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. Rasheen

    I think the problem here is not religion but where do we draw the line. Our educational system is already in the toilet and know we want to give our kids more days off. I think it's possible that the Mayor saw a possible slippery slope. If we add these two holidays then, it will be very difficult to contest the next two.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  2. nannimoe

    So Muslims want days off from school for their religious holidays???, when the moderate Muslims start to profess their outrage at the radical Muslims then we'll think about it. Instead they sit back and ignore what is going on. Peaceful religion that's a joke.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  3. CIVII

    America—love it, or leave it.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  4. GotThumbs

    **** EASY SOLUTION !!!!! Lets take religion out of the equation all together. We don't need time off for easter since its always on Sunday. Instead of a Christmas holiday we just have it as a winter break and establish similar breaks during the year (spring break, summer break). The problem with trying to serve all religious holidays, is that the students will have shorter summer breaks as they will have to make up all the missed school days due to recognizing every religion out there.....because that's what will have to happen to please everyone. Truth is....you can't please everyone. OR How about the teachers schedule their exams around religious holidays and the students are then allowed to skip attending school during their identified religion? They make up any missed work afterwards. In the end, everyone would probably miss around the same number of days.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  5. michi

    let the PEOPLE vote on it....

    July 1, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  6. Joe R.

    "The construction of our mosques is protested, our communities are profiled..."

    Gee....I wonder why?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  7. Mary

    Oh sure... let's honor a religion that blatantly treats women poorly, looks down on those that are NOT part of their religion (as per their holy book) and its founder preached killing infidels ... no thanks ... this will probably fly in NYC ... I hope it stay there.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  8. BAProud

    Religious holidays celebrated in the schools.......hmmmmmm...don't think so. Do I miss the Christmas parties we had in school and the Easter celebrations....sure, but in this time of "political correctness" those times are long since gone to be replaced with winter break and spring break. Muslim is a religion-religion has been removed from our schools for quite some time now. Stupid Stupid idea.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:36 am |

    I'm thinking there should be a public holiday for 9/11. Furthermore, the Jewish community has never had school days off, although I believe when I was going to school, they were allowed to take certain holidays off without their absence being marked against them.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  10. Brenda Stanfield

    I do not feel that there should a Muslim holiday, This is the United States of America, we the people were founded as a Christian Nation. We have lost our way, I feel if you want to live in the United States you should abopt our way, we should not have to adopt yours. We have all come from other countries and cultures, but when you live here you learn to speak English and live by our rules. My family came from Scotland, France and American Indian, If I wanted to live for instance as the Scotish, I would need to go there, I do not expect Americans to change their way of living for me.We are giving away all our freedom, by taking prayer out of school, not pledging to our flag. What is wrong with everyone.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:35 am |
    • drinker75

      My kids say the pledge of allegiance everyday at school. This country started to lose it's way in the 1950's when it started forcing christian values into everything, including the pledge of allegiance! Believe what you want but prayer does not belong in school.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  11. Abe

    Muslims did not nvent any of these things. This is fact. True they did have an "enlightenment" but it was nothing new under the sun. The european enlightenment far over shadowed anything coming from islam. And islam is back in the dark ages. Fact!!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  12. Charles C

    NO- Schools should NOT Close for muslim holiday!! This is America-a Christian Nation, founded on Christian beliefs- Those that come to America from other Nations – know that! We havefreedome of religion – which means you can worship who or what you please – That does not mean we change our way of doing things to accomadate that which is NOT ours or of this Nation. People come here to live the "American Dream" that they Can't have where they're from or they wouldn't have come- Assimilation is the key – not adapting to a new way of life is offensive and detrimental to all.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  13. rafi

    when i was younger i would've said of course we should close school! but now at a more mature age i can see that closing for religious reasons can be seen as inappropriate, but then again we do follow the christian calendar so it sort of makes sense.

    if they would start closing schools for muslim holidays then why not jewish holidays? i dont ever remembering having time off for passover or yom kippur. in college (graduated 07) SOME teachers excused us for those holidays, but then we would miss everything that passed in that class.

    i dont know. i guess it would be nice for high holidays in all faiths to be recognized during school and work, but is it realistic? again, society has accepted the christian calendar so i guess that goes hand in hand with time off. but who knows, maybe things will change...

    July 1, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      The dude is talking about NYC not wherever you lived. I agree, Jews and Muslims should also have holiday breaks.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  14. Abe


    What utter tosh. Stop making things up. These things were around long before islam or muslims.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  15. AllHolidaysAreNotCelebratedOntheActualDayof the HistoricalEvent So NO

    Hey – we can't even celebrate our own holidays in this country anymore (at least not in the classroom), so I think not. Besides, it's all a sham, which is why most holiday breaks take place at the same time as other religious holidays beyond those that are Christian. If you read back into history the other religions set those dates carefully so that if they were trying to convert Romans from their pagan ways, they would find that Christian holidays took place at the same time as theirs, which was a purposeful decision made by the Christians in order to keep converters happy and make the process of conversion easier, so all holidays are celebrated on random days (such as the birth of Christ – it was decided this would be held on Dec 25th b/c the Roman's sun god was celebrated on this day), so let's not be offended by missing the actual day of anything b/c the holidays themselves do not celebrate on the actual day of any actual historical event.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  16. RepeatedNonsense

    Repeatedly saying that the US was founded as a Christian nation does not make it true. Please read the First Amendment and please try to understand what it means.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • Jennifer James

      THANK YOU. If one more idiot says 'this nation was founded by Christians as a Christian nation blah blah blah' I am going to scream. NO IT WASN'T. How lame was your school district that you all didn't learn this in Civics in the 9th grade? Many of the Founders were Deists- they believed that there was some sort of Higher Power, but that was about it. The exception would be John Adams, who was a Quaker. They did, however, understand that government and religion (of any kind) were a bad mix and were very careful to make sure that American citizens, immigrants all, would be free to practice as they wished without governmental interference. There are some excellent recent biographies of the Founders; check them out! And don't try to tell me that Washington and Jefferson were God-fearing Christians, because they weren't, and no amount of you saying it is going to make it true.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  17. Rick

    Muslims need to become a respectable, positive part of American society before they start asking for things like government holidays. They have a lot of negatives from their radical brethren to make up for.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  18. Mary

    My school does not close on religious holidays. We have breaks such as fall break, winter break, spring break etc. The only place religious holidays belong... Is in religious schools.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  19. BobWhoLikesBeef

    In Bangladesh, a mostly Muslim country. They have days off for both Muslims, and the Hindus(which rank second in population in Bangladesh). I am also pretty sure they have religious holidays for Christians, seeing as many, if not most are Christian schools. Peoples assumptions that majority Muslim nations only allow their religion for holidays is false.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • GotThumbs

      Hello!!!! This is America. If you like how things are done in Bangladesh......move back. You'd don't walk into someones how and start rearranging the furniture and dictating how they must act when your there. Its not done. You either respect their house and their ways, or you don't go. Its very simple....even a cave man can do it.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      GotThumbs, I was just responding to the fact that a lot of you are saying "why isn't Saudi Arabia allow blah blah blah". If you don't like my answer, don't ask the question.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  20. Tanner from NC

    Simple answer – NO!

    No religious holidays should be observed.

    Everyone in the US has the right to believe whatever peculiar ancient mythology they subscribe to, but none deserve national observance. In addition, current Christian holidays should be expurgated from our national calendar. In lieu of those "holydays" we celebrate important historical landmark days (July 4) and seasonal changes (solstices).

    July 1, 2010 at 11:31 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.