current affairs

Should Eid and Diwali be UK public holidays?

In the UK, as a traditionally Christian country, Christmas and Easter are the only religious festivals marked by a public holiday.

In the UK, as a traditionally Christian country, Christmas and Easter are the only religious festivals marked by a public holiday. However, with Christianity on the decline and more and more of the population now referring to themselves as Muslim or Hindu, a government e-petition has called for the Islamic festival of Eid and the Hindu festival of Diwali to also be afforded the same recognition. 

At the time of writing, this petition had over 123,000 votes in support of the idea, making it one of, if not the largest e-petition since they began (though whether these were votes purely in favour of the celebration of these faith festivals or just in favour of a couple of extra bank holidays a year, is not clear!).  Before anyone gets too excited, the government has said no, but is this a matter that should be given serious consideration?

Conservative MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman, who is sponsoring the petition, believes it is.  He has one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK, with a population that comprises of 25.3 per cent Hindu compared to the UK average of 1.5 per cent and 12.5 per cent Islam, compared to the UK average of 4.8 per cent.

A question of faith

He argues Islam and Hinduism are the second and third most popular religions after Christianity. They make up more than 6 per cent of the population and this number is likely to rise. He argues the UK needs to be more inclusive of these growing belief systems and one way to do that is to have public holidays to celebrate their major festivals.

This would it help all communities celebrate together, promoting understanding and bringing down the old cultural divides. However, while, yes, they are the second and third most practised religions, this overlooks one much bigger group entirely, those who do not believe at all. 

According to the 2011 census, over 25 per cent of the UK population consider themselves to be of no religious belief which pushes Islam and Hinduism down to the third and fourth most popular belief systems. Given that a quarter of us have no faith, are religious holidays that are specific to only 6 per cent of the population the best way to promote social cohesion and harmony?

He also points out that whilst adult Muslims and Hindus can take annual leave from work to celebrate these festivals, school children have to take time away from their studies to celebrate them. 

Doing more to promote tolerance

As Muslim men are currently twice as likely to be unemployed as any other young men, expecting young people of faith to choose between their religion or their education, is damaging their long term prospects. Public holidays for these festivals would mean they wouldn’t have to take days off school. 

However, firstly, Bob Blackman is calling for an Eid public holiday and a Diwali public holiday, one day for each festival, two each year. If each Muslim and Hindu child is currently only taking a day off a year, we are talking 12 days over the course of their entire scholastic career from reception to age 16. It’s hardly truant on a grand scale. But more importantly, if one day a year for 6 per cent of school children is so damaging, how can giving all school children two days off a year be a solution?

He also argues that as the UK has one of the lowest number of public holidays in the world, we should have more to bring us in line with other major economies.  These could then be used to celebrate the major festivals of other religions, such as public holiday for Yom Kippur. 

Whilst this may be true, the UK also has one of the most generous statutory leave entitlements in the world, meaning overall, UK workers have roughly the average number of days leave statutory compared to the rest of the world, so extra bank holidays, whilst wonderful, are not only not really required, It’s also estimated each Bank Holiday costs the economy £2.3bn, and that’s a lot in these ‘austere’times.

The UK is growing ever more multi-cultural and diverse.  If we want to overcome the problems of the past we need to look at ways to improve understanding, bring down old cultural barriers and create a more united society. 

Promoting religious tolerance and celebrating our differences is a huge part of that, but a bigger part is surely celebrating the things we have in common, and more holidays based on religions that 94 per cent of the population don’t prescribe to isn’t the way to do that.

What do you think? Should Eid and Diwali be public holidays? Have your say in the comments section below.

Image: R4vi / Flickr