Yesterday morning, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made the monumental announcement at a Brooklyn public school that the city is to become the largest U.S. school district to close in observance of two Muslim holidays. According to Bloomburg.com, 36 percent of its students were absent the last time Eid al-Adha occurred on an instructional day. Eid al-Adha is known as the Festival of the Sacrifice and Eid al-Fitr marks the end of fasting for Ramadan. One will be observed Sept. 24 and the other, which falls over the summer, will be designated a holiday for those attending summer school.
“This is about respect for one of the great faiths of this Earth,” said de Blasio. In past years, “either the child went and pursued his education and missed his religious observance or the other way around. That is the kind of choice that was wrong to have to make for these families.”
“The more we celebrate diversity, the better we are as a city,” added Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina.
Celebrating diversity aside, the move is not without controversy. As Gothamist notes, “During the Bloomberg administration, the City Council approved adding the holidays, but Mayor Bloomberg was against the measure, saying in 2008, ‘The truth of the matter is we need more children in school. More, not less,” and “When you have a city as diverse as we do, with virtually every religion known to man practiced, if we closed school for every single day there wouldn’t be any school.'”
Actually, maybe every day at school should be diversity day. Since when is celebrating diversity a bad thing? Acknowledging and celebrating our differences is the fabric of our society. We are the melting pot, it’s the ideology our country was founded upon. While schools certainly can’t observe every holiday, perhaps a population threshold for these kinds of decisions could come into play in areas where certain religions are predominant. For example, as in NYC, if you have 1.1 million Muslim children, observing those holidays makes sense, especially if 36 percent go absent otherwise. Because truly, how productive is a school day anyway if almost half the student body is absent? (Ahem … Movie Day, anyone?)
Islam is the second-most popular religion in the world, coming in behind Christianity. According to pewforum.org, Muslims account for 23% of the world’s population behind Christians with 31% of the world’s population. While we have no special duty or obligation to tailor our schedules to accommodate every religion practiced in the U.S., it certainly is a fantastic step forward and an exciting precedent for the rest of the country. Respecting and celebrating our diversity, in the grand scheme of things, does far more good than harm. While I personally find much of religious dogma silly, unless it’s directly impacting other people and/or imposing their beliefs on others, I have no problem with it and respect the beliefs of others who take it very seriously.
To that end, Eid Mubarak, my friends. Because maybe it’s coming to a school district near you.