Philadelphia Schools to Add Two Muslim Holidays to Calendar

(Photo: Joe Warner, NJ.com)

(Photo: Joe Warner, NJ.com)

The Philadelphia School District is one of the first school systems in the country to add two Muslim holidays to the school calendar, and Mayor Jim Kenney says he is ready to add the same holidays to city workers’ calendars.

The mayor has established the Mayor’s Task Force on Cultural Inclusion to work on how the addition can be accomplished. The group includes city agencies, the District Attorney’s Office, the School District, and the municipal courts system.

A Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesperson in Washington, D.C. said he knew of no other cities that included Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha on their calendars, according to Tricia L. Nadolny reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Philadelphia’s history is based on being a place where religious freedom is part of its founding ethos,” Kenney said at a news conference in City Hall, where he was joined by Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. to announce the new holidays. “Our city was built on the idea that while we may be different in nationality and ethnicity, the city welcomes all to worship and practice the faiths of our culture or our choosing.”

The holiday of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha spotlights Abraham’s compliance to sacrifice his son to God and comes at the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Because the Islam religion follows a lunar calendar, the two holidays change to different dates each year. During the 2016-2017 academic year, they will occur in mid-September and late June, respectively.

Last year, New York City was the first principal city to add the holidays to school schedules — a significant move since the level of trust toward Muslims after the September 11 attack has wavered.

“These are like rays of light in the darkness,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, noting a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments fueled in part by the comments of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

A member of the Philadelphia Eid Coalition said the district’s decision will affirm the city’s young Muslim students.

David Chang, reporting for WCAU-TV, says that the city’s Muslim students will be allowed to have excused absences for the holidays as the plan is put in place. PSD will inform students and families about the excused absences policy for the coming year since the school calendar has already been set, but for the 2017-2018 year and all consecutive years, the district will present the dates to the School Reform Commission. The commission will then vote on whether the holidays will be added to the annual calendar.

PSD will also confer with the teachers unions so that adherence to contract obligations and the effort to make logistical necessities easier will be ensured, said a city spokesperson.

The news concerning the Eid celebrations was announced on Tuesday by district officials, City Councilperson Curtis Jones, Jr., who is himself Muslim, and the Philadelphia Eid Coalition.

The coalition has been asking the schools and the city to recognize the holidays since 2015. Philadelphia has approximately 200,000 Muslims, writes Talia Balakirksy for the Philadelphia Magazine.