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. faithisprivate

    Muslims unite against the intolerance within your religion and publicly denounce the violence, create groups that promote peace and anti-jihad sentiment and then come back to the table and ask for the same rights we have.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  2. Sybaris

    What he means is in his perfect U.S. world religious freedom only extends to christians.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  3. Surthurfurd

    I have met many Muslims who are quite vocal about what they consider to be a usurping of Islam for political and social reasons. There is less unity in the Islamic world than there is in the Christian world. It also seems to be true that most Muslims, Christians,and Jews are secular and not really religious at all.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  4. Jack

    How about no days off to observe any religious holidays. That pretty much solves the problem all around and for all time. Cancel school on federal, state, and local holidays, and create four seasonal breaks each last a couple of weeks.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:36 am |

    Since we no longer start the school day with a prayer or saying the pledge of alliance why should there be a Muslim holiday added to the school calendar?? NO Muslim holiday!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  6. lrdrummer

    This country was founded on Christian values, none others. I know it's hard to believe with today's "me" generation being so vocal. It's Christmas and Easter, not winter and spring, independence day, labor day, Thanksgiving, and memorial day. Memorial day in honor for those who made the supreme sacrifice for THIS country.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  7. Mike

    Where is the ACLU and Freedom FROM Religon people on this one? Hippocrates, looks like your beliefs really don't hold up.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  8. Surthurfurd

    So many of us properly fear that others will be as shallow as we are.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  9. AnotherTexasView

    The very fact that this question is raised indicates the change that is coming to America's heritage. The country I was raised in has ceased to exist. When we add the Hindu holidays, the Jewish holidays, the Bhuddist holidays, Shinto holidays, Native American (depending on the tribe) holidays, and don't forget the Mexican holidays already being celebrated here - when will we have time for school?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  10. BMR

    Schools should not close on ANY religious holiday, but absences should be allowed.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  11. Sharon

    NO definetly not, we don't have schools closed for ALL the Jewish Holidays. The Koran preaches Killing the infidels, the Bible does not. All Muslims may not be terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims. The Mayor is correct. IF you want to stay out of school on your holidays, go to a Muslim Nation.
    We should Not let anyone into the United States from terrorists nations!!!!! Doesn't anyone remember 9/11 ????

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  12. John

    It amazes me how society is trying to de-religion everything and yet the Muslims are getting special consideration. No Nativity scenes at Christmas, no school prayer, taking In God We Trust out of the nation's government structures....and yet we talk Muslim holidays, placating to Muslims, and giving special priviledges to Muslims. Something is very wrong in this country.

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

      Muslims are speaking out for these privileges, while other groups have blended in to American cullture. Muslims expect their religion to be the state religion, as it has traditionally been in their homelands.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  13. Mamaw

    Yes and No. First, Muslims are not the only religious group to consider. Those of any faith should have their holy days off. It is not possible to close schools for all of these but concessions should be made. This is supposed to be a nation with freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Set up the schedule so that the holy days have agendas that will not be restrictive and then give them excused absences for their holidays. We are not a nation of idiots, surely we can accommodate this policy.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  14. TERI

    I BELIEVE that the government should put an end to all religious holidays and businesses should follow that rule as well. You can't go to many stores on "Christmas." Many businesses observe the "Good Friday." These are religious based. It should be an individual choice taken on personal time to do these things whether it's at work or school. Government and businesses should stay open.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  15. tintin

    hey why only Islam/Muslim holidays? Are Hindu, Jewish, Sikh and people of other faith irrelevant?If the government observes religious holidays and gives a day off then it should observe all religions' holidays otherwise it's preferring one religion over the other and as far as I know that is in direct violation of the first amendment. If they want to observe religious holidays, observe all religious holidays like we do it in India.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  16. GregB

    We should offer the same tolerance to religious groups that they've offered for non-religious groups. Nothing.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  17. Surthurfurd

    I do not see most Christians, Muslims, or Jews looking for opportunities to allow other groups "religious rights." What we all want is cultural dominance.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:31 am |
  18. Blah0Blah

    Islam should be absolutely forbidden in America! Having mosques in this country is distasteful, offensive, rude to Americans.

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

      Sure. Sounds like a nice vacation.

      At least I wouldn't be hiding in my trailer park, reloading my rifle and flying the confederate flag complaining about the assimilation of a different religious group into the most diverse country in the world. I wish I could say the same for you...

      July 1, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  19. Sybaris

    Wow Ralph, really?!!

    You really need to take a class on early american history.

    It's ignorance like that, from both sides, that perpetuates stupidity.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  20. Surthurfurd

    Many horrors have been done in the name of Christianity (as a Christian I know them well). Most people claim a religion; but, only practice the trappings of it. We do not actually follow God's will.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:29 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.