x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Call for Eid to be on school calendars

A grassroots campaign for the New York public school system to include two days of holiday to mark Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr has yet to win final success.

NEW YORK // On Eid al Adha last December, Isabel Bucaram-Belguet did not want Huyam, her then six-year-old daughter, to miss the family festivities. So it was with a heavy heart that she wrote to Huyam's teachers explaining why her little girl would have to skip school and a scheduled field trip. A grassroots campaign for the New York public school system to include two days of holiday to mark Eid al Adha and Eid al Fitr has yet to win final success, forcing parents and pupils to decide between religious obligations or missing school.

"It was really difficult for me at Eid to decide whether to send my daughter to school or keep her at home," said Mrs Bucarem-Belguet, who is originally from Lebanon. "We want to be inclusive and part of society but I also want my children to take part in and learn about our culture." Huyam's school trip was to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. Her mother instead took her to a local performance of the ballet, allowing her to take part in subsequent school projects centred on the piece.

"Not all parents would be able to do what I did for reasons of cost, time and logistics, particularly if there are two or more children," said Mrs Bucaram-Belguet, who is 36 and whose Algerian husband is an engineer. The New York city council voted 50-1 last month to include the Muslim holidays in the public school calendar but Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, was opposed to the move. "If you close the schools for every single holiday, there won't be any school," he said. "Educating our kids requires time in the classroom and that's the most important thing to us."

Mr Bloomberg seeks re-election this November and religious, immigrant and labour leaders intend to keep up the pressure, arguing public schools already honour such Christian and Jewish holidays as Christmas and Yom Kippur. "We urge mayor Michael Bloomberg to ensure that a significant population of Muslim students does not have to make an unfair choice between religious observance and educational opportunities," said Faiza Ali, who is the community affairs director for the New York office of the Council on American Islamic Relations. She is also a steering committee member of the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays, which brings together more than 80 community organisations.

"Currently, one in eight students in New York City public schools is Muslim. Over 90 per cent of Muslim students attend public schools," she said. The total number of Muslim public school students is estimated at around 100,000, with the entire Muslim community believed to number about one million in New York. The coalition says allowing two days off for the Eids would have a minimal impact because the Muslim holidays follow a lunar calendar, meaning they would often fall on a weekend, another school holiday or summer recess. A report by the Immigrant Rights Clinic at New York University said at least one of the two Eids each year over the next decade is expected to fall on an existing holiday.

Political wrangling in Albany, the state capital, has delayed a final vote on two pending bills, which would amend the state education law to require the two Muslim holidays in the school year without Mr Bloomberg's approval. "We have the support of rabbis and other religious leaders who understand that Muslims make the third-largest population group in New York and it's growing bigger," said Bakary Camara, who is a member of the Gambian Society of New York in Bronx, where he lives.

He said he worried about his children missing school because attendance records along with academic results played a big part in how a child progressed through the education system. "At Eid, my three children come to pray and then stay at home with me because it's a tradition and a religious calling," said Mr Camara, who is 44 and works in real estate. "Whatever I have to do to remedy their academics later on, I'll do it."

Several school districts in Michigan and New Jersey recognise Muslim school holidays although recent efforts to do the same in Maryland and Connecticut have failed. Mr Camara said recognition of the holidays would spread awareness of Islam throughout US society, much of which was unaware of the feasts and gift-giving that occurred on Eid al Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, and on Eid al Adha, the festival of sacrifice at the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca.

"Knowledge of these holidays would help to combat Muslim sceptics and those people who do not accept Islam because there is still so much Islamophobia all these years after 9/11," Mr Camara said. sdevi@thenational.ae