In England the weather grows colder, children fidget with anticipation, and events are being held to mark a major feast — that's right, Eid al-Adha, the Islamic festival of sacrifice. At one Nottingham primary school, it has meant the postponement of the annual nativity play, given the "effect" of many Muslim students remaining at home this week to celebrate:
In a letter, sent by the staff at Greenwood Junior School, mothers and fathers were told: "It is with much regret that we have had to cancel this year's Christmas performances."
"This is due to the Eid celebrations that take place next week and its effect on our performers."
However, following a barrage of complaints, a second letter was issued saying the show had "not been canceled outright" but has been postponed until the New Year.
That the Christmas play was shelved in a nation with an officially established Christian church makes it a potent sign of the times. And while secularists always cheer obstacles to the public acknowledgment of religious holidays, they should not be pleased with private faith-based celebrations disrupting the schedules of others.
Catholic schools, too, are providing fresh accommodations for Britain's Islamic community. During a week in which one Vatican official thanked Muslims for bringing God back to Europe and a second welcomed the building of more mosques — with the caveat that they be used for worship only and not become "something different" — bishops of England and Wales rolled out policies that go "way beyond legal requirements" to cater to Muslims attending Catholic schools:
"If practicable, a room (or rooms) might be made available for the use of pupils and staff from other faiths for prayer," the bishops said.
"Existing toilet facilities might be adapted to accommodate individual ritual cleansing which is sometimes part of religious lifestyle and worship.
"If such space is not available on a permanent or regular basis, extra efforts might be made to address such need for major religious festivals."
These news items underscore three truths upon which nearly all observers of Europe can agree: First, Islam is on the rise across the continent, while Christianity is on the decline. Second, once-powerful Christian churches are little more than bystanders to this trend. Third, the sociopolitical changes accompanying such demographic shifts will be profound.