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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. Harvey

    Have you seen how kids read, write, and solve math problems today....there should have more time in school not less 🙂 Regardless of religion LOL!!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      I am a teacher. I believe in year round school. People work year round. There is no need to release children to work on the farm

      We also need to reform education to be more child centered as well as more explicit as to behavioral expectations on our children.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Harvey

      See even I should go back to school and learn to proof read before hitting submit..."they should" not "there should"

      July 1, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • Bill870

      Islam is a religion you cannot give into. They have openly said that there cannot be separation of their faith and a countries laws.
      Off Topic, my parents and grandparents went to school for a fraction of time compared to our current academic calendar. They knew much more about math, science, history, and geography than 99% of students today.
      Care to explain that?

      July 1, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  2. Surthurfurd

    How about no holidays. Let people and students have an open leave policy that allows them a certain number of days off (sickness, vacation, whatever).

    If we reform education to be child-centered then it would not matter if someone took time off, they could pick up where they left off.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  3. Charles

    Edward, all religions have the capacity to be misguided. That does not mean that all people who practice a religion are misguided.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • faithisprivate

      try it.. ask a muslim which anti-jihad group is there favorite. there are none... all muslims are intolerant they have to be or they would be ostracized.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:30 am |
      • Surthurfurd

        All Muslims are not intolerant. It seems that the ratio of intolerance is about the same in most groups.

        July 1, 2010 at 10:32 am |
        • faithisprivate

          Correct.. but within these groups there are voices of dissent that are critical of this intolerance. within the Muslim faith there is no dissent only silent capitulation to the intolerance.

          July 1, 2010 at 10:34 am |
        • Surthurfurd

          They sound like Christians then.

          July 1, 2010 at 10:37 am |
        • faithisprivate

          i am not a christian but that is just not true. They do not silently capitulate to violence as a means of uniting all lands under the rule of Allah or any god.

          July 1, 2010 at 10:39 am |
        • danvass

          what is wrong with being a christian, heathen?

          July 1, 2010 at 10:49 am |
    • faithisprivate

      Hey Charles try this... ask a Muslim which anti-jihad group is there favorite? there are none... all Muslims are intolerant they have to be or they would be ostracized. No amount of PC politics is going to change this.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  4. People are so stupid

    No religion's holidays should be observed by the state.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • Surthurfurd

      I am a Christian and I tend to agree. The state is not holy and should not claim God in any way (I also oppose the "One Nation under God" and "in God we Trust" blasphemy. )

      July 1, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  5. Duh

    Lets see come up with something truyly important to worry about folks like hunger the homeless, etc. Boo-Who what a bunch of babbies. Today I will complain about X. If you dont like something then just leave. I am Korean and I dont get any Korean observance days off and I made it through school just fine. Yeesh what a bunch of self serving babbies.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  6. Surthurfurd

    "We are dealing with a faith that is intolerant." It seems that Secular-Christians can be as intolerant.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  7. faithisprivate

    Do not use Atheist politics to conflate gender confusion with with issues of faith.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  8. Parag

    I have no problem with having muslim holidays, but if muslim holidays are recognized then hindu, greek, african, chinesse etc... holidays should be recognized as well.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • Whatever

      I am sorry besides Hindu all the rest you mentioned would be places of origin not religion...

      July 1, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  9. David

    Let's get to the point. Christians, Jews and Muslims are all of the same religious roots. All of which have hypocritically prescribed to death and destruction to advance their theology. They believe there was a war in heaven before the earth was even created.....that the first killing was done by the first people on earth.....is this what we want? Seems Moses came down with tn commandments...first of which said tho shall not kill...and then proceeded to slaughter thousands....how convenient for certain men to interpret the word and will of God.

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

    I would not say that this request is rediculous, but not realistic. Imagine if the U.S. observed all the holidays for every religion in order to be fair. Kids would never learn anything. U.S. holidays observed are based on the religion(s) of the founding fathers. Would any other country in the world do the same? And don't give me crap about the U.S. being different. We are a country with many religions just like every other country on this planet. You don't think Muslims live in France, or in Denmark? They do, and are discriminated against far worse than they are here. Their traditions are starting to be banned in countries like France and Denmark. In France they are trying to ban the womans face veil. Denmark has had a terrible time with Muslims eating up their welfare and being the mass majority of their criminals. I am all for religion....I don't care which one it is...but you have to be realistic and look how much trouble religions like Muslim, and Catholocism cause. And for what? For the sake of someone they can't see or doesn't even know exists. They kill real people in the name of this imaginary person. Tell me....what sense does that make? Love, respect, and empathy are things this world is missing. Sometimes a good person has to discriminate based on the facts. If people are causing trouble then you need to take action. i.e. France banning Muslim traditions, Arizona's push for a more discriminitve law, Americans discriminatine against Muslims and such because of 9/11 and their persistant nagging of us being infadels. Wake up and see what is happening in this world. Look at all the greed, crime, war, and hatred that is spreading. Is religion a blessing or a curse to the human race?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • Corso

      Religion has nothing to do with it, just human nature. There were good prophets and bad ones, good kings and bad kings, good soldiers and bad soldiers, good imans and bad imans, good dictators and bad dictators, societies with bad peoples and societies with good people, good scientists and bad scientists, good gays and bad gays, good parents and bad parents, etc,etc,etc. All have in common a humanity, one of weakness and strenghts but always with free will. We are the cause of all bad things, and lets not blame others for it. You can only control your own behavior.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  11. McCluck

    Separation of church and state in every way. Unfortunately those whose minds are clouded by religion cant simply be removed so they will force their values down everyone’s throats. Also, as long as the majority of the country believes in things for which there is no evidence politicians will carefully align their stances with the religious to gain votes. This is why gay people don’t have the same rights as everyone else.-but this is just one example

    July 1, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • faithisprivate

      McCluck please do not use Atheist politics to conflate your gender confusion with with issues of faith.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:20 am |
    • McCluck

      I will fight the battle to get religious influence out of my laws until fairytale logic stops influencing my life. You can deny the premise that religion has something to do with it but i will hold on to that premise as it is my belief.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • McCluck

      im not gay if thats what you meant. And its not a choice. We are animals and some are simply programmed to be attracted to the wrong thing biologically speaking (because there is nothing WRONG with it) . Even if you dont want to admit it, you are an animal that follows animal instincts.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  12. faithisprivate

    We are dealing with a religion that is intolerant dont you else see the irony of using your tolerance to defend their intolerance.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  13. Adam

    The problem with your statement is you say that we should not compromise our country and what it was founded on then in the next breath you say that all people are equal so which is it? Are we equal or should people who believe differently be treated as such? I

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  14. Rudy

    It's called seperation of church and state. If the school is publicly funded then it's no brainer no religous holidays should be recognized. This includes christian, muslim, hindu, all religions. It's pretty simple to me. We go to school to be educated and we go to church for spiritual guidance. Keep them seperate and both can focus on what they are intended to do.

    Attend or start a private school if you want to recognize religious holidays. That applies to all religions as well. Also no one is stopping any person from recognizing a holiday. Just don't go to school on that day or keep your kids home that day.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  15. Sonoflaw

    I don't believe that the school system should offer a blanket exemption for the religious requirements of a significant few. That being said, this issue doesn't have to be all or nothing. For example, the school system could build in some flexibility to reasonably accommodate the minority's religious needs by allowing exams to be written on alternative days, or permitting extensions on assignments if the due dates fall on holidays etc. This compromise is fair and just. In addition, schools should be able to gauge the particular needs of their student populations on a case by case basis to determine which dates are ideal for scheduling major academic programs in the first place. Obviously different schools with different demographics will require greater or less flexibility. The bottom line is that everyone can be reasonably accommodated without creating a school system that shuts down when a few say so.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  16. Lucas

    I would say that we shouldn't include taking days off from school for these religious holidays. Christmas and Easter have become commercialized and are becoming synonomous with Santa Clause and the Easter bunny, sure we know it is based on religion but society has done what it can to rectify the holiday breaks with this commercialization. Beyond the perspective that we as Americans have on Islam, allowing this would make room for any other religion to request the same treatment.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  17. df

    lol. NO WAY

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  18. Corso

    Sorry, I don't trust you. Islam is a political system, not only a religion. Where do you draw the line? Sharia next? Look at england, France, Germany, The Netherlands, etc, etc,. You don't even have to go to the ME to find the results of accomodating islamic views in a society. Respond, why if the muslim faith attributes are so desirable, all of these countries have political and social problems like that. Wouldn't it be paradise on earth, or are you blaming the host countries for your islaist failures? Sad, very sad.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  19. Surthurfurd

    I see everyone wants their own unfair advantage.

    I also note that most of us use our "religious holiday" for selfish reasons and certainly not for any purpose unto God.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  20. Eddie

    No,no, and double no. Our kids can't even say prayer in school and they want our American schools to observe their Muslim holiday's. You got to be kidding me! I am sick and tired of every culture that creeps into this country wants us to change our way of life to accomodate their culture. I don't want to accomodate their way of life nor do I want to observe their religion. Go back to where your culture came from and enjoy your cultural holiday's there. Fit in to our culture or leave!!!

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

      Thanks to Eddie, not another wimp!!!

      July 1, 2010 at 10:40 am |
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About this blog

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.