As America's cities become increasingly religiously diverse, schoolchildren of faith are forced to make a choice — school, or religion celebration? Fortunately, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made good on a campaign promise for New York City public schools to observe Muslim holy days, a move that will eliminate that choice for those adhering to the Islamic faith.
During a press conference, de Blasio said:
It was just a matter of fairness, it’s as simple as that. This is a growing community in our city and in our schools and we wanted to recognize that.
The two Muslim holidays added to the school calendar are Eid al-Fitr, which denotes the end of fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which commemorates Abraham's sacrifice of his son Isaac to God, is an event shared by Christian and Jewish traditions as well. The holy days are based on a lunar calendar, meaning the dates will change each year.
New York City Public Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina also released a statement:
[Muslim families] shouldn't have to choose between an instructional day and their religious obligations ... This new addition will also enable a teachable moment in the classroom for our students to learn about religious tolerance and the societal contributions of various cultures.
It's about time this happened. According to a 2008 study by Columbia University, 10 percent of students in New York City public schools are Muslim. And 36 percent of students missed class when Eid al-Adha last fell on a school day. The city's public schools permit excused absences for student's religious observance, but Muslim students were still disadvantaged by missing class time.
The move was met with positive responses from the Muslim community. Executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour posted on Facebook:
...Today is a day that will go down in history. We did this for our children and the generations to come. Thank you New York City for making me even more proud to be a New Yorker. I thank Allah for allowing me and my colleagues to see the fruits of our labor. #eidinnyc
As the religious makeup of America changes, political leaders must take steps to account for and embrace the diversity of America. This move by New York City is a strong start that now puts pressure on officials across the country to consider adding new religious holidays to the official calendar. Perhaps we will see a Hindu holiday, such as Diwali, getting an official nod next.
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