More and More School Districts Are Closing for Muslim Holidays

A child looks on from his car seat as his mother, along with other Muslim devotees, takes part in a special morning prayer to mark the start of Eid al-Adha festival at mosque in Silver Spring, Maryland, in Montgomery County, on Nov. 6, 2011. 

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

For years now, Muslims have campaigned for schools to recognize their major religious holidays, and on Tuesday they scored a victory in Montgomery County, Maryland, where the school board voted 6–2 to hold a professional development day and close schools to students on Eid al-Adha, the Muslim feast day commemorating Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son to Allah, beginning next September. (Eid, which is determined by the lunar calendar, is expected to fall on either Sept. 11, a Sunday, or Sept. 12, next year.)

Though Montgomery County, a Washington, D.C., suburb with roughly 1 million people, has long closed school for major Christian and Jewish holidays, last year, when Eid and Yom Kippur fell on the same day, the board decided that—rather than add the name of the Muslim holiday to the calendar, as Muslims in the community had requested—they’d just do away with all religious references on the calendar. While this purely symbolic move didn’t alter which days kids would be out of school, it did piss people off all over the map, including Christians—though of course, it’s nothing new to refer to the school holidays that just so happen to coincide with Christmas and Easter as winter and spring breaks.

Montgomery County, the largest school district in Maryland, with 156,000 students, is not the only place struggling to accommodate the increasing religious diversity of its student body. Some districts in New Jersey have closed for Muslim holidays for years, while others, like Jersey City, recently voted against closing for Eid this year. And this spring, the New York City Department of Education, the largest school district in the country, where an estimated 10 percent of students are Muslim, announced that schools would close for Eid al-Adha. Summer school will also close to commemorate Eid al-Fitr, the feast day that marks the end of Ramadan.

Mayor Bill de Blasio did push back against pressure to close for the Hindu holiday of Diwali (which conveniently happens to fall Nov. 11, on Veterans Day, this year). He told reporters this summer, “I said well before this year that we needed to recognize the two Eid holidays, that I believe we needed to recognize Asian Lunar New Year—that’s all I’ve ever said and that’s where we will stand.”

De Blasio is acknowledging what many critics of these unofficial religious observances have pointed out over the years—that diversity is great, but honor too much of it, and it gets kind of hard to squeeze in those necessary 180 days of schooling.