08/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Muslim Holidays Make Sense for New York City Schools

In New York City, Islam is the fastest growing religion as immigrants from Muslim countries combine with growing numbers of African-American Muslims.

Out of a population of 8 million, New York now has at least 600,000 Muslims, and they represent about 10 percent of the city's public school students.

Once a religion has reached a critical mass in a community, it is important to recognize it as part of the religious diversity and a building block of the faith community. In New York, I believe Muslims have reached that point.

These two holidays - Id al-Fitr and Id al-Adha - represent a special time for Muslim families. One falls at the end of Ramadan, which is the Islamic fasting month, and the other signifies the end of the pilgrimage or Hajj. After praying at the Mosque, families gather with friends for special meals and treats. It is an occasion to build family bonds and to reaffirm our faith in God.

Are these not values that should be encouraged?

Not recognizing the holiday puts unnecessary pressure on Muslim students, especially in high school, who must risk academic punishment if they choose to celebrate these important days with their families.

Because they are based on a lunar calendar, these days fall at different times of the year. Id al-Fitr is often celebrated during the summer. It will fall in July and August for five years beginning in 2011. Id al-Adha also moves ahead by 10 or 11 days every year. While it will be observed on Nov. 27 this year - coinciding with the Thanksgiving holiday - it will be celebrated in the summer for several years beginning in 2017.

The impact of these holidays on schools will be minimal. But recognizing them in New York City could have large, positive international ramifications.

New York City is not just the largest metropolis in the United States. It is one of the most important cities in the world. Recognizing these holidays would send a message to Muslim countries that the United States is not only one nation under God, as we say, but also that our religious diversity is our strength.

At the moment, New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, opposes adding these holidays. But if a Jewish mayor of New York could endorse these Muslim holidays, he will send his own message of reconciliation around the world.

As someone who has worked for years to achieve understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims and to bring peace in the Middle East, I pray that this happens.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent, non-partisan and multi-national project that seeks to use religion to improve Muslim-West relations. ( He is the author of "What's Right with Islam is What's Right With America."