PARIS, Dec 11 (AFP) – An experts’ report commissioned by President Jacques Chirac recommended Thursday that France take the step, unprecedented in all of Europe, to add Jewish and Muslim holidays to the calendar for state schools.
The report, which has examined the relationship of religion and the state for the past year, suggested that Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement – and Eid al-Kebir – a Muslim feast – be celebrated in the schools.
It also recommended that companies allow employees to choose a religious holiday, for instance Yom Kippur, Eid al-Kebir, or the Orthodox Christmas (on January 7), to add to their number of days off.
The suggestions were part of a wider analysis of how France could balance its secular tradition in public life with the feelings of its various religious groups.
The country currently marks 11 public holidays, most of the based on Roman Catholic celebrations reflecting the denomination of the majority of its 60 million inhabitants.
But France also has the biggest Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe, estimated at five million and 600,000 respectively.
Chirac, who received the report Thursday, is expected to give his public appraisal of the recommendations next Wednesday.
Much of the debate surrounding the report has centred on the wearing of Muslim headscarves by school students.
The offer of holidays based on other religions was seen as a trade-off against the report’s other main recommendation that “conspicuous” religious signs in schools be banned, meaning specifically the headscarves and Jewish skullcaps.
If the decision is made to observe the Jewish and Muslim holidays in state schools, it would represent a first for a European country.
Most observe Christian holidays – such as Christmas Day, Easter, Ascension and All Saints’ Day – alongside national days, New Year’s Day, a Labour Day and days marking events in the World Wars or other conflicts.
Staunch Catholic countries Spain and Italy, for example, also observe the day of Immaculate Conception. Poland, birthplace to Pope John Paul II, holds its Catholic heritage high with Corpus Christi day in June and combines New Year’s Day festivities with masses honouring the Virgin Mary.
The Netherlands, one of Europe’s most liberal countries, has the closest system to that proposed in the French report.
There, each school is permitted to set two or three extra days a year for holidays. Those days can, if the schools wish, correspond to a Jewish or Muslim day, or even to days without any religious significance.
Russia, because of its atheist Communist past, has only one religious date, that of Orthodox Christmas on January 7. Its other holidays include International Women’s Day on March 8 and a day marking the 1917 revolution called the Day of Reconciliation and Consent.
Some other countries outside of Europe already celebrate public holidays recognising several religions. Malaysia, for example, has several Muslim holidays plus others marking the birth of Buddha and Christmas day. It also marks the Chinese New Year and the Indian Diwali Festival.
The holidays proposed by the French report represent the most holy in the Jewish calendar and an important date in Islam.
Yom Kippur, a day of fasting and prayer, occurs on the 10th day of the seventh month in the Jewish lunar calendar, which corresponds to a day in either September or October in the universal Gregorian calendar.
Eid al-Kebir is celebrated on the 10th day of the 12th month of the Muslim lunar calendar, which is also the month of the pilgrimage to Mecca. It represents the story of Abraham sacrificing a sheep in place of his only son as a sign of devotion.
Subject: France news