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. Collin

    Their prophet Muhamad was a pedophile, you going to make that legal too? If they don't like living here, go home.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  2. RkyMtnMan

    NO! If they want to celebrate a Muslim holiday in school, let them move to a Muslim country. This one ISN"T.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  3. ChuckyCheese

    Why is it that religious folks believe in the "Man in the Sky" but not Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy? I fail to see the difference between any of them (from a real vs. made-up perspective).

    July 1, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  4. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Dallas in some senses you are right. It depends on what you want to believe in when you are a Muslim. Some people, the radicals interpret Islam incorrectly, or different from what I and the majority of Muslims do. Trust me, I understand it must suck when a Muslim country doesn't let you practice another religion. Though in other Muslim countries they are very open for religions, as i said one is Bangladesh. I really think setting an example might help the Muslim world, as well as benefit us and our Muslim population.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  5. Renee

    Our government wants to remove the word "Christmas" from the entire month of December lately, and now it may require our businesses and schools to observe muslim holidays?? Really? America is not a muslim country. Just like Iran is not a Christian country. I wouldn't expect to visit or move to Egypt or Iran and find them observing Christmas Day or Easter Sunday. And -guess what- my feeling wouldn't be hurt. Could you imagine Americans living in Saudi Arabia for 2 or 3 generations trying to get Good Friday on the calendar? Please! people.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  6. DGH

    no way

    July 1, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  7. wayne

    Why do people choose to live in slavery?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  8. Dirk

    If you have problems in allowing religious holidays for one religion, then you can't have holidays for any of the others. Period.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  9. Kam

    This is New York City where schools close for Jewish holidays as well. As a result they should close for Muslim holidays and Christian holidays as well. (Not just Christmas and Easter.) If they don't want to close for one of them then they shouldn't close for all of them.

    Personally I think it should be on a school by school basis. We lived in a community with absolutely no Jewish people but the kids still got out for Jewish holidays. What if the schools with a majority Muslim population swapped out the Jewish days for Muslim days?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  10. svelte

    I'm all in favor of a school holiday to remember Islam, let's have it on 9/11 to truly remember what this religion has given America

    July 1, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • nobody

      Well played, sir.


      July 1, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  11. BobWhoLikesBeef

    nannimoe we do. But the media and all like to keep the image of us secretly supporting the Taliban and Al-Queda. But of course, you will probably ignore what i say.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  12. OtherReligion

    I follow other religion, which have got population of less than 1% in USA. And I also want my holidays to be observed at public schools.

    The author's logic is that 12% is the number, for which we should start following that particular group's holidays,a nd maybe culture.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  13. Dallas

    I agree that the United States is based on basic freedom for everyone. My faith is Christian. Yes, we were founded by Christians, and I will admit that I think the whole separation of church and state thing is crap. "One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all", right? or how about "in God we trust"?

    On the other hand, this country was also founded on the basic premises of freedom – for all Americans. So going back to "liberty and justice for all", why should I have more freedom than another to practice my religion, or to celebrate my sacred holidays? Can Christians freely pray in predominantly Muslim countries? I doubt it. Do two wrongs make a right? My momma didn't think so. I think that we should be the example here. I don't completely understand Islam, my understanding is that there is a lot of hate there... kill those who refuse to convert. So yes, that is a little scary. I imagine that there is a majority out there though who just want to worship their God of choice, just the same as I do, in a non-violent, civil manner.

    There comes a time to stop the hate on both sides. That goes for Christians and Muslims. WWJD?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • bg

      Your comment makes it sound as though this issue is about whether you "like or hate" a group of people and how important it is to be "nice". Despite what many, many of the comments here sound like (and how hate-filled they are), that's not what is at the core of the issue. What is at the core is how much a culture can survive being divided by accommodating every possible pluralistic view. It is possible to go too far and segregate a society to the point of dysfunctionality . So Muslims in the U.S. should expect respect and kindness, but there must be limits to how much we alter society which is bound together by traditions and culture. And if I go to the Middle East, I won't expect them to change their customs and laws for my beliefs.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • drinker75

      Are you aware that our founding fathers did not include One nation under "God" and in "God" we trust in anything. It was all done in the 1950's in an effort against communism. It astounds me how few Americans are aware of this.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  14. bg

    This is arrogant and angering. In the U.S.we have a shared culture with certain holidays. A shared sense of culture is vital to being able to live together. However, your proposal is based in the kind of pluralism that destroys the shared culture and it does so with a cost. We don't change the general culture for small groups and pockets of special interests. I belong to an uncommon religion with strict standards. I've never expected special treatment. Growing up I knew it was my responsibility to participate in the general culture while keeping my personal beliefs and acts in my personal life. I never demanded that others provided me with non-alcoholic beverages or with cleaner language or gave me my holidays. I took care of those things myself. If we think we need to accommodate every special interest and every possible belief, then we lose the sense of community we have from the shared culture and without culture, society cannot function well together. So, yes, as a matter of fact, I do expect people to compartmentalize their personal beliefs and their actions in the shared culture, while still giving priority to their personal beliefs. That's what I did and continue to do and there are no serious personal costs. But there are societal costs for careless demands like those found in this column.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  15. DM

    You CANNOT compare AMERICA to countries in the middle east. America was founded on PERSONAL FREEDOMS. The first amendment clearly states freedom of religion. Countries in the middle east are founded on Sharia-islamic law. Therefore every person in America should be able to practice their own faith ALSO...people dream to come to America to escape religious/cultural persecution and here we are telling Muslims to go back to their countries...some of us were BORN here and consider THIS to be our country...are you telling me that I have to convert to Christianity to be accepted here....and and by the way...ISLAM does not teach violence. It teaches peace and imparts morals that many of you christians and jews lack....and ISLAM is the one monotheistic religion that actual gives rights to women. we are not oppressed we are empowered. BUT I do believe in separation of "church" and state (another founding principal of our country)...so NO religious holiday should result in a day off from school not even CHRISTMAS or PASSOVER etc. if you celebrate the holiday don't send your kid to school and they can catch up later.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  16. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Rick radical brethren? So I'm guessing we have radical brethren, but the K.K.K. is not? I'd like to see you clean them up.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  17. slumjelly

    Religion of any kind is a farce. Live by the saying of "Do unto others as you would have done unto you". Treat others as you would like to be treated. Don't force anything down my throat or any one else's. I have no problem with some-one practicing religion of their choice. I do infact have a problem with someone wanting to end my life because I do not think and feel the way they do. Leave me an mine alone and I will extend the same courtesy. Come after me and mine and we will see if there is actually a heaven and a hell....!!!!!!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  18. Meaningful Sacrifice

    There shouldn't be any religious holidays. If people want to skip work or skip school because their religion is more important to them than learning or their job, then they should bear the consequence of that choice. If they happen to lose their job or fail a class I'd think they would be proud of themselves for the sacrifice they made for their religion.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  19. Tami

    This is the United States of America, not an Islamic country. If you live here, you should learn to speak the language and to adhere to our ways and customs. We, the United States are not required in any way, shape, or form, to conform or adhere to Islamic principles or ways. If you do not like or agree to the customs of the United States, then leave. Go back to your Islamic country.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  20. Denim

    Take Rosh Hashonna and Yom Kippur off too.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:43 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.