Muslims in the West (illustration)
Muslims in the West (illustration)Reuters

A heated Jersey City school board debate attended by many dozens of people – mostly Muslims – ended with a short-term defeat for the Muslims, but with their confidence established that a long-term victory was not far off.

The issue was whether the Eid al-Adha holiday, celebrated today (Thursday), would become an official school holiday, in view of the city's growing Muslim population. The city council gave its unanimous approval a week ago, but the school board refused to agree – mainly because the request was submitted only six days earlier.

The debate was heated, with some Muslims yelling in anger or crying in sorrow. One student expressed that he felt "alienated" from the school board, while a woman with a hijab covering her head and chest smiled confidently as she address the school board: "It's clear from tonight," she said, pointing to the audience, "that we're no longer the minority. We're going to be the majority soon." 

Closing school with only a few days' notice would cause "undue hardship on close to five to ten thousand people who would have to scrabble to get coverage for their children," the school board ruled. Muslim students were given permission to miss school for the holiday with no penalty – just as Jewish students on Rosh Hahanah and Yom Kippur are.

In fact, one Jewish resident raised an objection to adding the Muslim holiday, saying that schools are not closed on Jewish holidays, so why should they be closed on Muslim holidays? This point was not addressed by the school board.

Jersey City, the second largest populous city in New Jersey, has a population of over 250,000 people. Muslims constitute 4.2% of the city's religious adherents. The growing Muslim population in Jersey City includes a significant Latino contingent, as well as Americans from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Arab countries.