NEW YORK — Public schools in New York City will now close for two major Muslim holidays, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday.
de Blasio had expressed support for the move in 2013 while running as a mayoral candidate, stating that that schools should close on both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The first celebrates the close of Ramadan and the second observes Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael, and marks the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. (Muslims believe Abraham was asked to sacrifice Ishmael, while Christians and Jews believe it was Isaac who was placed on the altar.)
“The origins of this nation [are] people of many different faiths coming together,” de Blasio told the New York Daily News at that time. “That’s why we have to respect Muslim faiths by providing the Eid school holidays for children in our school system.”
On Wednesday, he and school Chancellor Carmen Farina announced the official implementation of the accommodation.
“We made a pledge to families that we would change our school calendar to reflect the strength and diversity of our city,” de Blasio said. “This is a common-sense change, and one that recognizes our growing Muslim community and honors its contributions to our city. … This is about respect for one of the great faiths of this Earth.”
“Muslim students and their families who observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha shouldn’t have to choose between an instructional day and their religious obligations,” added Farina. “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.”
Two additional school days were added in return to keep the total number of days at 180, plus two snow days. New York City Schools currently close on the Old Testament holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, and on Christmas and Easter. Adding Muslim holidays to the mix makes New York City the largest city in the nation to observe Muslim holidays in its public school system.
“I think we [need] have a larger discussion in this city and in this nation—a deeper understanding of the Muslim faith and its obvious connection to the other faiths for which we do honor school holidays,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “[T]here is a clear connection between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
Schools will close on Sept. 24 for Eid al-Adha, and Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, will be observed next year for those attending Summer School.
But now that de Blasio has announced the change, other religious groups are also hoping for recognition of their holidays as well. According to the International Business Times, Hindus are disappointed that the change does not include the Hindu Festival of Lights, known as Diwali.
“While the addition of two Muslim holidays is commendable, the mayor’s decision to exclude Diwali, a festival that is celebrated by thousands of Hindu, Jain, and Sikhs in NYC, is beyond disappointing,” Sheetal Shah, senior director of the Hindu American Foundation, remarked in a statement. “These communities are a vibrant and integral part of this city and deserve to be able to celebrate their festivals. In excluding Diwali, the mayor is falling short on his responsibility to equally represent all New Yorkers.”
One commenter noted when de Blasio first made his campaign promise that if all religions are accommodated in public schools, school districts are going to have difficulty fitting in adequate time for instruction.
“If all students get the day off for every holiday no matter the religion, soon the schools won’t be open much,” they wrote. “They should just make it an excused day for the child that celebrates certain holidays, and still have school for the rest of the students.”
Photo: Kevin Case