Dr. Uzma Syed, second from right, heads the grassroots Eid Holiday Coalition...

Dr. Uzma Syed, second from right, heads the grassroots Eid Holiday Coalition of Long Island, which has worked with community members since 2016 to expand holiday access in public schools. With her are members of the coalition, from left, Hasan Sheikh, Farhana Islam and Moeen Qurechi. Credit: Rick Kopstein

Until six years ago, Noora Zakaria faced an impossible choice as Eid al-Fitr approached: Go to school and miss out on family festivities or skip school to celebrate the Muslim holy day with prayers, gifts, food and visits with loved ones.

That changed when the Syosset school district board in 2016 added Eid to the academic calendar. The following year, Zakaria celebrated the festival marking the end of the monthlong Ramadan fast without the anxiety of missing coursework. The district is also closed for another Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, which marks Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God. 

“I was very relieved and excited. … Before, I always had to explain ... why I needed extensions and why I wanted to stay [home] to be with my family,” said Zakaria, 18, a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx. She added that although teachers accommodated her absence, it was still stressful to miss school. Students who miss school for religious observance are excused, according to state education department regulations. 

The exact date of Eid al-Fitr is determined by lunar sightings. Long Island mosques and organizations are celebrating it Friday, when many Muslim students across Long Island will grapple with the same predicament Zakaria once did. A handful of districts in Nassau and Suffolk have followed Syosset's lead, with an estimated 22 of Long Island's 124 districts now closed on Eid, including Huntington, Brentwood and East Meadow, according to a Newsday analysis of district calendars. Residents in several other districts who want a more inclusive academic environment, meanwhile, have called on school officials to close on the holiday. 

At the forefront of the movement is the grassroots Eid Holiday Coalition of Long Island, which has worked with community members since 2016 to expand holiday access in public schools. 

Uzma Syed, an infectious disease physician, heads the coalition, which she co-founded after petitioning Syosset. At least 18 districts have been called upon to add the holiday, the coalition reports, including Hewlett-Woodmere, Smithtown and Port Washington.

Syed's family gets ready for Eid the night before with an "all-nighter" of food preparation, like baking special holiday cookies. Syed, who is Zakaria's mother, graduated from the Syosset district and said the schools today look drastically different from when she attended. 

“My children's experience was different from the experience that I had. It was beautiful to see how they were exposed to so many different cultures and religions,” she said, adding she was one of only a handful of Muslim students in the district when she attended. “I thought it would be so nice if my teachers and classmates knew about Ramadan and Eid … but it seemed like these two worlds could not collide or coexist.” 

There are about 77,000 Islam adherents on Long Island as of 2020, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. Dr. Isma H. Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, estimates the Muslim population on Long Island at 100,000.

When Muslim students aren’t given the holiday off, it means they must sacrifice their religious values or their academics — an unfair choice, Syed said. Long Island school districts align breaks with Christian and Jewish religious holidays, like Christmas and Passover.

Districts that give students the holiday off signal to Muslim students that "you are welcome here and matter to us," said Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of CAIR-NY, which has called on Hewlett-Woodmere to observe the holiday. 

"Long Island is a tapestry of very diverse communities," he said. 

Several districts that close for Eid did not respond to Newsday requests for comment, including Syosset, Hicksville and East Meadow. Harborfields, Herricks and Merrick declined to comment. Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky did not make himself available for a call, but said in an email that giving students Eid off “helps to reinforce the importance of maintaining an inclusive environment.” 

Sidrah Ashrafi, 17, a junior at George W. Hewlett High School in the Hewlett-Woodmere district, will skip school Friday to observe the holiday — but she said the decision comes at the cost of sacrificing what should be a carefree and joyous day. 

“It promotes exclusion and misrepresentation,” she said of districts that ignore calls to observe the day. “Especially since AP exams are coming up and we’re reviewing in class, even missing one day really pushes everything back.” 

Sahar Hussain’s children, Zahra, 14, Erina, 11, and Mishal, 10, who attend the Hewlett-Woodmere district, understand the anxiety that accompanies the intersection of faith and academics. Hussain and other community members have petitioned the district since 2016 to observe the holiday. A district spokeswoman said Wednesday that not enough students miss school on Eid to justify closing the entire district. 

The Hussains start Eid with morning prayers, followed by plates of mouthwatering food and bonding time with family and friends. Their home is “the open-door home,” Hussain said, adding they start entertaining guests at 8 a.m. and don’t stop until after midnight. But at some point, academic anxiety cuts through the joy for her oldest daughter, who is stressed about missing school, Hussain said.

“Even when she's sick she doesn't want to miss school,” Hussain said. “It’s bittersweet for her, because she wants to celebrate Eid. … But all day she’s telling me she’s going to be thinking of all the stuff she’s missing.”

With Caroline Curtin, Nyasia Spencer and Judy Weinberg 

Until six years ago, Noora Zakaria faced an impossible choice as Eid al-Fitr approached: Go to school and miss out on family festivities or skip school to celebrate the Muslim holy day with prayers, gifts, food and visits with loved ones.

That changed when the Syosset school district board in 2016 added Eid to the academic calendar. The following year, Zakaria celebrated the festival marking the end of the monthlong Ramadan fast without the anxiety of missing coursework. The district is also closed for another Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, which marks Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God. 

“I was very relieved and excited. … Before, I always had to explain ... why I needed extensions and why I wanted to stay [home] to be with my family,” said Zakaria, 18, a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx. She added that although teachers accommodated her absence, it was still stressful to miss school. Students who miss school for religious observance are excused, according to state education department regulations. 

Coalition presses schools to close for Eid

The exact date of Eid al-Fitr is determined by lunar sightings. Long Island mosques and organizations are celebrating it Friday, when many Muslim students across Long Island will grapple with the same predicament Zakaria once did. A handful of districts in Nassau and Suffolk have followed Syosset's lead, with an estimated 22 of Long Island's 124 districts now closed on Eid, including Huntington, Brentwood and East Meadow, according to a Newsday analysis of district calendars. Residents in several other districts who want a more inclusive academic environment, meanwhile, have called on school officials to close on the holiday. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Only an estimated 22 of Long Island's 124 schools districts close for Eid al-Fitr, according to a Newsday analysis of district calendars. 
  • Students who attend districts that don't close for the holiday must choose whether to attend school and miss festivities or skip school to celebrate. 
  • The Eid Holiday Coalition of Long Island formed in 2016 and pushes schools to observe the holiday.

At the forefront of the movement is the grassroots Eid Holiday Coalition of Long Island, which has worked with community members since 2016 to expand holiday access in public schools. 

Uzma Syed, an infectious disease physician, heads the coalition, which she co-founded after petitioning Syosset. At least 18 districts have been called upon to add the holiday, the coalition reports, including Hewlett-Woodmere, Smithtown and Port Washington.

Syed's family gets ready for Eid the night before with an "all-nighter" of food preparation, like baking special holiday cookies. Syed, who is Zakaria's mother, graduated from the Syosset district and said the schools today look drastically different from when she attended. 

“My children's experience was different from the experience that I had. It was beautiful to see how they were exposed to so many different cultures and religions,” she said, adding she was one of only a handful of Muslim students in the district when she attended. “I thought it would be so nice if my teachers and classmates knew about Ramadan and Eid … but it seemed like these two worlds could not collide or coexist.” 

There are about 77,000 Islam adherents on Long Island as of 2020, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. Dr. Isma H. Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, estimates the Muslim population on Long Island at 100,000.

Syed: Some students face an unfair choice

When Muslim students aren’t given the holiday off, it means they must sacrifice their religious values or their academics — an unfair choice, Syed said. Long Island school districts align breaks with Christian and Jewish religious holidays, like Christmas and Passover.

Districts that give students the holiday off signal to Muslim students that "you are welcome here and matter to us," said Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of CAIR-NY, which has called on Hewlett-Woodmere to observe the holiday. 

"Long Island is a tapestry of very diverse communities," he said. 

Several districts that close for Eid did not respond to Newsday requests for comment, including Syosset, Hicksville and East Meadow. Harborfields, Herricks and Merrick declined to comment. Huntington Superintendent James W. Polansky did not make himself available for a call, but said in an email that giving students Eid off “helps to reinforce the importance of maintaining an inclusive environment.” 

Sidrah Ashrafi, 17, a junior at George W. Hewlett High School in the Hewlett-Woodmere district, will skip school Friday to observe the holiday — but she said the decision comes at the cost of sacrificing what should be a carefree and joyous day. 

“It promotes exclusion and misrepresentation,” she said of districts that ignore calls to observe the day. “Especially since AP exams are coming up and we’re reviewing in class, even missing one day really pushes everything back.” 

A day of celebration

Sahar Hussain poses with her daughter Mishal, 10, after dropping...

Sahar Hussain poses with her daughter Mishal, 10, after dropping off Ramadan sweets to teachers at Ogden Elementary School. Credit: Sahar Hussain

Sahar Hussain’s children, Zahra, 14, Erina, 11, and Mishal, 10, who attend the Hewlett-Woodmere district, understand the anxiety that accompanies the intersection of faith and academics. Hussain and other community members have petitioned the district since 2016 to observe the holiday. A district spokeswoman said Wednesday that not enough students miss school on Eid to justify closing the entire district. 

The Hussains start Eid with morning prayers, followed by plates of mouthwatering food and bonding time with family and friends. Their home is “the open-door home,” Hussain said, adding they start entertaining guests at 8 a.m. and don’t stop until after midnight. But at some point, academic anxiety cuts through the joy for her oldest daughter, who is stressed about missing school, Hussain said.

“Even when she's sick she doesn't want to miss school,” Hussain said. “It’s bittersweet for her, because she wants to celebrate Eid. … But all day she’s telling me she’s going to be thinking of all the stuff she’s missing.”

With Caroline Curtin, Nyasia Spencer and Judy Weinberg 

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