Will Eid Holy Days Become School Holidays?

Eid al-Fitr New York

American Muslim children outside Masjid Darul Quran center on the first day of Eid al-Fitr in Bay Shore, N.Y.
Photo credit: (AP Photo/Pavel Rahman)

Growing up as a student in New York City, Nadia A., a Bangladeshi American, would pray that the Islamic holidays Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha would fall on weekend days. The 23-year-old writer from Astoria knew that if Eid festivities fell on one of the five weekdays, she would be forced to stay home from school, borrow notes from classmates, and plan to make up missed work. While her peers were busy attending class lectures, Nadia would be praying in a mosque. “Doing well in school and also staying home to celebrate Eid were put at odds with each other,” she said.

Since Nadia’s school days, New York’s Muslim community has grown, and so has its influence – to the point that having schools observe Muslim holy days is now a real political possibility.

“A child who has an exam on a day that right now is one of the Eid holidays, they’re either respecting their religious obligation or they’re doing what their education requires of them,” said New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio during a campaign speech this fall. “They can’t do both under our current system.” Thus, said de Blasio, city schools need to observe the main Muslim holidays, just as they do for Christian and Jewish holidays.

According to the newly elected mayor, 13 percent of all New York City students are Muslim. Many in the Muslim community expect that as mayor, de Blasio will push to bring equality to city schools when it comes to observing religious holidays. 

“Even if New York City schools gave us like half a day or a whole day, [it] will go a long way,” said Ameena Qayyum, who moved to New York from Lahore, Pakistan to study journalism. “It would show that the American government cares about the Muslim community and the people.”

Qayyum, 23, described the importance of the Eid holidays in Pakistan.

“It’s not just for students, it’s for everyone,” she said. “It’s like Thanksgiving or Christmas, that’s like Eid for us.”

The “festival of the breaking of the fast,” known as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam. Muslims traditionally fast from sunup to sundown during Ramadan, finally breaking the fast on the last day.

After Eid al-Fitr comes Eid al-Adha, “the festival of sacrifice,” when Muslims sacrifice goats, cows or other animals. Actual dates for both Eid holidays vary from year to year, determined by a lunar calendar.

Both holidays are viewed as a fundamental way of connecting with religion, friends, and family.

“It’s a day to celebrate. They should take off from their job and school,” said Chernon S. Jalloh, imam at New York’s Islamic Cultural Center on the Upper East Side.

As a father of six children, with five currently attending schools in the city, Jalloh said that all Muslims should be able to enjoy holidays as well as traditional meals with their loved ones. 

“I call the school and tell them ‘my kid will not come today,’ whether they are going to mark them absent or not,” he said.

In 2009, the City Council passed a resolution calling for both days of Eid to be added to the holiday calendars of city schools. However, outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed the idea, saying it could spark similar demands from other religious groups and potentially disrupt the teaching schedule. 

Bloomberg, given control to manage the city’s school system in 2002, exercised his mayoral powers of having the final say over city council votes by blocking the council’s  resolution.

Imam Jalloh said he hopes the change will be made once de Blasio takes office.

“I think all religions and holidays should be recognized,” he said.


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