Queens resident Tanbir Chowdhury (20) is leading student activism in his efforts to have Eid recognized as official New York state holidays. The two Eid days (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha) are the most important religious holidays for Muslims across the world. Non-Muslims might have heard of the month of Ramadan during which Muslims partake in a religious fast. Eid al-Fitr is the holiday that marks the end of the month-long fasting during Ramadan. Eid al-Adha is the latter of the two holidays in the Islamic calendar celebrated about two months after Eid al-Fitr. Although the United States Census doesn’t include questions about religious affiliations, Pew Research Center estimates that there were about 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States (U.S.) in 2017, and that Muslims made up about 1.1% of the total U.S. population. Furthermore, Muslim New Yorkers constitute approximately 3 percent of the City’s population, or 270,000, according to the Museum of the City of New York website.
Many CUNY students can relate to the difficulty of having exams or classes fall on Eid days. There are a great number of Muslims who can’t get a day off at work on their most important religious holidays. Tanbir Chowdhury, who is currently finishing up his bachelor’s at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and will become a first-generation graduate from his family, has decided to take a step to resolve this. It is indeed a very personal issue to him—as Tanbir describes, “Growing up Muslim, I often had to miss out on these holidays because of important exams/school days. Even with work, my father does not get the Eid days off. He has to switch shifts, and that’s not always guaranteed.” As a political organizer and Constituent Services Liaison for the Queens Borough, Chowdhury aims to use his experiences and opportunities to acknowledge the needs of New York’s Muslim community and families like his.
Chowdhury expressed his disappointment with the New York State legislation when The Knight News reached out to him to better understand the issue. It took years before the New York City Council recognized the two Eid days as public-school holidays. This decision was made in April 2015, but even at that point CUNY did not recognize Eid as holidays in its academic calendar. The state does not have a law or an amendment in place to formally acknowledge Eid days as holidays. Chowdhury has been active in calling on state legislators to sign a bill that recognizes Eid as state holidays. Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Nathalie Fernandez introduced this bill as lead sponsors in their respective chambers to amend Section 24 of the general construction law for the purpose of including Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as public holidays in the state of New York. Making Eid a public holiday will mean that all state/municipal offices will be closed during these two days.
Once Chowdhury realized the legislation did not gain much traction, he decided to bring awareness to it. He had recognized the need for the bill to have more co-sponsors in the State Assembly and State Senate and took the initiative to author a spreadsheet (which is linked in his twitter account: @ItsTanbirC) that lists all 150 members of the assembly and 63 senators along with contact information for their offices. The idea, Chowdhury describes, was “if they weren’t co-sponsors, they were highlighted in Red and encouraged to be pressured/requested by their constituents.” The simple idea turned out to be very effective. “Within a week of my spreadsheet publication, we were able to confirm 10 new co-sponsors—4 of them in the Senate,” Chowdhury told The Knight News.
Chowdhury is continuously working to keep this topic in public discourse. The only way to achieve the best results is to have people aware and caring about it. The bill is still waiting to be addressed in a Legislative Session, which will begin again in January. In the meantime, Chowdhury plans to keep organizing for the long overdue bill. While it is important to note that two previous versions of the bill were rejected, a Democratic majority in the State Senate keeps Chowdhury hopeful. The passing of legislation to recognize Eid as state holidays could potentially mean a big victory for working Muslims, as well as students in a city that would be nothing without our celebration of and respect for every culture.