In Paterson, there has been no school on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur for years. But now the schools are also closed on the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr (the end of the month of fasting for Ramadan) and Eid al-Adha (the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca).
Prospect Park schools generally close for the first and last days of Ramadan and Eid al-Adha. Atlantic City added two Muslim holidays to its school calendar in the last three years. And this year, for the first time, Cliffside Park will close Thursday to observe the end of Ramadan.
With significant demographic changes taking place in many communities, school officials struggle annually with the school calendar. The movement toward Muslim holidays is small but growing in New Jersey.
The shift to Muslim holidays is not widespread in the region, despite sizable Muslim populations in some cities. The school board associations on Long Island and in Connecticut and Westchester said they knew of no districts that closed for Muslim holidays.
But New Jersey, with a Muslim population estimated at 400,000, has been different. Districts like Paterson probably have thousands of Muslim students, said Hani Y. Awadallah, a chemistry professor at Montclair State University and president of the 10-year-old Arab American Civic Organization.
“This is really a trend that is taking off,” Dr. Awadallah said of the school holidays. “I think you will see this across the country.”
Twenty years ago it was not unusual for many districts to have only the Christian holidays on their calendars, and districts with high Jewish populations also took off on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, said Barry Ersek, interim executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators.
While the state and education associations do not track holiday calendars in schools, educators agree that many more districts have added Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in the last 10 years and about a dozen districts have added Muslim holidays.
“It’s based on community needs, and every community is different,” Dr. Ersek said. “You have to be sensitive to your community and their needs. The calendar can be controversial.” . . .
Districts like Cliffside Park that added a Muslim holiday “have come a long way,” said Afsheen Shamsi, community relations director for the New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“We are hoping that more school districts will take off the Muslim holidays,” she said. “America is a country where we bring together people of diverse faiths. New Jersey is a great state and attracts people of diverse backgrounds.” (MORE)