Muslim students have had to make the decision for far too long between honouring their religious duties, such as observing Eid, and the scholastic demands of school. Yet, the tide is changing in New Jersey, where the Muslim population has doubled during the past ten years. More and more public schools in New Jersey are closing for Eid, providing Muslim students with a crucial and long-overlooked accommodation.
For the past seven years, public schools in Jersey City have been closed on Eid.
The community’s acknowledgement, according to Mussab Ali, a current Harvard Law School student and past president of the Jersey City Board of Education, is what he believes to be most crucial. “We kind of have a responsibility to expose children to various things going on in the schools.”
Ali pointed out that noting Eid on the school calendar and closing in observance of the holiday prompts discussions among kids, parents, teachers, and staff.
It begins to shift the community’s consciousness in the direction of understanding, according to Ali. “I recall that my friends wouldn’t always understand when I had to leave for Eid while I was a student. Oh, like, he’s out, there’s a holiday, was all they said. There also wouldn’t be much of a dialogue.
“But when it became a holiday for the entire school, well, what’s happening is when these kids are going home, and parents are looking at the calendar and wondering why the school is closed, there’s a conversation, even just at a baseline level, acknowledging that the reason schools are off is that it’s a holiday,” Ali said. That matters a lot to a particular group of people. And it, in my opinion, makes them more human.
The school calendar for 2022–2023, which included an Eid closure, was unanimously adopted by the Paramus, New Jersey, school board last February. Paramus is located twenty miles north of Jersey City. Asad Gilani, Mehreen Khateeb, and Mateen Aminyar, three Muslim students, had been leading the discussion on the necessity of making religious accommodations for Muslim students.
Gilani claimed that not having the festival recognised in the past had left him feeling “unseen” when questioned about Eid.
“I felt there was never intentional desire to not be seen as much in educational policy,” Gilani stated. “Educators and lawmakers were unaware that Muslims were dealing with these problems.”
Gilani co-authored a book with his classmates Khateeb and Aminyar that outlines instances of anti-Muslim discrimination that children encounter as a result of, in part, exclusive school regulations.
The main reason these problems were not addressed, according to Gilani, was that school administrators were unaware that such a huge population was affected by them. They were quick and prepared to adopt these adjustments after we demonstrated the severity of these difficulties.
Halal food alternatives and breaks during physical education sessions for students who are fasting for Ramadan are a few of the things that the students are aiming towards.
The Watchung Borough Board of Education has agreed to close schools for pupils for Eid al-Fitr in the 2023–2024 academic year in a meeting on Jan. 24. This choice was made following a year and a half of advocacy work by parents and students.
“These unanimous decisions by the Watchung BOE send a signal to other adjacent districts,” claims Ryan Kuran, a student at Watchung Hills Regional High School who is actively involved in the lobbying activities at the K–8 institution.
But, not all schools are moving forward in the same way. Watchung Hills Regional High School has yet to make these religious accommodations for its expanding Muslim population, despite students’ and parents’ constant demands, even though the K–8 schools are closing for Eid.
Kuran thinks that the majority of students are in favour of closing schools for Eid and that when forced to choose between their religious and scholastic duties, he and other students feel alienated at school.
Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion were exceptionally high on the list of goals when staff and students at the high school took part in a school climate survey in 2020, according to Kuran. The Board of Ed lists DEI as one of its strategic objectives, but it did not consult with the community, staff, or students about the best ways to address these problems.
In a statement published in July 2021 in support of students’ requests for an Eid celebration, the Watchung Hills Regional Education Association noted the high school’s “strides throughout the years” and drew attention to the district’s five-year strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The letter states, “As educators, we support an educational environment and a school culture that provide the fewest obstacles as possible to students expressing their opinions and upholding their identities, regardless of colour, gender, and religious identity.
In a separate interview, Greg O’Reilly, president of the WHREA, said that Warren Township’s recent decision to include Eid in the school calendar is encouraging and that other districts should work with the children and families in their communities to find solutions that meet everyone’s requirements.
According to him, it’s critical that schools remove obstacles in the way of students and staff members who want to practise their faith while carrying out their academic duties, “while also providing the social and emotional space for them to openly and without concern — without hassle — practise their faith and express their identity in the way that they would feel is appropriate.”
In accordance with the Department of Education’s commitment to making sure that schools are secure, hospitable, and inclusive settings, CAIR-NJ has kept track of about 30 school districts in New Jersey that close for Eid. Local governments all around the state were contacted in an open letter asking school boards to respect Eid shutdown.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey is run by Dina Sayedahmed, the communications manager. Intern Maryam Ali works for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey, conducting legal research and writing editorials.