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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. Adam

    Is it just me, or are muslims pushing the envelope a little too much these days? OUR country was founded on Christianity and always will be...if you don't like it, leave. Period. I'm so tired of hearing how our country needs to conform to everyone else's beliefs!! We've always supported the freedom of religion in our country, but don't push it.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  2. Imbecile

    I'd prefer if our government never recognized anything about any religion.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  3. Reed

    To my friends that believe that this country was founded by only Christians...please do a little more research. There were some agnostics among them who rallied for the separation of church and state...I am Christian, but I recognize that it was used to enslave my people and to kill many people...If you remember the rallying call "God wills it" you know what I am talking about. Its time we learn to coexist. You can not convert souls with hate and misunderstanding.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  4. kate

    to bad we were here first. Our forefathers founded this country based on Christianity, if you don't like go back to where you came from.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  5. Miruna

    Let's all attend all the possible religious holidays that we can came up with and forget all about school, does it really matter? let's be ignorant, why in the world do we need to go to school? to have our children thought to think critically? no way thinking is wrong and they might decide they do not believe in any religion whatsoever and then what?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  6. gerry

    Separation of church and state..................

    July 1, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  7. Joboo

    No way. Muslims only want things one way – theirs! They will talk about the things other religions did in the past, They will say this is not Saudia Arabia etc. But the one thing they will never do is support any other religion in their home country getting the same rights they are demanding here. It's a shame that they are always using our open society ways to bring their 'closed' way of thinking to our shores. It religion is the main thing in their lives then they should leave the land and the benifits if the infidels and go live in a country where people think like they do. Of course they won't, because they want the advantages they get here that they can't get in their Muslim homeland.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  8. matt

    this is the reason why we cant merry christmas anymore, too many crybabys. whats next teachin our kids to be jihadists in school. If anything america should be like france n make them take off there garbs in public. really how can you take a drivers license photo with that crap. They dont observe our holidays why should we observe theirs. they hate christianity y should we be any differnt. Heck they already want to build a mosque near the WTC site, whats next, they keep takin n we keep giving, WAKE UP AMERICA

    July 1, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  9. Monica Lopez

    What about not school closing for ANY religious holiday? Every one can take 3 or 4 religious day off per year and no exams during those days? This seems like a conspiracy by teachers Unions to have more free days. Students barely have time with teachers as it is now. School years in New York City are full of half days for "teacher enrichment" and so on. Kids only have a a couple of hours with the teachers that they share with 20 something others. Please!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:58 am |
  10. nunyabuznez

    ...And on the eighth day Man created god in his own image.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  11. AYKM

    If we acknowledge every holiday from every religion there would be vacant offices, schools, taxis etc all day everyday. This country cannot work like that. I noticed in the article that he went to the street to pray, that's fine if he needs to pray I applaud his decision. Christians pray over their food and other times during the day. Why do we need more "converts" to any religion so the insincere can get another holiday off? God knows whos real and whos not.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  12. Zeppelin

    I don't think this is really necessary. Jewish and Muslim students at my school always were pulled from class by their parents, therefore receiving extra days off.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  13. ndlily

    Actually, this could help with a larger problem. I've been saying for ages that ONLY national holidays (read: Labor Day, Memorial Day, etc.) should be represented on any governmental calendar (schools included). I'm a spiritualist with agnostic tendency, and I find it offensive that we observe Easter still, especially since it's on a Sunday and comes so close to spring break. As for Christmas, it is as secular a holiday in the U.S. as they come. For some, yes it's religious, but for most, it is simply a day of peace and joy. I'm not Christian anymore, but I celebrate it as a family day, because you know, quite frankly, we need at least one of those each year (and besides, whatever name it has, it was co-opted by Christians from a much older, pagan holiday, so it's fair game). So here is what we do: We change the name of Christmas to Goodwill Toward Humankind Day and scrap anything that even remotely smacks of religion, because in the end, taking into account every single religion is problematic. Religion and government should be compartmentalized. It's not that religion is not valuable, but it's something you practice on your own time. And if followers of a particular religion, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, any of them, feel a dire need to have school calendars coincide with their religious calendars, then it's called a charter school.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  14. Dmitriy

    With all due respect, Muslim holidays are not more important than Christian, Jewish or any other holidays. I don't recall having a day off on any of them. If people must observe them, then don't go to school, work – it's in your own right. But by no means religious motives, of ANY kind, should affect or change what's been established by law or legislature.
    This land has embraced all people of all religions, and all of us should equally follow them.
    If everyone keeps pulling their own way, this country will become anarchy. Let’s not abuse this country more than it’s already been. This is the best country in the world and besides freedom it offers, the laws are made to be followed.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  15. danvass

    I am not a Jew, I lived in NY and I when it is a Jewish holiday schools are closed. Do the same for the Muslims or end Jewish holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Dmitriy

      Jewish schools are closed on Jewish holidays.
      These types of schools are called charter schools.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  16. Bob

    Unless you are prepared to live under barbaric Sharia Law – and America to be a muslim country in a few decades from now, do NOT encourage muslim religion...

    This has happened to all those places which used to be non-muslim including many European countries... are fast becoming muslim countries .. including England and France... as muslim population keeps on increasing faster than any other race.

    Muslims appear peace loving on the outside, but at the root of all, they are guided by venomous philosophy – Kuran, which teaches violence and intolerance for every other faith and religion.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  17. Tim

    WOW! I am appalled that New York acknowledges religious holidays on it's calendar (Rosh Hashanah, Christmas, Good Friday, etc.). You dug your own hole, either get rid of them all or ya' gotta' include 'em all!

    My take, get rid of 'em...

    July 1, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  18. Richard

    Jo, students do not attend classes on Christmas because schools are not in session at that time. Most schools refer to this break as the Winter Holidays. This has become a cultural tradition rather than religious. At our school we recognize all religious traditions of our students as well as cultural traditions. They are free to choose not to attend school and their absence is treated as an excused absence. Students communicate with their teachers and set up a schedule for completing any missed assignments and tests. Anyone who thinks religious holidays are celebrated in public schools has not been in public schools for a long time. December decorations consist of snowmen and reindeer. Spring decorations are of bunny rabbits and eggs. After many years of successfully purging religion from public schools, I am surprised by the number of people reported as supporting its reintroduction.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  19. stlpm636

    Mr. Latif,
    Do the schools in New York close for other religions' holidays (Jewish, Buddhist, etc)? If they do, then I agree, they should close for every Muslim holiday, too. However, I'm betting they don't. Yes, the major Catholic holidays are "covered" ... Winter Break covering Christmas and Spring Break covering Good Friday/Easter. A throwback to a time when other religions were not acknowledged. However, most schools are probably in session for most if not all other religious holidays. In Missouri, students are allowed to take "religious observance" days, even though school is in session. Teachers are required to allow for these observances, by avoiding giving exams and/or allowing for makeup sessions, etc. If schools closed for every religious holiday for all major religions, our students would never get an education! The observance of religious holidays should be allowed for and recognized, but not on a "wholesale" basis.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • Joamiq

      Schools in NYC are closed for the Jewish high holy days as well.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  20. tria

    I'm a Hindu, and y dont u see how many Hindus are in NYC....I don't see schools closing for our religous holidays! nor doe sit close for Hanukkah, Chinese New Year, Easter though thats a sunday usually), etc

    July 1, 2010 at 10:46 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.