New York City, NY (TFC) – Yesterday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that all of the schools within the New York City public school system will be closed in recognition of two of the most important Muslim holy days, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. NYC will be the first major metropolitan area to close its public schools for the Eid holidays. Although a number of public schools in other states close in recognition of them. These schools include Waterbury, Connecticut; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Paterson and South Brunswick, New Jersey; and Burlington, Vermont. Additional districts observe the holidays as well by adding a notation on their school calendars, or permitting students who observe these holidays to be absent on the dates of their celebration. Whereas some schools have deliberately gone out of their way in order to avoid the observance of the Eid holidays. Montgomery County, Maryland went so far as to remove any and all mention of religious holidays from their school calendar, rather than to observe two days that are most sacred to those of the Muslim faith.
The New York City Council had voted to authorize these observances in 2009, however, the former mayor, Michael Bloomberg had been adamantly opposed. So, now, nearly six years later, Mayor de Blasio is following through on his 2013 campaign promise to enact the city council’s resolution.
Beginning next fall the New York City public school system will implement these changes into their calendar. Observing the two Eid holidays will not affect the length of the school year, it will still consist of 182 days. The school year will simply begin one day sooner to accommodate for the closure on September 24th for Eid al-Adha and the second holiday will be observed during summer school in 2016. The dates that Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are celebrated on vary from one region to the next due to the fact that the dates of their celebration are determined by the lunar calendar. In order to determine which days the schools will be closed in observation, Mayor de Blasio will be coordinating with community members so they may come to a mutually agreeable decision. It should be noted that this change will not affect the city’s private schools. When asked, the mayor had this to say,
“Private schools have to make their own decision, and I hope – but I hope they will follow our lead.”
The NYC public school system is the largest in the country, consisting of 1.1 million students. There is an estimated population of between 600,000 and 1,000,000 Muslims currently living in New York City. Approximately ten to twelve percent of the public school population is comprised of Muslims. The city’s schools already close in observation of the Christian and Jewish holidays, Good Friday and Christmas, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur respectively. Mayor de Blasio is currently working with community leaders representing the Asian-American community towards adding the Lunar New Year to the list of recognized holidays to be placed upon the school calendar. Indian-American groups are asking that the Hindu festival of Diwali be added too.
In his speech on Wednesday, de Blasio stated that,
“This is about respect for one of the great faiths of this earth – help me with my number – 1.6 billion Muslims around the world? This is about respect for the families of our city. They’re the core of our city. All families deserve respect. Every kind of family deserves respect, and that’s what we’re noting today.
The Muslim faith is one of the fastest growing in this nation and in this city, and many, many city students celebrate Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. For too long, again, families were forced into an untenable situation. Either the children went to school on those holy days because so many children, of course so many families devoted to education didn’t want their children to miss school. Sometimes those school days included important tests and milestones in the educational year. So either the child went and pursued their education and missed their religious observance, or the other way around – they participated in a sacred moment for their families and missed out educationally. That is a kind of choice that was wrong to have to make for these families. It was wrong that our school system left them in that situation.”
He went on to say,
“And I remind everyone, this nation is so interesting, so powerful, so unique in its origins because it is a nation built to respect all faiths. If you look at our founding documents and you look at the origins of this nation, there was an overt and clear embrace of all faiths, and acknowledgement that in a strong society all faiths needed to be respected. That is who we are as Americans. We’re still working to create that more prefect union, but our foundational documents guide us clearly in this matter. We are supposed to be a nation for all, and this is a step to further deepen that progress.”
Social media has been flooded with a mixture of both celebratory and disdainful posts over de Blasio’s announcement. Many seem outraged that their children will be missing school in order to observe religious holidays that are not their own. Why is it that it is perfectly acceptable for the other students to have school days off while your family celebrates your own religious holidays? The common thread that I’ve seen among the more ignorantly scathing comments is that
“these are terrorists’ holidays.”
“They hate Americans. Why should we observe their holy days?”
is another statement I’ve seen phrased in a number of ways. It saddens me that these are the sorts of messages that so many are filling their children’s minds with. Do you not understand that many Muslims are American? You’re ignorantly accusing every Muslim of being a terrorist because of the actions of a few extremists. There are extremists in every single major organized religion in the world and no one is holding any of you directly responsible for the actions of others so why are you doing so? Think about it this way, if you teach your child to judge each and every single individual in their lives based solely upon that individual’s own actions, rather than any preconceived notions or propagandized rhetoric you’ve absorbed from the mainstream media or the government, then you will have raised a child who is more tolerant, respectful, and compassionate than one who is being raised to despise everyone in an entire faith over the actions of so very few.
This world consists of every kind of human being imaginable. The choice of who you are and how you treat others is a decision that is entirely your own. Indeed, the great amount of diversity in New York City is more prominent than most anywhere else. It is what makes the city so unique and captivating. For centuries New York City has been a veritable melting pot of human beings who span just about every culture, ethnicity, and background that you could possibly imagine. Every borough, every neighborhood fascinates with a characteristic that is uniquely its own. That is what makes New York City, New York City. To eliminate even one aspect of its history would be to change the entire landscape of the city. Certainly there have been periods where particular groups failed to see eye to eye, however, isn’t it time to leave that in the past? Learn from those mistakes and grow as a community? Grow as individuals.