School’s out today for students in New York City. It’s Eid al-Adha, a festival of sacrifice in the Islamic faith. And this year, for the first time, students in the nation’s largest school system will have time off to observe the holy day.
New York City’s acknowledgment of the holiday is a step in the right direction toward a broader acceptance and tolerance of Muslim Americans. But there are other cities where efforts to include the holiday are being stymied, another setback for the American Muslim community at a time when, according to The Washington Post, the rate of anti-Muslim hate crimes is still roughly five times higher than before 9/11, and a time when a presidential frontrunner tells America he would not “advocate” for a Muslim president.
A recent Public Policy poll out of Iowa found that only 49 percent of Republicans think Islam should be legal or had not made their mind up.
New York City's example is "a very good sign,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director of the Council on American Islamic Relations. Hooper called the day off a “precedent that will set the tone nationwide” as Muslim parents work to get more school systems on board.
According to The New York Times a handful of municipalities, including ones in Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey, have added time off for Eid into their school calendars.
New York City framed the move as a learning opportunity. “This new addition also enables a teachable moment in the classroom for our students to learn about religious tolerance and the societal contributions of various cultures,” the Department of Education said in a statement.
But in other areas of the country, that lesson has been slower to catch on.
Zainab Chaudry, the Maryland Outreach Director and Spokeswoman at CAIR, says she has been working tirelessly with a coalition to get Montgomery County, the state’s most populous county, to close schools for Eid.
“A group of community leaders, parents, Jewish and Christian allies worked together to make an appeal to close schools [for the holiday],” she said. “It’s only a couple school days. It’s not an unreasonable request.”
According to Chaudry, the school board denied the request and voted to strike all religious holidays from its calendar. Schools were no longer technically observing Christmas, Easter and Rosh Hashanah, even though students still got all those days off. Chaudry says those days are now called “winter break” and “spring break,” euphemisms for what were once observed religious holidays.
After this year’s loss, Chaudry is focused on next year’s Eid. “The date we’re focused on in Montgomery County is September 12, 2016. We’d like that designated off for students.” That vote is slated to happen in November.
Jersey City voted down school closures for Eid last week, according to NJ.com. The Jersey City Schools Superintendent said the board was concerned there would not be enough notice for parents to find adequate childcare.
Hooper has hope that New York City’s observance will help to dispel hostility towards the Muslim community. “[New York City] sends a very positive message as we see a rise in Islamophobia nationwide,” he said. “At least this is a positive sign we can point to.”
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.