New York
New YorkFlash 90

1.1 million children in New York, American’s largest school district, will on Thursday take the day off to mark Eid al-Adha for the first time, reports AFP.

More than 1,800 public schools in New York will close for the Muslim feast of sacrifice, a day after also closing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled the new policy in March, announcing that New York public schools would get two days off for Eid al-Fitr, which falls during the summer, and Eid al-Adha, in addition to major Christian and Jewish holidays.

Having schools close on the Muslim holidays was one of de Blasio’s pledges when he ran for mayor in 2013, telling Muslim voters that New York should respect everyone's faith.

Since the policy was unveiled, city hall has added a further day off -- February 8, 2016 -- for Lunar New Year, celebrated by Asian-Americans.

"It is a huge victory to actually see the day come," says Linda Sarsour, a member of the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays and a New York activist with three children.

"As an imam as well as a parent I am very happy," agreed Imam Shamsi Ali, director of the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens.

"I'm sure this kind of policy from the government side will push Muslims further to feel a sense of belonging," he added.

There are an estimated seven to 10 million Muslims in America, of whom a million are believed to live in New York -- about 10 percent of the city's population.

New York follows at least seven other school districts that close for Eid in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont, but activists are still campaigning in other parts of the country.

Activists hope that embracing Eid in the school calendar will make Islam more mainstream and counter Islamophobia.

"It's a very tense time," Sarsour told AFP. "No one can talk about Islam without talking about terrorism."

In the last two weeks alone, a Sikh American was so viciously beaten in Chicago and called a "terrorist" because of his dark skin, beard and turban that he wound up in the hospital.

In Detroit, a mosque was refused planning permission and in Texas, a 14-year-old Muslim teenager who is the son of Sudanese immigrants was arrested for building a clock that teachers thought was a bomb.

President Barack Obama later invited the teen, Ahmed Mohamed, to a visit at the White House, after the story of his arrest went viral on social media.