Muslim activists in the US reacted with delight to a decision by New York City to add the two most important Islamic religious holidays to the public school calendar.
The decision means that New York City will become America's biggest metropolis to close its public schools in observance of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, a move that also marks the emergence of the city's Muslim community as a constituency with a visible influence on public policy.
"We are very proud of our community for incorporating Muslim holidays into the largest public school system in the United States," Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, told The Anadolu Agency.
Muslims in New York City had long been pushing to close the city's public schools for the two Islamic holidays in a bid to spare Muslim students from a decision to choose between honoring the most sacred days on their religious calendar and attending classes.
The City Council passed a resolution in 2009 to grant the days off, but former mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed making the change.
The designation of the two Eids as an official holiday was one of the campaign pledges of current Mayor Bill de Blasio.
"The campaign in NYC proved that when Muslim communities unite, organize, we have power and influence over policy," said Sarsour.
The five boroughs of New York City are home to approximately one million Muslims, and Muslim students comprise roughly 10% of the city's public school students, according to a 2009 Columbia University study.
Christina Tasca, executive-director of Muslim Community Network and a founding member of the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays, also welcomed the decision, saying it ensured that Muslim students would no longer have to make an "unfair choice between their education and participating in their most important holidays."
"Including the Eids on the school calendar sends a powerful message that the growing Muslim community is a valued part of New York City, and it also provides the opportunity to nurture the values of respect, diversity, tolerance and inclusion in the youth," she said.
Under the new change announced March 4, the city's public schools will close on Sept. 24 for Eid al-Adha, also known as the Festival of Sacrifice. The other Muslim holiday, Eid-al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, will be a holiday for those attending summer school starting in 2016.
"This is a commonsense step, where the city reflected its population and included them," said Hesham el-Meligy from the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. "By doing that, NYC has sent a strong message of recognition, inclusion, and respect to the entire world."
New York City joins several municipalities across the country, including in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan and Vermont, which similarly put the Eids in their school calendars. But the decision by New York City, the largest and most influential American metropolis, eclipses the others in terms both of national impact and symbolism.
"We hope that other places in America and across the world will take the example of NYC and treat everyone with the dignity and respect they deserve," Meligy said.
The landmark decision is also seen as a victory for a group which has witnessed a prolonged suspicion and hostiity since the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001.
By Mustafa Caglayan
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