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July 1st, 2010
08:44 AM ET

My Take: New York's schools should observe Muslim holidays

Editor's note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of the school's Islamic Center.

By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN

I was recently eating dinner at a restaurant with a friend near Times Square when it became time for me to pray. Muslims pray five times a day and this particular prayer, called Maghrib, is performed at sunset.

Having lived in New York City for decades, I’ve become comfortable praying pretty much anywhere. It also doesn’t hurt that there are stranger things happening on the streets here than a young guy bowing and kneeling for a few minutes.

After I started to pray, a tour bus parked in front of me and a large group of people proceeded to spill out.

While I continued, a woman from the group came closer to where I was praying. She removed a scarf from her neck, placed it on the ground so that I would be praying on something clean, then walked away before I finished.

A truly amazing woman whose name I don’t even know. But if I had not felt comfortable being myself and praying on the street, I would never have had the opportunity to learn from her.

A child at a recent rally for Muslim holidays to be observed by New York city schools.

It’s not easy fitting in. Whether you’re 15 years old or 55, most of us have to compartmentalize our identity in order to feel accepted. We let go of things that we hold dear in hopes that we can just belong and in doing so we assume the worst of the people around us. We think that they wouldn’t be able to understand and accept us for who we are.

A year ago this week, more than 80 faith-based, civil rights, community and labor organizations came together under the title Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. Our purpose was to encourage New York City to give permanent recognition to its Muslim community by adding two holidays observed by Muslims to the public school calendar: Eid ul-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting and Eid Ul-Adha, which celebrates the end of the Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.

New York’s City Council convened to vote on the issue and almost unanimously passed resolution 1281, calling for the Department of Education to recognize the holidays. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided that the holidays won’t be added to the public school calendar

Yesterday, the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays held a late morning rally on the steps of New York’s City Hall. Hundreds of people attended and even more stood at the gates waiting to get in—a 300 person limit had been placed on the gathering—as politicians, city officials, interfaith leaders and activists spoke from the steps telling Mayor Bloomberg why he should change his mind.

The expectation that people have of Muslims these days is pretty confusing. On one hand, Muslims are explicitly told they need to integrate Islam more effectively into mainstream society. On the other hand, Muslims are implicitly shown that can’t really happen. The construction of our mosques is protested, our communities are profiled, and our children have to go to school on their holidays.

“One in every eight school kids in the City of New York observes the Muslim faith,” New York City Comptroller John Liu said in a statement issued yesterday by the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. “Yet these students are forced to choose between their education and their faith, and it’s a situation that needs to be rectified.”

In addition all the presidents of New York’s five boroughs have sent letters of support to our coalition, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio support the City Council resolution recognizing Muslim holidays.

“About 12 percent of New York City students are Muslim,” says de Blasio, “and consequently thousands of students miss exams and important activities because they are scheduled on Muslim holidays. The Department of Education should treat these students equally and include the two main Islamic holidays in the school calendar, just as it does with other major religions.”

It was a beautiful thing to stand amongst a diverse group of people yesterday in support of a cause that really goes beyond a holiday. I’m looking forward to the day that it’s celebration—not contention—that brings us together. Who knows? Maybe it’ll even be on Eid.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khalid Latif. Author photo courtesy Bryan Derballa.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Education • Islam • Muslim • Opinion

soundoff (1,105 Responses)
  1. femfilly

    While I'm an atheist, I tend to agree that when 12% of an area's students follow the same faith, their holidays should be recognized. The United States is not a christian nation, therefore, we should respect the religious holidays of major minority religions as well as the christian ones. Christians and christian politics dominate this country, and it is time for minority's to be recognized as well!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:14 am |
    • Jen

      I think you are correct. You can't have 12% of students missing class. That's ridiculous.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  2. Whatever

    I need Atheist Day to be recognized...that would be every Monday...I am pretty sure all the students will agree with me...

    July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Whatever

      and while we are at it I would like the Agnostic Day to be recognized too...that would be every Friday...

      July 1, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • chbaca

      There is a national atheist day it is April 1st

      July 1, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  3. sameeker

    I will never observe a muzzie holiday. Maybe we should have a festival celebrating the crusades. Also, we could take a day off to observe the beginning of desart storm.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  4. David

    If all these Muslims are against the terrorist Islamic's why havent we captured Bin Laden? Where is the organized Muslim voice denouncing this. I see no unity in Islam. None no unity in any religion. This is because religions are a fabrication. Brainwashing. Soul and mind destroying systems. Stand up gather round put the terrorist down!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There is no place in this world for any more hocus pocus. Smart minds....compassionate minds....hopeful....ambitious.....striving...caring minds...need to rule this world devoid of any grbage junk that has divided man...religion has become only a fighting point.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  5. Alcatraz80

    You had better wake up pal, YOU are the minority these days.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  6. Dude

    I could have swore the guy in the article mentioned that he prays to God, like, five times a day.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  7. Charles

    Zebula, I don't, but that is not what I was responding to. Your statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is what I was responding to. Hope this helps to clarify.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  8. Surthurfurd

    As a Christian, in regards to the US being a Christian nation built on Christian principles... hogwash. Jesus would be tearing up lots of our temples today. Most of us do not follow Jesus' teachings and even less so the government or businesses.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • femfilly

      We believe in the separation of church and state in America...

      July 1, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  9. Lydia

    If you want Muslim holidays, go live in a Muslim country and leave us the hell alone. Take your brethren with you. We already have one Muslim holiday, and it is more than enough. We call it "9/11."

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  10. tcassa

    Carl, I teach my children that these fairy tale characters are not real. I teach them the true meaning and HISTORY behind the holidays, etc. I'm sorry you may not agree, but your argument lacks all logic. It is just angry. We cannot keep adding holidays to the school calendar to meet the needs of a few. Democracy is ran on a majority. That is also part of our history.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  11. Alcatraz80

    I think we have come to a point and time where we shouldn't recognize any religious holiday's in our school systems, federal facilities, state facilities, etc. Reason being, if we can't acknowledge every holiday of every religion, then we shouldn't recognize any of them. It's truly saddening to think that we have to lean on our faith/religion to do the right thing in this world.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  12. Dean Chilzberg

    By far the best response! Well done Shawn

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  13. DJ

    As I read most of these post by many of you, I am amazed at your lack of empathy, religious tolerance and utter ignorance. The founding fathers of this great country included the right to practice religion as the first fundamental right because of what they had experienced and yet many of you are calling for the complete purging of this religion. Read their scripture before you judge them; the actions of some is not a direct indicator of the masses of Muslims who are quite peaceful and calm. We need not compare what this country has done in the name of Christianity (Naitve Americans and Blacks) vs. the foolishness that has been going on in Irag and Afgan.. This is a non issue however RELIGIOUS HOLIDAYS SHOULD NEVER BE CELEBRATED OR OBSERVED IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. I say that as a public school teacher because our students need to be in school everyday all day! Year round!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • Earnán

      DJ: Tell us all about the "tolerance" that Muslims extend to any other faith.

      Tell us about the second-class citizenship Christians are "permitted" in Muslim countries.

      Tell us about the expulsion of Jews, the theft of their property and the murder of their leaders that have been the distinguishing characteristic of Muslim nations for most of the last century.

      Tell us about the genocide of Hindus.

      The harassment and ghettoization of Buddhists, to include making them wear the equivalent of the Nazis' yellow stars for Jews.

      The ongoing murder and abuse of Druze, Yahidis, Zoroastrians throughout the Muslim world.

      The intolerable shall not be tolerated: no free ride for Islam and its human rights abuses.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  14. chbaca

    In regard to the original question, should schools close on Muslim holidays?, the answer is a resounding NO! This is not East Musliministan it is AMERICA! Would they (the Mohammadeans) allow schools in their countries to close on Christmas? HELL NO! We need to stop letting blind political correctness guide our consciences. Come on all you WIMPS. Stand up for a change and defy the foreigners who want to make this country into a new Mexico or a new Afghanistan or whatever. If they want to live here they can adjust to us rather than making us adjust to them.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  15. Gary

    Many of us have religious holidays that are not recognized by the school boards across America. In my opinion the solution to Islam religious days, is to allow the students to take the holidays and not count them absent. The children of our religion celebrate Passover but we have never demanded a school holiday just because Christians have their Easter. Ours take their holiday and are counted absent.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  16. absolutely not

    If you want your kid to observe a muslim holiday then send them to a muslim school. For that fact, no religious holidays including Jewish ones should be observed in the public school system.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  17. kevin

    Americans are so naive. Muslims always want equal right, when they gain majority in the society, they will start dictate other people what to do based on Islam way. Look at minority who live in Islam country, they have to follow the Muslims. If they do fasting period, bars/clubs have to close the whole month and restaurants have to close during the day time. That is Islam.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  18. Surthurfurd

    For those of you who think Winter Break is not observing Christmas, there is some real denial. The changing of the term was chosen to lower the political problems of releasing for Christmas. Note we also have a break for Easter we call a Spring break and it always seems to be adjusted as the date of Easter changes .

    July 1, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • faithisprivate

      Right we have allowed PC politics to stop calling our traditions what they are and allow them to declare theirs with pride.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • sam

      then when would you like for us students to take some break from school work sir?
      the Christmas and Easter happen to fall in those periods when students need break. If America has gotten as secular as people claim it to be, not too many students go off to Spring and Winter breaks thinking, EASTER! CHRISTMAS!
      well you konw what, if all muslim or other religious folks feel offended having "religious" spring and winter break, don't take them. If you do, you are simply celebrating the "religious" holidays with all Christians, and Christians will be thankful that you do.

      seriously, I really don't think American public schools says anything about Easter and Christmas when they let students go home...

      for me, there is no religious holidays in America, and SHOULD NOT BE ONE EVER.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  19. MJD

    Mr. Nelson, which denominatin of "Christianity" would you like us to follow?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  20. Jen

    Sure, why not? Especially in the cities where there is a large Muslim population. It might not be necessary in small towns without Muslims, but definitely in larger cities. Where I live there is a large Muslim population and the Muslim kids miss school during their holidays. And to those bigots on here, most Muslims in the US are NOT immigrants! They are first or second generation and converts!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:09 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.