A group of Muslims has accused the New York City Dept. of Education of discrimination for refusing to recognize Islamic holy days on the school calendar.
Nearly 200 Muslims and their supporters rallied at City Hall to call on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to add Eid-ul Adha and Eid-ul Fitr to the calendar. According to some estimates, 12 percent of the city's 1.1 million students are Muslim.
"This is important for the Muslim students because currently they are forced to choose between going to school or observing one of the holiest holidays in their religion," Faiza Ali told WPIX-TV. "So, it puts an unfair burden on Muslim children."
The current calendar recognizes major Christian and Jewish holidays including Christmas and Yom Kippur. Muslim students said it's unfair.
"I want the mayor to know everyone has rights and we want our holiday off," student Anas Shuaib told WABC.
Khaleda Aketer, a student from Staten Island, wondered about the fairness of the mayor's decision. "Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the city," she told SLLIVE.com. "Why shouldn't we have the same rights as other religions?"
Under the current policy, Muslim students are allowed excused absences for their holidays, but have to makeup classwork.
Mayor Bloomberg said he sympathizes with the Muslim community, but he won't add their holidays to the calendar.
"If you close the schools for every single holiday, there won't be any school," Bloomberg told WPIX. "Educating our kids requires time in the classroom, and that's the most important thing to us."
Several members of the city council support adding the Muslim holidays. "Our children deserve to have their holiday like everyone else," Council member Robert Jackson told WPIX.
Other Muslim leaders agrue that Bloomberg has an opportunity to reaffirm that Muslim students are an "integral part of the city."
The mayor went out of his way to assure the Muslim community his decision was not personal. "This city will do everything it can to protect Muslim's rights to get together and practice their religion," he said.