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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Muslim parents, students and civic groups are campaigning to add two of their religious holidays to the New York City public school calendar, pinning their hopes on state lawmakers after failing to win over Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the idea.
Putting Eid Ul-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, celebrating the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on the list of official school holidays will help ease suspicion and reduce anti-Muslim sentiment nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, they say.
Supporters say there are more than 100,000 Muslim students in the public schools, or about 12 percent of the enrollment.
Hundreds of supporters gathered outside City Hall on June 30 to pressure Bloomberg on the issue, saying the holidays could be recognized by adding just five days off over the next decade, since many fall on existing holidays or weekends.
Bloomberg rejected the proposal, arguing city students cannot afford more days off. Just four in 10 students graduate on time and one in 10 drops out, according to statistics.
"Everybody would like to be recognized but the truth of the matter is we need more school days, not less," he said.
Supporters now are looking to a bill that calls for instituting the Muslim holidays as days off in city schools. It is pending in the state Senate and Assembly and if it becomes law, it would supersede Bloomberg's decision despite his control of New York City schools.
The school calendar currently has 13 observed holidays, including Jewish ones such as Rosh Hashana and Christian holidays such as Good Friday. The religious holidays have been on the calendar for at least several decades.
Of the 11 generally observed Muslim holidays, none are on the school calendar.
"There is a large group of people who feel like they have to choose between religion and school," said Faiza Ali, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The issue surfaced in 2006, when Eid Ul-Adha fell on the same day as a statewide reading test. Some Muslim students stayed home, missing the crucial skills test. Others attended, missing the holiday with their families.
Some Muslims say they are frustrated by Bloomberg's decision in the wake of public opposition to proposed construction of several mosques in the city and the 2007 ousting of an Arabic school principal after neighbors accused the school of being a breeding ground for militants.
Bloomberg often speaks of tolerance and diversity and supports the mosque construction, including one near the site of the World Trade Center towers destroyed on September 11, 2001, in al-Qaeda suicide attacks.
"Our kids know other holidays but then they see that their holidays are not recognized. It sends a mixed message," said Isabel Bucaram, a Muslim with two children in city schools. "My daughter says to me, 'They do it for others. Why not us?'"
A resolution in support of adding the holidays was approved last year in the City Council and the proposal has support of the teachers' union and the city's borough presidents.
For parents such as Ayman Hammous, a physical therapist originally from Egypt whose four children attend city schools, the debate comes down to acceptance.
"Putting the holidays on the calendar will send a positive message to the Muslim community that you are welcome here," he said.
Reporting by Karina Ioffee; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Ellen Wulfhorst and Bill Trott