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. Really88

    This country was founded on Christian principles, NOT Muslim principles. If the muslim students want to take time off for their holidays then the schools should give them an excused absence. We do not need any more holidays. I am sick and tired of being "political correct". I am losing my patience with being tolerant!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  2. Anon

    Public school should not be let out for ANY religious holiday!!! Heard of separation of church and state?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  3. Derek

    The school breaks we have, winter break, sping break, they are already sufficient. We shouldn't be making any special privileges for those genital-mutilating rag heads.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  4. boydanb203

    NO, NO, NO I am sorry I am not a racist but I see the Muslin religion as de evil that is spreading all over the World with one mission, to convert as many as possible into the brain wash religion ( I don't like any organized religion) but the Muslin is a very dangerous one, you can argue with Christian, Catholic, Evangelicals and they will not tried to kill you (they might try to take your rights way but not kill). A religion that spreads Hate and call for all Muslin to kill the infidels(meaning us) should be seen as EVIL. I do understand they have some good people between them, but not enough to over turn this middle age religion that still thinking that if blow someone up you are going to heaven and you will have 500 wives, a religion that thinks a 65yrs can married a 9yrs old girl, a religion that makes women feel like their a dirty , any religion that has this kind believe should be sent far way from our ways of life.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  5. Tony

    I live and teach and in community that has a 40% Muslim population, and our schools take off both Muslim and Christian holidays. NYC, at a 12% Muslim ratio, just isn't enough to shut down the schools for such a small religious group. Khalid Latif is being egotistical.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • lkb

      Thank you for being the only intelligent person leaving comments. It's less about religion and more about the fact that teachers and students would either take off or skip school in order to celebrate with their families. In my school we had off for Jewish holidays as well as Christian because of the large populations of both groups represented in the area. It's more about how large of a particular religious population you have in a community.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  6. sam

    Carl, then do you want us poor students to not take winter break off? come to school on Christmas? This is America. the tradition has been that kids go home and take breaak from school in spring and winter. and I DO NOT think people in public school at least send kids off from school telling them to celebrate their relgious holidays.. they don't go, 'have a good easter' or 'have a Merry Christmas' so much anymore these days. they just go.. have a good spring break/ holidays/ winter break... i seriously do not believe there is any religion involved in public schools when kids go home for breaks.. get it right.

    absolutely, NO NO NO NO NO to this article'/writer.


    July 1, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  7. buddy

    were not gonna win this one, these guys are gonna get what they want. if your aginst it your a racist kkk loving ignorant red neck no matter what your explanation for it is. if they want to make it a federal and religious holiday go for it. im all about getting paid days off work!!! "be open minded" that statement in this forum is a joke. there seems to be a large group of muslums fighting our guys over seas now. to say its only a small group of people tells me that you have no clue what % your talking about. ignorance is running the country and a lot of you are running with it

    July 1, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  8. iwasframed

    Yeah while were at it lets add Jewish holidays, and pagan holidays as well. Can't leave out the atheist folks either, is there some sort of FSM day we could work into the school calendar? I realize we are the melting pot and all, but we can't just start adding holidays, all this talk about assimilating is just talk. Assimilate doesn't mean forcing your culture on us, it means adopting our culure in spite of your own. There's plenty of places you could go to get your muslim holidays, but you chose to be here so deal with it

    July 1, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • wyatt

      ...we do get off for a couple of Jewish holidays. At least we did when I was in school.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  9. wyatt

    Schools shouldn't necessarily close for the holidays but they should accommodate students who observe the holidays. We are still a predominantly Christian society – it only makes sense to close for Christian holidays if most of the students would be missing (I think we only closed for two or three anyway – New Years Day [it is a Holy day of obligation as well as the first day of the year], Good Friday, but maybe just a partial day off, can't remember, and Christmas. Easter is on a Sunday so schools are closed anyway .). If a school were predominantly Muslim, I would expect them to close for the applicable holidays – just like schools in heavily Jewish areas close for more Jewish holidays than the not so much to average Jewish density areas. Whether or not school is open isn't important, what IS important is if the schools accommodate students who celebrate the holiday.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  10. TimUVA1

    When Saudi Arabia and Pakistan close their schools for Christmas, then we'll close ours for Muslim holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Faiz the Dirty Paki, Margalla Hills, Pakistan

      If you don't know anything about a country, do not make any assumptions.
      FYI, government schools in Pakistan are closed on Christmas and have been since as long as I can remember. Last year, Fehmida Mirza, our parliament's speaker, sent a message to Christians on Christmas.

      You obviously know absolutely nothing about Pakistan, so refrain from talking about other countries in your speech.
      Thank you for showing your ignorance.

      July 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
  11. RK

    The article smacks of something that I have myself experienced in India before as I come from India. Today one is praying on the street openly at any time of day, then will come the day when they will start praying in building stairwells blocking the stairwell and then in public buses and trains blocking the walking path in them, as it exactly happens in India. This has to be curbed or it will become public nuisance here just like it is in India for ages! If you want to pray 5 times in a day, please go to a private place or a place of worship and do it there and not just. And if you are such a devout, please stay back home and just pray and forget about the material world.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  12. Sean

    I think that much of the reason colleges have days off during what may have historically ben religious holidays is because many people would simply skip class. For example, my university did not officially recognize Jewish holidays, but 1/3 to 1/2 of the class would miss those days so, many teachers cancelled class or held some other form of class (like a review session or a Q and A session).

    July 1, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • LK

      This is true. At my old high school the school board marked the wrong day off its calendar–for a MUSLIM holiday–and some 63% of students didn't show and we were forced to make that day up.It isn't just a matter of counting days, though, I would argue. I think it has to do a lot with respect.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  13. Jesus

    this just another attempt to draw more troops into the taliban and terrorism CNN should delete this article ..UsA schools don't celebrate religious holidays ..c this guy reminds me of one of those tele-marketers..and he won't stop calling ..c

    July 1, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  14. Werdna

    Hell no. What a joke this is. Lets just bow down to islam.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  15. Nigel

    I don't believe that we should close schools for the Muslim holidays. We don't close schools on Jewish holidays or Christian holidays. We are not a muslim country. Our government has tried to keep specific religions out of things, Winter Break, Spring Break. There should be no Muslim days, no favoritism.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • Adam

      Acutally, I went to a school with a large Jewish population, although I am not Jewish myself, we still got Jewish holidays off.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • LK

      Yep, and I got muslim holidays off!

      These people need to get their facts straight....

      July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  16. Reeba

    Religion and State should be kept seperate. Either no religious holidays should be national holidays or all religious holidays should be National holidays. This means religious holidays of Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism etc etc. Why just Christianity and Islam? Don't we have people belonging to other religions in America? My take is religion is your personal matter and taking a holiday on a day important to you is your personal matter.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  17. Ranchman

    Islam is a political force as much as a religion with the goal of promulgating Shiria law. Look at some European countries such as Belgium and England. They are having huge problems due to the Muslim population's growth and political power. NO to Muslim holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • LK


      Duuuuuuuuuuude take off the tinfoil hat. I grew up with over 30% of my high school being muslim, with the largest Mosque in the States being just a few miles away, and with students learning more Arabic in high school than spanish. And YES, girls wore headscarves, got married at 16, and a few even wore Burqas.

      And FYI, this was in Michigan...in the STATES.

      Getting days off of school on behalf of a good 12% of the student population is seriously not something I would worry about, ok?

      July 1, 2010 at 11:28 am |
  18. M

    Well, then all religions will want a holiday observed and then the school year will never end... there is a law that student's can't be penalized for observing religious holidays, well don't bring your kids to school and you will not be forcing all the students to observed a day they might not even know what is all about because is not part of their religion.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  19. LK

    As someone who grew up in the largest muslim city outside of the middle east (Detroit Metro) and having grown up getting muslim holidays off of school, I would argue that if some 12+% of NYC students really are muslim–if this guy has his facts right–why not? It would be one thing if he were calling for the entire damn state or something to bow down to Islam, but if NYC has 12% of its population following Islam and if he's only speaking to NYC schools, I think he absolutely has a point. It's one thing if you've got 8 students in a 1200-student high school calling for days off; this is different. This is a lot of kids.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • nannimoe

      First the schools, then the work place then the entire country. I guess next you'll want Sharia law.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  20. Bryant

    I think it is really sad that a CHRISTIAN nation, replaces almost all forms of it in the public schools, you can't have a Nativity scene anywhere in the school w/o it being "discriminating" to other people, but we can accept Muslim holidays. The United States was never Muslim. It was Christian. Spring Break used to be called Easter Break. Now Christmas Break is being called Winter Break. It is really sad how this country is spiraling down from its true heritage and foundation.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:23 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.