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Muslims in New York City Unite on Push to Add Holidays to School Calendar
The meeting opened with a pledge from the podium to try to end, God willing, by the hour of the evening prayer. Clusters of colorfully veiled women kept watch over jittery young children. Rows of men conversed in a jangle of languages.
They were Muslims from Bosnia, Montenegro, Egypt and Syria, Pakistan and Bangladesh — several hundred in all.
It was a gathering remarkable in its diversity from among New York City’s Muslims, a growing group whose members often find it difficult to work together politically because of differences in national origin, language, sect and class. But a single issue has managed to unify them: the push to close the city’s public schools for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the most sacred Muslim holidays.
The issue might seem of modest importance alongside deeper concerns among many Muslims in the city, including the Police Department’s monitoring of their community since the Sept. 11 attacks. But the rally, held recently in a public school auditorium in Queens and organized in barely a week’s time, was a testament to how the city’s Muslim community is gaining a measure of political confidence.
Like all the major mayoral candidates in 2013, Bill de Blasio pledged to add the Muslim holidays to the school calendar. But since his election, he has declined to give specifics and has warned it will take time.
Rather than consider the battle won, a coalition of Muslim, interfaith and secular groups that has largely been dormant since 2009 has begun to agitate again, planning rallies in the city’s five boroughs and distributing postcards that remind Mr. de Blasio that including the Muslim school holidays is a matter of “recognition, inclusion and respect.”
“He’s going to sign only if he has too much headache — he cannot get away from it,” Ahmed Jamil, the president of the Muslim American Society Community Center in Astoria, Queens, told the cheering crowd at the rally last month at Public School 69 in Jackson Heights. “Our rights — we are going to fight until we get them.”
Estimates of the Muslim population in New York City range widely, from 600,000 to one million. A Columbia University study in 2008 found that about 10 percent of New York City public-school children are Muslim, and about 95 percent of Muslim children in the city attend public schools. But staging a successful broad-based advocacy campaign among the city’s Muslims had long been a challenge.