking period, said no. Khan, a devout Muslim, resigned and made the trip anyway.

Justice Department lawyers examined the same set of facts and reached a different conclusion: that the school district's decision amounted to outright discrimination against Khan. They filed an unusual lawsuit, accusing the district of violating her civil rights by forcing her to choose between her job and her faith.

As the case moves forward in federal court in Chicago, it has triggered debate over whether the Justice Department was following a purely legal path or whether suing on Khan’s behalf was part of a broader Obama administration campaign to reach out to Muslims.

Those facts and debates are what comprise the rest of the article. Government officials defend the case, Muslim voices support it and various other legal minds question exactly what's going on, and the debate makes for interesting reading. It's certainly true that a first year teacher's request for three-weeks' leave during first semester finals is going to have legal wrinkles.

I was curious, though, about the religious particulars. I know that Muslims are to complete hajj during their lifetime. Why was this particular year so important for Khan? Here's how the reporter handled that issue:

Khan, 29, who grew up in North Carolina and Arkansas, was happy in the job, said her lawyer, Kamran A. Memon. But she longed to make the hajj, one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith, which Muslims are obligated to do once. It would not have fallen on her summer break for about nine years.

"This was the first year she was financially able to do it," Memon said. "It's her religious belief that a Muslim must go for hajj quickly . . . that it's a sin to delay." Khan declined to comment.

This leads me to another question. Is it "her" belief that she had to go quickly or is this an actual tenet of her faith? Is this a common view or a particular one? I know that financial means plays a role in this pillar. Does that mean that employer hardship must also be considered?

Muslim viewpoints were included in the article, such as this kicker that gives us an indication of Muslim support for her views on timeliness:

A few miles away at the Islamic Foundation, support for Khan was uniform. "If she was a Jew, would they treat her the same way?" Nabih Kamaan of Bloomingdale, Ill., asked as he arrived for Friday prayers.

"What if she was sick? What if she had a baby?" said Kamaan, who added that the lawsuit "is the right thing to do."

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