Lawmakers Fight for Muslim Holidays to Be Recognized in Philly

Councilman Jones says young Muslims need "to know that they're welcome ... so that nobody can come along and lead them astray."

Photo by Jeff Fusco

Photo by Jeff Fusco

A group of activists erupted in applause at City Hall Thursday when lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution calling on the city and school district to recognize two Muslim holidays: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. “When we submitted this, the question that came from some good, well-intentioned people was, ‘Well, why now? And should we do this now?'” said Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr., who sponsored the legislation. “The best time to dispel myths, the best time to find good-spirited people, is in the height of controversy.”

The Philadelphia Eid Coalition has been fighting since last year to convince officials to observe Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The School District of Philadelphia currently closes schools on Christmas, Good Friday, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and even Columbus Day, but not on those two Muslim holidays. The city government, meanwhile, does not officially recognize either Muslim or Jewish holy days.

Jones, who practices Islam, says it is more important than ever to make Muslim people feel included in Philadelphia.

“Young people needed to know that they’re welcome in this building and in this city,” he said, “so that nobody can come along and lead them astray to some anti-American kind of environment.”

The resolution that Council backed was non-binding, meaning it is only a recommendation to officials. Jones said the next step is to lobby the School Reform Commission and meet with municipal unions in order to get the holidays recognized. “It is a labor issue that we need to negotiate as a collective bargaining agreement,” said Jones, adding that he will request a meeting with District Councils 33 and 47, as well as with the police and firefighters unions.

If Jones is right, that would mean the ball is the unions’ and Mayor Jim Kenney’s court. Asked if Kenney supports the idea, spokeswoman Lauren Hitt told us, “The mayor’s office is still reviewing the resolution. We look forward to continued conversations with the Councilman and other stakeholders on it.”

Joshua Cohen, a spokesman for Jones, said he did not know what, if anything, it would cost taxpayers to make Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha city-recognized holidays. “We have not gotten numbers from the administration. However, it should be noted that there are ways to observe the holiday that would not cost the city anything,” he said, such as a “floating” personal day. Hitt did not immediately respond to a follow-up question about that.

Five new Council members were sworn into office this month: Democrats Allan Domb, Derek Green, Helen Gym and Cherelle Parker, and Republican Al Taubenberger. Thursday’s meeting was the first one held by the new iteration of City Council, and many of the freshman legislators appear to be hitting the ground running. Gym introduced a bill that would force the city to keep track of whether business subsidies actually work. Parker put forth a resolution calling for a hearing on “reverse mortgages.” Domb co-sponsored legislation with Bill Greenlee that would require children to wear helmets and pads when they ride hoverboards.

There was an ebullient, hopeful energy in the room on the first meeting of the year. Gym praised the “collaborative spirit that has welcomed me” in City Council, and declared that “Council is the most effective body in this state. (Afterward, Parker was sure to add that the Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg works hard, too.) Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez said she was “encouraged” by the “collective spirit” of her colleagues; Council President Darrell Clarke said, “So am I.” For now, at least, everyone seems to be getting along.

Mariam Dembele contributed to this article.