New York will become the nation’s first major metropolis to close its public schools in observance of the two most sacred Muslim holy days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday, a watershed moment for a group that has endured suspicion and hostility since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Several municipalities across the country — including in Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey — have moved in recent years to include the holy days, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, in their school calendars. But New York City, with its 1.1 million schoolchildren, dwarfs the others in its size and symbolism.
Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who has pledged a more tolerant and inclusive city, described the policy that begins in the coming school year as a simple “matter of fairness.” But the announcement was all the more striking for its timing, as Muslim-Americans face fresh scrutiny in the wake of terrorist attacks in Europe and new violence in the Middle East.
In January, Duke University abruptly canceled plans to start broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer from the school’s chapel bell tower after threats of violence. And the shooting deaths of three Muslims last month in North Carolina prompted fears about an anti-Muslim backlash. Last week, three Brooklyn men were arrested and charged with plotting to join the Islamic State terrorist organization; two of them lived four miles from the public school where Mr. de Blasio unveiled his new policy.
For Muslim activists, who have spent years trying to raise their political profile, the mayor’s announcement was taken as a significant victory, and an indication that they had matured as a constituency with tangible influence on public policy.
“When these holidays are recognized, it’s a sign that Muslims have a role in the political and social fabric of America,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group.
At least six school districts nationally, including Cambridge, Mass.; Dearborn, Mich.; Burlington, Vt.; and Paterson and South Brunswick, N.J., have granted days off for the major Muslim holidays. Many more districts recognize the holidays in other ways, such as noting them on the school calendar or granting excused absences for observant students.
But there has also been pushback. In November, education officials in Montgomery County, Md., reacted to a local campaign to recognize the Muslim holidays by deciding to eliminate all mention of religious holidays on their 2015-16 school calendar, including Rosh Hashana and Christmas. Instead, those days would be simply marked as days off.
School board officials said the move was meant to ensure fairness, but the Muslim activists who had pushed for the change were stunned. “It felt like they were going to do anything they could to prevent adding the Eid holiday,” said Zainab Chaudry, who was a leader of the Equality for Eid coalition there.
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SOURCE: The New York Times
Michael M. Grynbaum and Sharon Otterman