By Fathema Ahmed
On March 4, Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced the addition of the Muslim holidays of Eid al- Fitr and Eid al-Adha as public school holidays, thus fulfilling a promise he made during his mayoral campaign. While the majority of public school holidays are Christian and Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Thanksgiving and Christmas the announcement of public school closures on Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha marks the first time that a Muslim holiday is given a day off in New York.
“We’re here today to make good on a promise to our Muslim brothers and sisters that a holiday of supreme importance to the Muslim community will be recognized in our school calendar so that children can honor the holiday without missing school, so that families can be together on the holiday, so that our city respects and embraces this important and growing community. We’re making good on a promise, and it’s time for this promise to be kept,” stated DeBlasio during his announcement.
“I’m thrilled that we finally have a holiday off that’s recognized by New York State. It’s 2015 and one of the largest religions is finally getting their desired day off ,” said Yellda Balouch, a John Jay senior and vice president of the Muslim Student Association, regarding the days off for the two Eids.
The two Eids are important religious holidays for Muslims that both have their own function. Eid al-Fitr meaning the festival of breaking the fast is a holiday that celebrates the end of Ramadan which is a month of fasting for Muslims. Eid al-Adha meaning festival of the sacrifice refers to what Muslims believe to be the willingness of their Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ishmael at the command of their God referred to as Allah in what is believed to be an act of submission. It is celebrated at the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Students feel that Muslims having the day off is only fair, “I feel good for the Muslims because it’s only two days of the year for their holiday and now they get to celebrate it genuinely with the peace of mind that they don’t have to worry about the day coming between their families and exams or something school related,” said John Jay senior Christopher Ferreiras.
“I feel as though now Islam as a practice in New York City will be recognized as an authentic practice and respected like the other Abrahamic religions,” continued Ferreiras.
Since the Islamic Calendar is a lunar calendar the holidays don’t have a set date. Instead Muslims around the world await the sighting of the new moon, which lets them know when they can celebrate their holidays. The date also depends on ones location since the moon is not seen everywhere at the same time.
“The Jewish Calendar is a lunar calendar, just like the Muslim calendar which shows that those arrangements can be made in advance. We can make those plans in almost certainty, at least a year in advance,” stated Associate Professor of the Anthropology department, Avram Bornstein.
“Yeah, but the point – the point being, each year, the calendar is different. You know, for the schools each year the religious calendar is different as well. So there will be times when both of the Eid holidays naturally do not occur on school days, or one occurs on a school day, or one does not, sometimes both may. So, we will adjust literally year by year according to need,” stated DeBlasio in a press release on the addition of these holidays would affect schools since there is no set date.
The two Eids aren’t celebrated on the same date by everyone, leaving Muslims to depend on their local mosque and the committee that they have in place to let them know what date they should celebrate the holidays on.
“We are going to work with community members to agree upon a formula for that,” stated Mayor DeBlasio on how the dates of the two Eids would be determined.
“I think it’s great in one sense. We have a growing Muslim student community and I think that should be recognized. It makes sense for Muslims to have the day off. There are some wrinkles though, we already have a long semester. We already have so many holidays which makes it difficult for students to adjust. I think it’s a good thing but I think if we do it we have to make it work with the constraints we have without disrupting the semester,” said Associate Professor of the English department, Jay Gates on how having two extra days off would affect a student’s semester.
“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,” stated DeBlasio on his thought process behind making Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha into public school holidays.
For students such as Khadija Rahman a John Jay junior and Secretary of the Muslim Student Association it is a struggle deciding whether to take the day off from school, “I’d always have to have to debate whether there’s an exam or if I’d miss out too much material that day. I’d have to take into consideration if it was worth missing a day.”
“We are a nation that was built to be multi-faith, multicultural. That was the concept of this country. That is why people came here to develop this country from the beginning. And we are carrying out that vision here and now. We as a city need to do more to deepen our connection to Muslim communities all over the city, to work more closely with community leaders,” stated DeBlasio in a press release.