As the last two weeks of Ramadan approached, freshman Laila Gad realized she had an exam and a presentation scheduled on Eid al-Fitr, an Islamic holiday following the end of the holy month. This year, the holiday falls on May 13, a Thursday this semester, days before finals week.
A day off would be ideal, but instead, Gad asked for a religious exemption and was able to reschedule the exam. “I felt so embarrassed throughout the whole experience that I had to ask and explain myself,” she said. As for her presentation, Gad requested it be moved to the following Monday but has not heard back.
As a previous NYC public school student, Gad was accustomed to having the day off for both Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the two most important holidays in Islam. 81% of CUNY students come from New York City public schools, which have accommodated Muslim students since the mayor and Department of Education added it to the calendar back in 2015. When arriving at Hunter, Gad was shocked to hear Muslim students aren’t accommodated in the same way.
“We get so many days off for Jewish holidays and Christian holidays, but why can’t [CUNY] accommodate us?” Gad said. “There are so many Muslim people at Hunter and if anything it would be easier on the professor and the students.”
Eid al-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which is known as the Festival of Sacrifice, have no set date. The holidays are determined by the lunar calendar and move up year to year, and Eid al-Fitr is based on the sighting of the crescent moon.
Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the holy month and this year Ramadan fell during a difficult time — while the semester is wrapping up. According to Gad, students deserve a day off after Ramadan to celebrate with family and friends without having to worry about classwork, exams and more.
This is the first time in about a decade that Eid al-Fitr has fallen during the spring or fall semester, when a majority of students enroll in class.
Gad isn’t alone in her frustration over the matter. A petition calling on CUNY to cancel class on May 13 and permanently add both Eids to the calendar has received more than 12,000 signatures in six days. “Conducting classes during Eid Al-Fitr forces Muslim students to make the difficult decision of choosing between observing this sacred holiday or attending lectures, labs, and classes,” wrote Brooklyn College student Israt Islam, the creator of the petition.
Adding Eid to the CUNY calendar has been a priority for junior Salwa Najmi, who is the vice president of Hunter’s Muslim Student Association. Najmi, who is also a junior senator in USG, has been advocating to get the day off for Muslim students since February. “It’s about time for the holiday to be recognized not only for the current students now but all students to come,” Najmi told The Envoy.
After raising the issue at a USG meeting and contacting Hunter’s administration, Najmi was told that Hunter follows CUNY’s academic calendar. That’s when she knew that “the way to strategically advocate to get Eid off, we’d have to go directly to CUNY central and the chancellor,” she said. Najmi and Hunter’s presumptive incoming USG president Devashish Basnet decided to present their resolution on the issue to CUNY’s University Student Senate.
The resolution was passed unanimously in an emergency USS meeting on March 14.
When USS passes a resolution, it is passed along to the board of trustees and the CUNY chancellor for review. The resolution requested a meeting with the chancellor but Najmi has not heard from Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez or anyone else at CUNY.
Najmi also created a coalition of Muslim student association representatives throughout the CUNY campuses to write a joint letter in mid-March requesting a meeting with the chancellor. With no response, she sent another follow-up email after the petition passed 10,000 signatures. With Eid just days away, Najmi is worried.
By partnering up with Islam, the creator of the petition, Najmi, and the MSA coalition spread awareness of the petition, which gained major traction among CUNY groups and social media. The issue was covered by NY1.
CUNY policy currently allows religious accomodations, but according to Najmi, Islam and Gad, that is not enough. “The problem is there is likely to be a lot of reviews and information given that day. Even if professors allow students to be absent without academic penalty, they might miss key instruction time given it is right before finals,” said Najmi.
The city has a large Muslim population, which accounts for about a quarter of all Muslims in the country. According to the city’s Community Affairs Bureau, there are over 800,000 Muslims living in New York City, which makes up 9% of the entire city population.
“With CUNY honoring holidays including Lunar New Year, Christmas, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur – honoring Eid Al-fitr must be the next step. We cannot allow Muslim students to be excluded,” Islam wrote.
While Gad is disappointed she doesn’t have the day off and has to make up an exam and presentation, she is looking forward to spending time with her grandparents this Eid. “We don’t have that many holidays and the two we have are important. Eid is about worship and reward,” she said.