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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. JussaThought

    Faith – I am a Christian. I know a few Muslims, but I wouldn't claim to be an expert. So I don't enough about Islam to know if it preaches intolerance or not. There are many examples of where Christianity has been intolerant, but that's not really the point.
    The point is that school systems, companies, etc. have to deal with issues like this all the time, whether it's tied to religion or not. If 1 out of every 8 people in the system (BTW ... I doubt the number is that high, but I don't know for sure) may not show up, it might be something to deal with.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  2. Cece

    Here's the issue. NYC public schools recognize holidays of both the Christian and Jewish faith. We get off for all of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Good Friday, Yom Kippur, etc. There is no way to justify giving us time off for Rosh Hashanah but then not give time off for Eid ul-Fitr. According to the article 12% of New Yorkers are Muslim. According to the 2000 Census 13% of New Yorkers are Jewish and 43% identify as Catholic or Protestant. I think It's completely reasonable to ask for 2 days off from the entire year considering how many days we get off for all of the other holidays. Either that, or have school on Christmas and Yom Kippur.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  3. Bob

    This is what muslims do... go to a new country, mix in with the population, multiply faster than other races, then slowly form a bigger and bigger population... then ask to change the existing ways and traditions... and finally take over traditions and impose barbaric muslim ways – Sharia Law and then start suppressing other religions and races as well as women... This they have done in many other countries – including many European countries where people of those countries are now minorities in their own countries. Islam are guided by Kuran – a book that has defective and intolerant ideology at its heart. It teaches violence against non-muslims. It was written by a corrupt, vilent and pedofile man (Mohammed).

    Giving encouragement to Islam and muslims is like digging your own grave. Wake up people and do some research. Muslims are not going to give you the same protection, tolerance and facilities that you give them. In fact they will use those priviledges, become stronger and then once in majority – they will impose their Sharia Law and treat everyone else with

    July 1, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  4. stanley

    not sure, but it might have to do with muslims who did something in NYC involving 2 towers on sept 11, 2001. if large numbers of hindus asked for diwali or festival of lights off, I doubt they would get as cold a reception. they want a mosque near ground zero? I doubt it. not that all muslims supported the 9-11 actions but the memories are fresh in the minds of many.

    perhaps a liberal leave policy for all religious holidays with a note from parents confirming such observances lest worship of skateboards and the like proliferate.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  5. Becca

    I think if you live in America then follow the American Holidays as they are in the schools. If you are from another country and want to follow the holidays of another country then follow them your self and take off of school your self or go back to the country you came from and close the schools there for your countries Holidays. But this is America and the schools follow the closings to honor the American Holidays. I think if you do not like the American Holidays then you must not like America so go back to your own country them! Sorry but this is the way it is in America!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  6. Rick

    Why don't we give the Spanish community the religious holidays they may celebrate, or the Jewish community, or the European community? We give in to one religion/people then we have to do it for all. Tired of Muslims trying to dictate what should be done in the US because there are "a lot" of them. Leave the nationally recognized holidays the way they are. I support Bloomberg in his decision..please don't give in.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  7. Kitty

    Wasn't there an article a few days ago about the possibility of school opening being delayed a week because of a Jewish holiday? All or none is the only fair way. As prayer is not allowed then religious holidays should also be prohibited.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  8. Apeman

    Please tell me this is a joke....... Sorta like the one that Islam is a peaceful religion....lol... Seperation of Church and State....Peace be upon me....

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  9. Jeremy

    We should ban all religious holidays, and go to school year round.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  10. Chris

    Are they going to do the same for Wiccan, pagan and holidays for ALL religions? I seriously doubt it.

    Why is the Muslim community so special right now that we keep handling them with delicate silk gloves? This post-9/11 nonsense of "getting to understand Islam" is complete crap. Maybe Islam should try to understand and TOLERATE other religions in this world, instead of referring to everyone as Zionists, Infidels and Crusaders.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  11. faithisprivate

    I am encouraged by this conversation. Very few are in favor of this an that is a sign that our digression in the painful realities of a PC world are almost over. Multiculturalism is like any other ideology it only works if we all believe in it and we will never all believe in anything. So the best part is trying to figure it out as we go along. There have been many great suggestions on how to deal with but giving religious holidays to groups under self doubt or force is not the answer.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  12. Janjan

    Islam is a political ideology hiding behind the (literal) beard of religion. Well meaning, good intentioned liberal people are unduly impressed with the Islamic outward manifestations of piety. What they turn a blind eye to, is that it has a supremist philosophy that is not content with just talk, but has a mandate to wage actual war on unbelievers. Imam Latif knows this full well. As the founder of CAIR, Omar Ahmad stated in 1998 "Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith but to become dominant."

    So no, no Islamic holidays, and no Islamic victory monument by Ground Zero.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  13. citizenUSA

    You either close school for every religious holiday or none. Religion is not dependant on kids being out of school. It's just a sign of repect to close and enjoy. So all the other kids who don't follow the religious reason the school is closing get off too so why should they complain? They're getting off too, right? Well it's not the kids complaining it's the parents and with good reason. Why should my kids be forced away from education because the school closed to observe a religious holiday that they don't even celebrate? Then why can't my kids have off for their religious holidays? Then the other kids will have to take off making those parents concerned. What's that 28 letter long word that means separation of church and state? (I know what it is but I'm not spelling it out). Since education systems are run by states and every state closes for the same holidays, (which are only Catholic). See how religion separates people of the world in a negative way? It's like the only answer that can satisfy everyone is no closing for religious reasons, (except the kids).

    July 1, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  14. GG

    Okay lets observe holidays for Hindus, Catholics, Jews, Buddists, Sikhs, etc etc. We'll all be home with no school or work. Lets start by Middle East first observing these holidays for those non-muslims living in those countries, then we can follow suite.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  15. GEORGE

    Now if we do that then we most also give Jewish holidays as well. As I see it there have been many more Jews in America for a longer time than Muslims.

    By that time when do are kids go too school? Do only Muslim kids get off that holiday and if so how is that fare too all the other kids in America with many diffrent religious holidays?

    This is a silly request and should not be allowed! The only way this is ok is if all religious holidys are given off.

    This is not even a real request that can happen.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  16. EB

    I believe that this country was founded "In God We Trust", unfortunately because now most have issues with praying in school, saluting our Flag, observing Christmas etc I believe that we should not observe Islamic Holiday. If we who had to give up what was normal for century why should we now allow other religious holidays. If you want to observe it don't go to school.

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

      God did not found the US. We are not a Theocracy. It is blasphemy to claim that God supports the US or that our policies are God's.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  17. GreenPlastic

    Keep religion out of schools, it's bad for our kids. Here's a proposal, spring break during Mar Equinox, summer break from June Solstice to Sept Equinox, winter break during Dec Solstice. Christians were smart and re-scheduled Jesus' birthday to coincide with winter solstice, so they still get their precious holiday as part of the winter break. Maybe Muslims should do the same. Re-schedule all the holidays around winter and summer breaks. Problem solved.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  18. Cain

    Schools should only close for national holidays. Period.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  19. vel

    Schools should not give religous holidays off. There should be a set number of days that *anyone* can take off for any reason and we should have school year round. Then the Muslims can take off for theirs, Jews theirs, etc, and people who don't believe in any of these can also have the same personal time to take off. It's only fair, right?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  20. Fr. William Lugger

    I say make schools year round schools. If a specific holiday...re: Holy Day...falls during the school year let the family decide to take it and celebrate. Have it NOT effect the student's attendance in ANY way. The student could make up the work missed, later. There should be a separation of Church and state..religous freedom for all not just for some

    July 1, 2010 at 10:23 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.