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Muslims to city: We want school holidays, too

Brooklyn’s diverse Muslim community is urging the City Council to pass legislation to include the two holiest holidays of Islam on the New York City public school calendar before the end of June.

This week, the Council’s Education Committee passed Resolution 1281, calling on the Department of Education to recognize Eid Al−Fitr and Eid Al−Adha as system−wide school holidays, by a vote of 11−1. The City Council is expected to take up the bill on June 30.

The plan would require the DOE to consider extending the school year by two additional days or reach some other arrangement within their scheduling, to accommodate the Muslim community. About 95 percent of Muslim school−age children attend public schools in New York City and nearly one out of every eight children enrolled in the city’s schools is Muslim, though some Arab groups believe the numbers in Brooklyn are higher.

Over 150 community leaders from Muslim service organizations, including the Arab Muslim American Federation in Bay Ridge, the Council of People’s Organizations in Coney Island, and the Muslim American Society of New York in Bensonhurst, attended a rally at City Hall last week to lobby their councilmembers. Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not noted her position on the Muslim school holiday bill, but Muslim groups believe they have the support of more than 30 councilmembers.

“As a public school parent, I believe it is critical that students have the freedom to practice and celebrate their religions,” said Council member Bill de Blasio. “I am very proud to have voted for legislation, which calls on the Department of Education to incorporate important Muslim holidays into the school holiday calendar, and I urge the Department to implement this policy without compromising classroom days for students.” Linda Sarsour, acting director of the Arab American Association of New York (7111 Fifth Avenue) in Bay Ridge, said that the community members were “ecstatic” that the Education Committee passed the measure and that many Muslims felt they were finally being included in the city’s public school system.

“The original reason why this came up was because citywide state tests were held on Eid Al Adha,” said Sarsour. “Some Muslim kids went to school on the holiest day of the calendar. Children shouldn’t have to chose between their education and their religious obligations.”

Muftau Akens, a member of the Nigerian American Muslim Integrated Community (801 Dean Street) in Prospect Heights, said that Muslim children deserved the time off from school and that other children should know more about Islam, particularly its holy days.

“This is part of our own celebration,” said Akens. “During those two days, we want our children to be absent from school so they can celebrate them with their families.”

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