- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

Lawmakers in Howard County, Md., have passed legislation prohibiting public hearings from being held on major Islamic and Jewish holidays.

The legislation bars officials from holding public hearings or meetings on the Islamic holy days Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, and the Jewish holy days Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said Howard County’s council is the first in the state to bar public meetings on Islamic holidays.

“If a certain percentage of your population is not able to participate, it’s really practical as an elected official to see more citizens involved,” said County Council member Ken Ulman, the Columbia Democrat who introduced the legislation.

Statistics on Howard County’s Muslim and Jewish populations were not available.

Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, the monthlong Islamic observance of fasting and feasting. It will begin Sunday.

Eid ul-Adha, the feast of the sacrifice, marks the end of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and commemorates the Koranic account of God letting Abraham sacrifice a sheep instead of his son. It will be observed Jan. 21.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and will be observed Oct. 3 or 4. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, will be observed Oct. 12 or 13.

The dates of all four holidays are determined by a lunar calendar and change each year.

Mr. Ulman said he formed the idea for the bill after the county’s planning board had scheduled a hearing on Rosh Hashanah to discuss development around the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. He said he received calls from several Jewish residents upset that they could not attend.

“On those very few days, two to four a year, where people are in services all day, we shouldn’t have public hearings or community meetings where there’s a role for public testimony,” Mr. Ulman said. “If there’s a big issue, we shouldn’t make people choose between going to services and coming to testify.”

The legislation, which the council approved unanimously last week, has received strong support from Islamic and Jewish groups in the area.

“It’s a small step toward something big that can happen eventually,” said Rizwan Mowlana, executive director of the Maryland chapter of CAIR. “The community is excited because we’re making headway and we’ve been trying to do something like this for a while.”

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