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How Bridgeport middle schoolers won recognition of an important Islamic holiday

Sehaan Choudhury 4, listens to a Khutbah, a short lecture that is part of congregational Friday afternoon prayers at Masjid An-Noor in Bridgeport.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Sehaan Choudhury, 4, listens to a Khutbah, a short lecture that is part of congregational Friday afternoon prayers at Masjid An-Noor in Bridgeport.

Bridgeport Public Schools voted this month to declare Eid al-Fitr an official school holiday starting in 2024, marking the fourth time in history that a Connecticut school district has officially recognized an Islamic holiday. Hamden, New Haven and now Bridgeport schools, will all observe and take the day off for Eid al-Fitr. Waterbury schools have recognized the holiday since 2015 but only excuse student absences on the day.

The latest initiative was started by a group of middle schoolers and was championed by Bridgeport’s Muslim community.

“In the past, children have been forced to go to school, even on this important holiday, because they don't want to miss classes,” said Ebrahim Jode, President of a local mosque in Bridgeport, Masjid An-Noor.

Jode said the decision represents an important milestone in bringing equity and inclusion to Bridgeport’s Muslim population. He spoke at the recent Bridgeport Board of Education meeting, where Eid al-Fitr was made an official holiday for the 2023-24 school year. More than 100 Muslim residents attended the meeting.

“We made sure the board really understands our plight in this case here,” said Jode. “And we showed up in good numbers. I think maybe that made the difference.”

Eid al-Fitr is one of two major Islamic holidays and marks the end of the holy month, Ramadan. On this day, Muslims across the world end a month of fasting during daylight hours and celebrate with friends and family. Up until now, Bridgeport Muslim students had no choice but to miss classes to celebrate this important holiday.

Anjumanara Chowdhury, a Muslim eighth grader at Park City Magnet School, was one of the middle schoolers who brought this initiative to the board. She was born in Bangladesh but raised in Connecticut.

Back in September, Chowdhury’s social studies class chose to focus on making Eid al-Fitr a school holiday as part of an assignment called “Project Citizen.” It’s an initiative in which students pick an issue in their community and create public policy to fix it. Her class surveyed Park City Magnet School and found that 10% of students are Muslim.

“We chose to actively be a part of our government, rather than just read off of history books,” said Chowdhury.

She specifically worked on the Action Planning group for this project, focusing on real steps her class could take to make Eid al-Fitr an official holiday for Bridgeport Public Schools. The action they settled on was appealing to the Board of Education.

“I told my older cousins (who attended Bridgeport Public Schools) I was in the process of doing this. And they were like, ‘Oh, we've been trying to do this for 20 years.’ The fact that we passed it through is still kind of mind-blowing,” said Chowdhury.

Another student in the class who worked on this initiative is Brian Torres-Castro, a Christian student who helped collect data on Park City Magnet School’s Muslim population.

“I think this means that Muslim students don't have to worry about having to catch up on schoolwork during a day they should be celebrating,” said Torres-Castro.

Bridgeport’s Board of Education voted 8-0 in support of adding Eid al-Fitr as an official school holiday, with one member abstaining.

“It‘s an amazing day for Muslims in Bridgeport to have the day off and celebrate one of their holiest days,” said Christine Baptiste-Perez, Bridgeport Board of Education’s newest member. “But it's also going to be a fantastic learning opportunity for the rest of Bridgeport as to why this is a day off, and really embrace another culture.”

Baptiste-Perez noted the growing Muslim population in Bridgeport and the rising number of absences on Eid al-Fitr as important reasons for creating this school holiday. According to Masjid An-Noor, Bridgeport’s Muslim population numbers over 2,000, and it’s rising with the influx of Afghan and Syrian refugees.

Muslim leaders are advocating for Bridgeport Public Schools to recognize the other major Islamic holiday, Eid al-Adha, which this year will be observed during summer vacation. However, due to the shorter calendar followed by Muslims, the holiday will fall during the school year starting in 2025 and will present a similar issue for future students.

Maxwell Zeff is the Spring 2022 Larry Lunden News Intern at CT Public. He assists The Accountability Project investigative news team.

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