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Muslim school teacher denied hajj, US sues Illinois school district

A middle school teacher in suburban Illinois was not permitted to perform the hajj, a once in a lifetime Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The US government says the school violated the teacher's civil rights.

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Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims moving around the Kaaba, the black cube seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 10, 2010.

Hassan Ammar/File/AP

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The federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district Monday for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that is a central part of her religion.

In a civil rights case, the department said the school district in Berkeley, Illinois, denied the request of Safoorah Khan on grounds that her requested leave was unrelated to her professional duties and was not set forth in the contract between the school district and the teachers union. In doing so the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious practices, the government said.

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year.

Related: Hajj 101: Five facts about the Muslim pilgrimage

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