by Jacob Bender, CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director
Sixty-two years ago, in the landmark case of Brown vs Board of Education, a unanimous Supreme Court of the United States ruled that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. Separate educational facilities, the Court said, “were inherently unequal.” The ruling paved the road to integration and was considered a major victory for the civil rights movement.
One of the expert witnesses called to testify before the Court in this case was Dr. Kenneth Clarke, an African American educational psychologist, who presented evidence that showed how racial segregation in public schools had a deleterious and damaging impact on the psychological and educational development of African American students.
I was thinking about Brown vs Board of Education last week as I sat in the beautiful City Council Chambers in Philadelphia’s City Hall. CAIR-Philadelphia President Osama Al-Qasem and I were there to lend CAIR’s support to a resolution to make Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha official public school holidays.
The resolution was offered by Councilman Curtis Jones, the sole Muslim in the City Council. Jones movingly described growing up as an African American Muslim, and his feelings of inferiority and shame when Christmas was celebrated school- and city-wide, year after year. When Jones concluded his remarks, he was met by a thunderous applause from the more than 200 Muslim community members crammed into the City Council Chambers, and the Council voted to pass the Two Eids Resolution unanimously.
The resolution of January 21st was a great victory for freedom of religion and pluralism. However, it is not a law. The resolution still has to be approved by the city and teacher unions, and a host of other elected officials, including the Mayor.
The Philadelphia Eid Coalition (PEC), of which CAIR is a member, plans to continue to educate, advocate and encourage government officials to make the Eids legal holidays. PEC needs you to continue asking friends to sign our petition of support until we get 50,000 names. Additionally, The Coalition needs your continued financial contributions so we can continue to advocate for this cause.
Philadelphia has the highest percentage of Muslim residents of any major city in the U.S., numbering by some accounts over 200,000, with an estimated 15% of city public school students being Muslim. These statistics alone would warrant CAIR’s support for the Two Eids resolution, but there is more. The deeper significance of this campaign is that official recognition of the Two Eids would be a major victory along the road of full acceptance of Islam as one of the major religions of America. And so, one day in the near future, people would no longer speak of the United States as rooted in “Judeo-Christian” values, but as a multi-faith democracy built upon the shared Abrahamic values of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Each new legal victory by the Muslim community represents not “creeping Islamization” as the paranoid Muslim-haters warn, but “creeping pluralism,” and a growing interfaith movement of Christians, Jews, Sikhs, and other people of faith, standing in solidarity with the Muslim community against the forces of xenophobia and hatred.
The campaign for official recognition of the two Muslim holidays is being coordinated by the Philadelphia Eid Coalition. To learn more about the Coalition, and to support their work important work, visit phillyeid.org.
A new generation of Muslim American schoolchildren, and therefore the future of the Muslim community, depends upon you.