New York schools to observe Muslim holidays

by Karen L. Willoughby, |
Muslims take part in afternoon prayers at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, May 6, 2011. | (FILE) REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – Public schools under the jurisdiction of Mayor Bill de Blasio will observe two Muslim holidays, the mayor announced Wednesday, March 11.

The school year will be lengthened by two days to compensate for days off on Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. Elementary students will be in class 183 days; high school students, 180.

Adding the two most important Muslim holidays "respects the diversity in our city," de Blasio tweeted. "It was just a matter of fairness; it's as simple as that," the mayor told The New York Times.

The mayor had made adding the holidays a campaign promise when running of office in 2012. About 10 percent of the city's student body is Muslim.

"Hundreds of thousands of Muslim families will no longer have to choose between honoring the most sacred days on their calendar or attending school," de Blasio said in his announcement.

The city's 1.1 million students will be off Sept. 24 for Eid al-Adha, which celebrates Abraham's love for God and his willingness to sacrifice his son Issac. Eid al-Fitr closes out Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month. It will be observed during the summer school session next year.

New York City public schools already are closed for the Jewish New Year festival Rosh Hashana – Sept. 25-26 this school year – which begins 10 days of repentance culminating in Yom Kippur.

During the 2015-16 calendar year, schools will be closed Labor Day, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Eid al-Adha, Columbus Day, Election Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving Recess, Winter Recess, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Midwinter Recess, Good Friday, Spring Recess and Memorial Day.

Only one holiday is named for a Christian holiday, Good Friday. Christmas is parenthetically mentioned with New Year's Day as encompassed by the Winter Recess. The Jewish holiday of Passover is similarly mentioned with Spring Recess. Easter is not identified at all.

Other public school systems that observe Muslim holidays include Dearborn, Michigan (60 percent Muslim), Cambridge, Massachusetts (Harvard University), Waterbury, Connecticut, Burlington, Vermont, Paterson and South Brunswick, New Jersey, and Frederick County, Maryland.

But, some locales have pushed back against similar initiatives.

Montgomery County, Maryland, officials responded to a Muslim campaign to recognize major holidays of Islam, by eliminating all mention of religious holidays on the 2015-16 school calendar, simply marking all such observances as days off.