Suburban School District To Pay Back Safoorah Khan, Muslim Teacher Denied Hajj Leave

A suburban Chicago school district sued by the U.S. Justice Department over their previous refusal to allow a Muslim teacher to take a pilgrimage to Mecca has entered into a consent decree resolving the matter.

According to an AP report, Berkeley School District 87 will pay $75,000 to former middle school teacher Safoorah Khan, covering lost back pay, compensatory damages and court costs. The decree needs to be approved by a federal court.

In 2008, Khan applied for an unpaid leave of absence of 15 days from the McArthur Middle School, where she taught, in order to go on a Hajj to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. When the district denied her request, she quit her job and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Last December, the Justice Department filed a complaint on behalf of Khan accusing the school district of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in their denial of the teacher's request. The district, they alleged, failed to accommodate her religious practice.

The district countered that the "purpose of her leave was not related to her professional duties," according to the Justice Department.

The lawsuit has attracted national attention, causing conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh to ask, in May, why Khan did not take the Hajj during her summer off from teaching.

"Correct me if I'm wrong, which I'm not. … Teachers have summers off. ... Muslims are urged to travel to Mecca at least once in their lives. Not during a specific time frame, like the end of the school marking period."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the Justice Department had taken "the wrong case."

Islamic scholars said, in response, that delaying her Hajj for a summer trip would have meant a wait of at least a decade, as the date of the annual pilgrimage is guided by the lunar year and changes annually. Further, Sayyid Syeed, who directs interfaith and community affairs for the Islamic Society of North America, explained to Religion News Service that asking a Muslim person to take their pilgrimage in the summer is akin to asking a Christian to celebrate Christmas in July.

"If she waits, and she gets sick and dies, how will she be able to explain why she did not do it?" Syeed said. "There is a compelling passion to go as soon as possible."