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. religionisoverrated

    Separation of church & state rule is there for a reason. I think the Muslims in America need to worry about restoring their image instead of asking for holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  2. Blah0Blah

    Should New York's schools observe Muslim holidays?

    Absolutely NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  3. Kyara

    If you ask me, in public schools no holiday should be given simply for religious reasons– this includes Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and all other religions. Holidays should be placed at optimal times during the seasons.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  4. Angie

    Why Not? I think any school student would LOVE an additional 2 days off. Any since Islam follows the Hijri Calendar, the two holidays rotate through the year. Meaning that often these holidays will be in the summer or coincide with other holidays. About 2-3 years ago, my Muslim friends were celebrating Eid Ul-Adha around the same time as Christmas. So these days would not always be during the school year or week. I honestly don't think its a big deal. If all the kids get the time off, you are allowing the Muslim students to observe their holiday and the non-Muslims get a day off for fun. Its the same for Jews during "Winter Break" (which is always Christmas to New Years...no matter how you dress it) and Good Friday...which was given off to us at my school. I think people have gone too far with the "we must protect America from the Muslims" routine. They have been among us since the beginning of this nation. There are around 7 million here now....that is more than there are Jews. We need to accept they are here and they are part of us.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  5. quori

    There are 9 major holidays that the Stock Market closes as Nationally recognized holidays... New Year's, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, President's Day, MLK day, 4th of July; are all NON religious days. Only Christmas Day and Good Friday are religiously based....and in essence fall within the center of multiple religious celebrational times...Dec 25 overlaps between Christianity, Judaism, and who can forget Festivus (jk). Good Friday certainly fits within the Judeo-Christian calendar as well. Adding additional nationally recognized days is more than acceptable, which one of us would not love some additional time off, however....think about who makes the decision?

    Executives and Businesses do not want to pay more time and a half to those that must remain open (retail, medical, and emergency services come to mind). Nor do they want to provide more time off at added cost, which of course cuts into productivity.

    Our US corporate metality is to do MORE work with LESS resources...not Less work.

    Just being realistic about the situation. It isn't about shunning Islam or upholding Christianity....its all about MORE WORK!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  6. 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 10:44 am |
  7. Surthurfurd

    I am a Christian.

    The Western nations have spread their culture, religion, and economic system around the world with the same idealist zeal. The West has done it even more sharply than the Muslim cultures have. Often we do it claiming some religious moral reasons.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  8. Jabulani

    Then how about some Hindu holidays for Diwali too ? I wouldnt want my kids to stay home for Eid and not for Diwali...But we Hindus dont care about such petty politics. If you want to celebrate your holiday, dont send your kid to school. Your comment that "Dept. of Education dont treat the kids equally" is horrendous...Why dont you openly admit it, You want the holidays coz the Jews have their holidays.
    There are other ways to try to integrate in the American society...Getting NYC schools to shut down on Eid is not one of them. Muslims dont and wont give up anything. thats y they have a big deal integrating anywhere in the world...Praying is a private matter betn the person and his GOD. Everyone does in the privacy, but Muslims like to show it off by doing it in open and blasting the "namaz" over the loudspeakers...

    July 1, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  9. m anderwson

    I agree with Earnan..I lived in the ME for 6 yrs...c'mon, KSA doesn't even allow church's to be built and we allow a mosque at ground zero...pfft.
    CHRISTMAS IS A US FEDERAL HOLIDAY....there will NEVER be a MUSLIM federal holiday in the US...one day, it will be us vs them and we will kill them all...

    July 1, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  10. Nowaytomuslimholiday

    How does less than 1% of this countries' resdients justify a religious holiday for the other 99%? Despite the liberal and religious fanatics denials, this country was and is a majority and predominatly Christian nation. While we all should and do tolerate and accept each others right to worship, the majority should rule, just as in voting, as in democracy and in life. Don't change our holidays to accomodate a fraction of less than 1% of this country.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  11. Tobi

    So why exactly would muslims celebrate christian holidays? Why do you act so surprised... christians don't celebrate islamic holidays, after all... and much more than 1% of the country practices judaism and islam... sounds like you need to re-do your research.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  12. Somy

    I am SO happy to see that people are striving to make a difference in this country, where Islam is a growing religion. Muslim holidays need to be recognized and students should be allowed to celebrate the holiday instead of going to school on those days. Well done on the article!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  13. Surthurfurd

    So do many Christians. The West is quite willing to impose its political, economic, and social ideals on other cultures as if it is a moral ideal and many sing "Onward Christian Soldiers" while doing it.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  14. Abdulameer

    Yusuf Qaradawi (the most influential Muslim cleric in the world today, the spiritual head of the Muslim Brotherhood) said: "Islam is not a religion in the common, distorted meaning of the word, confining its scope only to the private life of man. By saying that it is a complete way of life, we mean that it caters for all the fields of human existence. In fact, Islam provides guidance for all walks of life — individual and social, material and moral, economic and political, legal and cultural, national and international."
    If Islam is not a religion like other religions, it should not be given the respect and privileges that we accord other religions.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  15. matt

    No they dont observe our holidays why shoudl we observe theres, this is the reason y we cnat say merry christmas anymore

    July 1, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  16. Amanda

    our country was founded on christianity. in other countries where muslim is the main religion do they acknowledge christian holidays?

    theres your sign!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:41 am |
    • EJK

      No it wasn't. Your grip on history is not nearly so firm as you imagine.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  17. skier31

    I live in Texas and I can't think of any Holidays we get out of school for a white person, so why should we be out for a Muslim. Let's face it Jesus was not white so that takes out Christmas and Easter, and we do not get off for Presidents Day. We do however celebrate Columbus Day (a Portguese man) and MLK Jr. Day (African American heritage) and I don't have a problem with this, I think it is great that we celebrate the life of someone who has made a mark on American history. That being said, we do not need to students out of school to celebrate a Muslim holiday. I say if we add another holiday, make it a celebration for a white person.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  18. Tobi

    There has been a movement in many public schools to remove religious affiliation from their holidays. Where I live in my county, we still have a winter break that happens to coincide with Christmas, but it now coincides with the ending of the semester and the starting of a new one. We still have spring break but it is usually at least a month before or after Easter. The idea is to become impartial. If you feel as though you need to take your child out of school 2-3 days a year for religious purposes, do so. One out of eight practices Islam, so what about the other seven who are missing a day for no spiritual purpose? That just prolongs the school-year and therefore thins the budget. Impartiality is where it's at. If someone wants more than that, they should invest their children in a private school.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  19. Twm

    WOW !! The only Holiday where we should give any credence to the muslims is a NATIONAL HOLIDAY on 9-11.
    To be fair the Christian and jewish Holidays should be eliminated also. Instead of Christmas<kwanza<Chankuah(sp) make it called winter recess. Passover<Easter<whatever = Spring Recess. Religion was removed from the schools yet we still give credence to mythical holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  20. Kathleen

    This is America. Don't forget it. If you don't like the rules, go back where you came from and take your primitive culture with you.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:38 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.