New York City Likely to Start Closing Schools to Observe Muslim Holidays Next Year

New York City is likely to start giving students time off to observe Muslim holy days Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha starting next year in honor of the estimated 13 percent of Muslims among its 1.1 million student population.

The New York Daily News reports that both Democratic and Republican candidates who will face off for the city's mayoralty next month agree that schools should be closed for the two Muslim days as they do for both Christian and Jewish holy days.

"The origins of this nation (are) people of many different faiths coming together. That's why we have to respect Muslim faiths by providing the Eid school holidays for children in our school system," said Democratic frontrunner Bill de Blasio.

Candidate de Blasio argued that things can get problematic for Muslim students when a statewide test is scheduled on one of the holy days.

"A child who has an exam on a day that right now is one of the Eid holidays, they're either respecting their religious obligation or they're doing what their education requires of them," de Blasio said. "They can't do both under our current system."

Republican candidate Joe Lhota said the closing of schools on Muslim holy days is something he has been calling for throughout his campaign. "We have a growing Muslim community in the city of New York and their religion needs to be respected as all other religions are respected," he noted on Wednesday.

"We're not going to lose the school days," he further explained. "We'll have to extend the school days by those two days. But nonetheless, those who are Muslim will be allowed to have that day off to celebrate their holidays."

For years advocates have been pushing for Muslim holy days off, but faced strong opposition from current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He argued that adding Muslim holidays to the school calendar would open the door to other religious and ethnic groups making similar requests.

"Everybody would like to be recognized, but the truth of the matter is we need more school days, not less," noted Bloomberg in 2009.

New York City students currently get 13 days off on the school calendar, including the Rosh Hashana Jewish New Year and Good Friday.

Many practicing Muslims are forced to keep their kids home from school on Muslim holy days because they are not included on the school calendar, according to the report.