As a Muslim growing up in East Brunswick, Atiya Aftab missed classes and had to make up school work to be with her family on two important holidays: Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice.
In a decision that sent ripples of hope across the Muslim community well beyond New Jersey, the South Brunswick Board of Education has approved school closings in the 2010-11 school year for two Islamic holy days.
To Aftab, it was an acknowledgment Muslims “are part of the community fabric.”
To South Brunswick school board president Matthew Speesler, it was time the district needed “to recognize” the two Muslim holy days and the Hindu new year, Diwali.
About 10 of the nearly 600 school districts in New Jersey acknowledge Muslim holy days as official school holidays, according to the New Jersey School Board’s Association. Paterson’s school calendar recognizes them. Passaic’s calendar includes Diwali, but not the Islamic holidays. Atlantic City lists Ed al-Fitr but not Eid al-Adha. Other districts that have closed for the holidays include Irvington, Prospect Park, Cliffside Park and Plainfield.
The school calendars in Woodbridge and Edison, which have large Asian populations, make no mention of the Muslim holy days.
In New York City, the issue of honoring Muslim holidays is political and controversial. Last month, the City Council passed a non-binding resolution calling for school closings on the same two Muslim holy days, but Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who controls the school district, has opposed the closings for reasons he said have nothing to do with Islam.
The two holy days this year fall on dates convenient for schools to close. Eid al-Fitr is Sept. 10, a day many schools will close for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. The other Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, is Nov. 16, and will be scheduled as a staff development day.
The district also determined it had a large enough population of Asian Indians that the holiday would affect many of the district’s children. While not all Asians are Muslim, many do adhere to the faith. Middlesex County has the state’s highest concentration of Asian residents–151,160 or 19 percent of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. New Jersey is also home to an estimated 100 mosques and between 400,000 to 600,000 Muslims, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.