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. aphouston

    Muslims will wait for the day when their representation is significant. Muslims will then haul mayor's assess out of their seat if he does not support muslim holidays. That day is coming very soon.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  2. Rik

    Great article but disagree. Religion (regardless of which) needs to be seperated from our public schools. There are plenty of private schools that are religious based that one can go to if they truly believe in their particular religion. As I wrote before, I do not believe in religion. I only believe in God. Not sure if any religion can top that. Religion is faith based. Let me write this again "RELIGION IS FAITH BASED" which not only means having faith in God but also having faith in that particular religions ability to properly interpret the Word of God. So who's to say which religion is correct? What if I start a religion (or a cult as some would say)? Would I be wrong or right? Who are you to judge? So again, if we allow religious holidays in our public schools will only lead to something far worst. Every other religion will jump on board and ask for the same. If there are any religious holidays in our public school calendars then they should be removed. If you want religion in our schools then go to a private school. All relgions have lead to bloodshed so "stop casting stones if you live in a glass house".

    July 1, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • M

      I agree with you, go to a private religious school and problem solved.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  3. MB

    Do you think Muslim countries have holidays for Protestants in their school system?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  4. Love

    You, sir, are a disgrace to America herself. It's people like YOU that bring our country down. You and everyone one else with your closed-minded, egotistical, racist, bigoted views disgust me to no end and make me fear for the future of our great country... the only thing that gives me hope is that someday, whether it be before God or some sort of act of Karma or whatever it may be, you will be judged.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • max

      Which "closed-minded, egotistical, racist, bigoted view" were you referring to? It wasnt threaded as a reply.

      Why exactly does someone being judged, after they die, give you hope for america? Seems to be a extreme thought and not pertinent to hope for the country, but maybe I missed the point.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  5. Josef F

    If we abandoned this outdated agricultural calendar for the school year and made the school year all year long, we could afford to close schools for Muslim Holidays and Jewish Holidays and Christian Holidays, etc.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  6. MAK

    The school system would need to change the whole system. The school year is based now on agricultural needs. The school year was set up century,s ago so that the children was around to help on the farms in the summer. There wasn't the great need in the winter. Many large cities are talking about to a year round school year. This would make it a lot easier for the muslim's to have their holidays off.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  7. drinker75

    I don't think this is necessary. I am not christian but celebrate Christmas because I feel like it. Call it something else, I don't care, it's a fun holiday. I live in Kansas, my kids do not get Good Friday off of school and spring break is never during Easter. They don't get any other religious holiday off either (other than Christmas which, like someone said, is not much of a christian holiday anymore). This is how it should be. Take your kids out of school if a religious holiday means that much to you.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  8. Jim

    It isn't possible to allow a national holiday for every religious holiday. It wouldn't take long before kids would be in school all summer long just to make up for the added missed days. You would also be paying people for additional holidays. This is a predominantly Christian country whether you want to acknowledge it or not. The Christmas, Easter holidays have been replaced with more generic terms so as not to offend those of other faiths and are converted to holidays everyone can enjoy. I see no reason to subsidize additional holidays for faiths other religions.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  9. Willie12345

    Why not? Every religious holiday should be celebrated and days off from school provided. Then we can promise the world, that American children will be the poorest educated.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  10. Bruce

    If enough of the school population will take the holiday off anyway, then yes close the school. I went to a University that had a large Jewish population and because a large number of students and professors would take the Jewish holidays off, the school closed.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  11. Tara

    This country was founded by Christians and it is still predominantly Christian. Therefore, we celebrate Christian holidays. Majority wins. If I move to Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country, I GUARANTEE you they woudln't be considering observing Christian holidays for the minority of us who are there. This is why people who want to leave their country really need to think about the country where they want to immigrate. If you don't want to deal with Christians and their holidays, don't choose to come to a Christian country.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  12. Sharone

    4th of July, Thanksgiving and Memorial day are unnecessary Holidays that are meaningless to most people. Replace these so called Holidays with Muslim Holidays and everyone will be treated fairly.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • question

      Are you kidding? 4 July is meaningless for most of american?

      July 1, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • +CGO+SenseiC

      July 4... somewhat "selfish" of us, but makes perfect sense (save JW's who don't observe birthdays)
      Memorial Day... no point in observing July 4 without reflecting on the sacrifice of the tens of thousands who paid for YOUR freedom and mine with their blood.
      Thanksgiving... guess you never read George Washington's Proclamation


      Sensei bows out.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  13. seperation of church and state

    We should close schools for all religious holidays, or none of them. If we choose the former, we'll never have to go to school!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  14. brown_eyedgirl84

    Umm... Separation of Church and State, anyone?? I can't believe that this issue is even being debated. But, of course, Separation of Church and State is only valid if it's the Christian Church, right? I understand that most of the holidays that are recognized are Christian holidays, but that's because our nation was founded as a Christian nation. Sorry if that offends anyone, but that is a FACT. If I moved to a predominantly Muslim country, there is NO WAY that I would expect my views and religious holidays to be recognized. America has become a nation of pushovers who are ashamed of our own beliefs and traditions. It is time for us to stand up and be proud of OUR faiths and OUR country and stop being told what to do!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  15. lindsey

    I am the wife of marine who was sent to war not only once or twice but four times! my husband is disgusted how this country is turning out to favor muslims and how they want us to bow dow to their religion. you people are forgetting that they blew us up without remorse and are killing our sons, daughter, fathers, brother, uncles, and friends for what they call the gift ti be set free and get so many virgins. they came to this country why should we make special rules for them? we dont make them for kwanza and their perfectly content with it. in support of my husband who was severly injured and being taken care of the VA at the age of 25 for the rest of life i would hope people would grow up and relize this religion is not pretty and it never will be.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  16. Shadia

    I agree it is hard to assimilate in society and then being told you have limits. Im a Muslim from the south and God knows Muslim holidays will never get integrated in our public schools, but the fact that 1 in 8 students celebrate Muslim traditions in NY just goes to show that the holidays should be included in the calender.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  17. Tony Leyton

    All Religious Organizations desires to impose their requirements imposed on non-members and Democracy are always in conflict. That's why separation of churches and state is so crucial.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  18. Voice of Reason

    ALL major religious holidays should be observed. When I was a student, I wanted as many days off as possible 🙂 If everyone has Easter and Xmas off, everyone should be able to take the other holidays off as well. Who could possibly complain about that!?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • +CGO+SenseiC

      Very short-sighted. I challenge you to find ANY single day of the year that doesn't have SOME religious holiday attached to it. If you DO find one, then we can simply define that as "Atheist Day" and therefore negate that one too. The only ETHICAL way to do it comes from observing none of them.
      Disclaimer: I am a devout Christian.

      Sensei bows out.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  19. Stan

    There is no holiday for Christmas in America why would you think Muslims should get special treatment. We have a winter break and it happens to fall on Christmas. There is no holiday for Good Friday either.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  20. Mohawker

    Wow, yet another instance of prominent muslims whining about not being accomodated. I would like to see this guy and this "coalition" spend their time and energy on something that is actually useful to the world......like calling for an end to radical Islam and it's murderous, violent activities.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:13 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.