New Jersey Parents Advocate for Muslim Students to Officially Celebrate Eid with Family

East Brunswick residents spoke in front of school board, requesting Islamic holidays be added to the district’s calendar as Ramadan starts next month

Muslim parents in East Brunswick, NJ approached the Board of Education seeking equal parity with other faiths in recognizing Islamic festivals on the district’s official list of school holidays. 

Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha are the two major Islamic holidays, the first marking the end of Ramadan and the other honoring Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrifice. This year, Ramadan will begin on March 23 and Eid is projected to be observed on Friday, April 21, for three days. Residents were asking the board to close schools for at least one day to give Muslim students the chance to observe the holiday. 

“Recently we've seen that the American Muslim community is thriving, we contribute so much to society at large, both within and outside of the school communities,” said the President of the Eid Holiday Coalition, Dr. Uzma Syed. “It's only pertinent and relevant that Muslim American students feel like they have this sense of belonging within their school environment in addition to their home communities.” 

Syed, whose organization is dedicated to helping parents across the country advocate for Islamic holidays to be part of the school calendar, says many American Muslim students face unfair challenges when they are forced to choose between their education and celebrating their faith with family. 

On January 19, more than 60 residents approached the school board during a 90-minute meeting asking for schools to be closed on both Eid holidays. Since then, the item has been tabled for later review. 

This is not East Brunswicks’ first request to add Eid as a holiday, 1o years ago a mother of three and chair of the East Brunswick Human Relations Council, Erum Shakir approached the district with the same request. Again in 2014, the Muslim Student Association from East Brunswick High School submitted a petition to the board to have Eid included on the calendar as a holiday. 

“There are over 25 school districts in New Jersey alone that have already accepted Eid as an official school district holiday,” says Syed. “I think if the neighboring districts are doing it, it only makes sense that the school district follows suit as well. They're going to send a strong message to their school, community, parents and students that they are really embracing and welcoming everyone from every faith.” 

Last month, New Jersey’s Watchung Borough School District agreed to add Eid al-Fitr to the district’s 2024 calendar as a day off for students and a professional development day for staff. April 10, 2024, will be added to the district’s calendar of closed days so that students may celebrate Eid al-Fitr with their families. 

The Eid Holiday Coalition has worked with school districts and Muslim communities in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York to advocate that the holiday be recognized in school closures and excused absences. 

The New York-based organization has helped several American Muslim families approach their school boards with success in communities of varying populations, “it really is a beautiful thing to see the communities come together and work closely with their school communities,” says Syed. 

The main challenge of adding the holidays has been ensuring the district meets the required number of days class must be in session. The Coalition has successfully added Eid to school calendars without shortening winter and spring breaks. 

“The children really need to feel valued, and I think as the community grows as the children age, you can see how difficult that becomes on them in the older years because, in high school, the curriculum is so intense … it becomes more and more difficult and we don't think that Muslim American students should have to choose between their academia and their faith,” said Syed.

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