Public holidays for greater religious tolerance

Why I advocate for more public holidays — especially for religious minorities.

I’m not particularly religious, but I respect the right to live your live as you see fit, to not be disrespected or have prejudice against you based on your colour, creed, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual preference, physical or mental ability . . . or religion. I understand that in an ever more interconnected world, there are some, a good deal actually, who think this is terrifying, and who rather have divisions, burn bridges and build walls — but I’m not one of them.

What has this got to do with more public holidays?

I’m going to take three country examples: Ethiopia, UK and Jordan, and compare their percentage of population who identify with a major faith, against the number of public holidays those faiths celebrate. Then you can make up your mind if having an extra day or two on the beach licking an ice-cream can lead to greater tolerance at the national level.

Ethiopia — Ethiopian Orthodox Christian 43%, Muslim 34%, Protestant 18%, Other 5%

I lived in Ethiopia for 18 months, and while there were stirrings of political tensions, primarily along ethnic lines, there was no religious frictions, this in spite of being in a region where there is quite some amount of extremism — think of their borders with Somalia, (Northern) Kenya and South Sudan.

I couldn’t read the local newspapers or understand what was being said on the TV or radio, but when I did have conversations about religion, there were almost always about tolerance. You may think this is because of who I socialised and worked with, and that could be a valid point, but I also freely participated in festivals of both religions

Inter-religious marriages are widely accepted.

Official public holidays: Orthodox Christian 6, Muslim 3, national public holidays i.e. Worker’s Day 5

UK — Christian 60% Muslim 5%, Hindu 1%, Other / unspecified 9%, None 25%

I grew up in in the UK. The closest I got to knowing anything, absolutely anything about other faiths, before I started to travel, was a half-day school trip visiting a Hindu shrine and a Synagogue when I was 16. Before that, there was only my non-practising, second generation, Jewish friend and, seeing Diwali fireworks on the news. Imagine the millions of others who didn’t even have the token school trip, or travelled (domestically or internationally) and experienced different cultures, and you can start to understand how there can be such misunderstanding between communities and faiths at a national level. And why many politicians are increasingly calling for a secular society, while some in marginalised communities go in the opposite direction and adopt a siege mentality.

For many, on both sides of the divide, there is only prejudice.

Official public holidays: Christian 4, other faiths 0, national public holidays 5

In the specific case of the English[1] they have 9 public holidays, a low number compared to most countries. There are those who advocate for a public holiday on St George’s or Trafalgar Day, though I would prefer to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan, Diwali — the festival of lights (for both Hindus and Sikhs), or the Jewish Yom Kippur. I would even advocate for a Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster public holiday for atheists . . . if it encouraged respect for minorities.

Why?

It would be a progressive move, a symbol against the increasingly bellicose rhetoric of intolerance. From a purely economic perspective, in an ever more globalised and connected world, and with the UK moving steadily towards Brexit, this would be an undeniable show of intent — that the UK really is, “open for business.”

Jordan — 97% Muslim 2% Greek Orthodox Christian 1% Other

I have recently moved to Jordan. Over 50% of the population are first or second generation refugees. Many Palestinians came after the ’67 and ’73 wars with Israel. Iraqis fled the First and Second Gulf Wars and the devastating aftermath. Syrians, now make up 15% of the total population. And yet, in spite of all the potential for ethnic, sectarian or nationalist confrontation, from what I have observed and been told,

Jordan is a little island of peace, stability and acceptance in a region full of religious, ethnic and international interventionist turmoil.

Could this have anything to do with there being 11 Muslim and 5 Christian public holidays? Or that many Muslims will take time off for some Christian holidays, but not others? For instance, Muslims will celebrate Christmas Day (Jesus was an Islamic prophet) but not Boxing Day. Christians generally will not go to work on any Muslim holidays. While granted, this could be that the office is practically empty, it also rings true that in a Muslim dominated country,

Official public holidays Muslim 11, Christian 5, national public holidays 3

A quick analysis of faith based percentage of population versus percentage of public holidays

The two sets of percentages that stand out, are, in Jordan there is great respect by the majority for the minority, and in the UK, minority faiths are not recognised (by public holidays) and non-denominational holidays are in the majority.

In summary, public holidays are a quick way at a national level to show respect (or disrespect) for minorities

I wouldn’t start to suggest that more public holidays that respects the holy days of main religions is the answer to all inter-religious, racial or other tensions, but, it is a move in the right direction with little to no downsides. More importantly, in a very tangible way, more faith based public holidays (or similar such as Martin Luther Junior day in the USA) would start to advocate the attitude of tolerance from all majority communities to minorities, whether that be on race, sexual preference, age, physical or mental ability, or religion — and that has to be a very good thing!

[1] Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have slightly more holidays

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Chris Statham

Chris Statham

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Entrepreneur, student, pie eater, father, novelist, traveler, poet wannabe, pub visitor, husband, rugby enthusiast and part-time wizard.