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New York pupils could get Muslim school holidays

New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio addresses a speech in New York on October 4, 2013
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio addresses a speech in New York on October 4, 2013

School children in New York are likely to get two extra days off to mark the biggest annual Muslim holidays if the city's next mayor gets his way.

New York schools currently have mandatory holidays for the Christian festivals Easter and Christmas, and the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Passover.

But the school term often clashes with Islam's biggest festivals of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr, forcing Muslim children to choose between religion or study.

Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio, the frontrunner in the race to be mayor, has told Muslim voters that New York should respect everyone's faith.

"That's why we have to respect people of Muslim faith by providing the Eid school holidays for children in our school system," he said Wednesday.

It was unfair, de Blasio said, for Muslim children to have to decide between observing the religious holiday or sitting for an exam that could fall on the same day.

"They can't do both under our current system," the mayoral candidate added.

"We try to make sure that with children of other faiths they don't have to face that conundrum and it shouldn't happen to Muslim children either. It will take some time to resolve, but I know we can do it."

Opinion polls give de Blasio a huge lead in the race for the November 5 election. The next mayor will formally take office on January 1, 2014.

His main Republican party opponent, Joe Lhota, has also indicated support for granting Muslim school holidays.

At a campaign stop in Brooklyn, Lhota acknowledged that New York's Muslim population was rising.

"Their religion needs to be respected as all other religions are respected," he was quoted as saying by the New York Daily News.

Thirteen percent of New York school children are Muslim.

In 2008, the city administration passed a unanimous resolution calling for two days' holiday for the main Muslim festivals, but it has never been implemented.

Current Mayor Michael Bloomberg opposed the move on the grounds that it could invite a flood of similar requests.

"We need more school days, not less," he has said.

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