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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. ChristopherL

    What Muslims invented in the past, does not mean that we owed them anything, nor should we allow them to takeover. Try dealing in today.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  2. YBM

    I learned all I needed to know about Muslims and Islam on 9/11 and spending 20 months in Iraq. Watching footage of Muslims dancing in the streets celebrating the towers falling and the deaths of over 3000 people, right here in this country, showed me what kind of people Muslims are. The Muslim religeon is not one of peace, there is no tolerance or leway in their religeon. It is not considered a sin to kill a non-believer, therefore advocating murder.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  3. +CGO+SenseiC

    And in this country we can freely practice our typing with our Caps Lock "on" <)

    Sensei bows out.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  4. Denis

    The fact of the matter is the breaks students get are for Main US holidays. The fact that some fall on main holidays such as Easter and Christmas so what it’s been part of the US culture for many years. Other religions have holidays during the school year and they don't get those noticed. School is a neutral ground where religion should not be a factor. If your kids have school of your religious holiday take them out stop trying to force others to give you what you want because you don't like the schools to be neutral. Just suck it up and deal with it like the rest of the United States. RELIGON SHOULD NEVER AFFECT WHAT THE SCHOOL DOES. School is their to teach our kids and get them ready for the real world who cares about religious holidays. And to add on most religons tend to try and push things on to everyone else just leave that stuff at home and stop trying to force your beliefs onto others.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  5. jack

    The United States is a country founded on Christian ideals. Therefore, why should a few Muslims who weren't here originally, who didn't fight and die for freedom change that. Enough said. وداعا

    July 1, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  6. Jennifer James

    I am really taken aback by the spewing of vitrol here. Ouch. I find comparisons to other nations totally illogical, and the idea that providing a day off school for a holiday will some how lead to terrorist victory is just downright weird. The point is that the NYC School Board made a decision and the Mayor ignored them. I guess he fancies that he knows more about schools than they do. And as a Wiccan, I frequently encounter that same sort of hatred that Muslims suffer. Wicca is a peaceful faith, yet we are degraded as 'satan worshipers.' Satan is a Christian concept; Wicca doesn't have a devil, so we can't worship it. Our major holidays are the solstices and equinoxes, plus four more- including Halloween. I leave my kids in school for them, but I take off work and come into the classrooms for the Halloween party, or Yule festivities. I have, however, seen Pagan high school students harassed for their Pagan jewelry by other students- AND teachers and staff. Having a special day off school for a faith-based holiday offers the school a "teachable moment" to learn about the holiday and about students who's beliefs might be different from theirs. Remaining willfully ignorant of other faiths in a global economy is just foolish. So if the NYC school district is 12% Muslim, let them have their two days off.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Toby

      So your point/solution is that we should all be more tolerant of hateful ideas? That somehow these monotheisms (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) can coexist peacefully, even though the fundamental tenants of these cults calls the others impostors and seeks their destruction? What crazy world are you living in?

      July 1, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  7. Anie

    The real problem here is that children are allowed access to this horrible brainwashing at all. Like anything else harmful to minors which would require them to be mature enough to decide on their own (alcohol, driving, enlisting, etc.) religion, the teaching or practice thereof should be illegal for anyone under the age of 18.

    That would certainly solve a lot of problems!

    July 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Toby

      Excellent point! Unfortunately, most children never have a chance at reality because their faculties of reason and rationality are corrupted before they even learn to read.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  8. icygirl

    So, we're going to add two major muslim holidays. We only get one major Christian holiday off and I don't recall any Jewish, Hindu, Buddist or any other religious holiday as a day off school. And of the above mentioned groups I only remember one launching an attack on the american people and our country. If we celebrate all religions equally fine, but we are not going to celebrate holidays of a group of people who hate american life and ignore other religious groups who we coexist with peacefully!

    July 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  9. Lynn

    All you people who are anti-muslim because of 9/11 I have to inform you that the "Oklahoma bomber" (Timothy McVeigh) was born and raised CATHOLIC. Based on your logic we should all boycott Christmas and other Christian holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  10. S

    So here we go again with 10% trying to push their agenda on the majority. Muslims in America are nice. As several have pointed out go to a muslim country and try to build a Baptist church or get a Christian holiday observed. It wont happen. The Koran calls the extermination of infidels ( a non-muslim). Once they get the majority they will take over and you'll wonder what happened. If we give in now we give them too much. If you want to stand for your faith then skip school that day.
    The USA is not nearly as Christian as it once was and that is sad.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  11. Marc

    I want to first start by saying that though I was born and raised in America and am a 6th generation American I am not a Christian. That being said America was founded by Christians as a country that would be tolerant of other religions. That in no way means that the Holidays or holy days of these religions need to be observed as a national event. I don’t expect the people of the Jewish faith to request it, the people of Hinduism to request it, and I certainly don’t expect that any of my fellow Buddhist to make this request. If you want others to respect your differences then you must first learn to respect there customs as well. I would not expect to go to a Muslim country and have them cater to my Buddhist beliefs and to ask anything more then to respect ones beliefs from another is an invasion of that society and disrespectful to that society. We Buddha’s birthday comes around I don’t expect anything more then my job understand that I will not be at work on that day. Not for other Americans to be forced to celibate my beliefs and abandon there own.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  12. George G

    The idea is to come to a new country and assimilate to that way of life. Lets all Americans go to a Muslim country and say we what those schools to observe Christmas and see how well its received.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  13. Angie

    Judging by the ignorance of the people posting anti-Muslim crap, we defenitely should NOT have a holiday. These idiots need all the education they can get.

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

      Well said!

      July 1, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
    • Earnán

      Angie: from the volume of Dhimmi noise you're making, I suggest you take a trip to an Islamic nation and "get yourself an education" about life under Islam.

      Feel free to spew your arrogance once you have the slightest idea about the subject.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  14. Wolvie

    These ppl have banned the Pledge of allegiance, and now they want to worship a forgein holiday. LMAO if you add on the jewish, buddist and so on. Why even have school? No sorry we came here as christians, founded this country as christians and I'm sure MOST of you where raised christian. If you don't like that don't attend our christian schools or our schools at all. Levy your own islamic taxes and build you own school. Don't ask me for any help what-so-ever!

    July 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Marc

      Yes Wolvie, this country was founded by Christians, with the purpose of religious tolerance. And no, they should not be levying any taxes in this country; if they want to build privet schools that cater to there religious beliefs then they should do so.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  15. nobody

    School holidays today, full-blown sharia tomorrow. Islam is seldom incompatible with a secular society. The comment about there only being a small handful of extremists is complete baloney. Muslims are the most intolerant people in the world. The only thing that keeps them in line is a strong military. They hate Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, secularists, and other Muslims, and they practice this hatred on a wide scale. Christains get along with Jews. Christians get along with Buddhists. Buddhists get along with Hindus. Everyone, except the Muslims, generally tolerates every other religious group. Islam is the only one that hasn't moved past the medieval mentality.

    The minute a Muslim community welcomes another large religious group into its midst and embraces and protects it, then I will do the same for the Muslims. You can start with your brothers (literally and religiously) the Jews. Until then, stick with Santa Claus or go observe your holidays in Medina, Khalid.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  16. Alex

    Since New York has a staggering Muslim population some people feel the urge that schools should implement Muslim holidays into there school system, however, others such as New York’s Mayer believe otherwise.
    To start off with Khalid Latif states "consequently thousands of students miss exams and important activities because they are scheduled on Muslim holidays." Now what are two extra days off the school year really going to help out for a religion that is supposed to pray 3 times a day? That likely being the reason Muslims miss so many school related functions. Also many students miss way more then three weeks a year but with some dedication and hard work end up totally fine even when being in advanced and honor classes. In high school you are required to be there everyday of the “work week” which can be fairly demanding but I have skipped school plenty of time’s to go surfing or do something else because I feel that is crucial to my well being. But I do not expect schools to be changing there schedules just to accommodate my needs. I am also in Significantly AP and Honors classes and I have been able to achieve what I want to in school.
    Another issue is that Khalid Latif points out that “About 12 percent of New York City students are Muslim,” and that should be a reason why New York public schools should celebrate the Muslim holidays. I live in Florida and it seems in our school almost more then half or 50 percent of the people are from Hispanic descent. The schools here have no holidays in regard to any of there religions or customs. I am also a foreigner and I had to adapt to the American culture. There was no Oktoberfest, Nikolaustag, or Tag der Deutshen Einheit here where I could have time off to celebrate them. The schools here don’t have those holidays and I don’t expect them too, this is a different country and that’s something that is very important to think about before you move here from another place. The American population is far too diverse to accommodate everyone’s specific needs and American schools can’t make exceptions in certain areas so it would fit the needs of a specific group of people. That would be prejudice to the other 88 percent of people would be missing school to something they don’t have any enthusiasm for.
    Khalid Latif also writes “Yet these students are forced to choose between their education and their faith”. Nobody is forced to make any decision here. This is American and that’s why many people choose to move here for hundreds of years. It is the people’s decision to do, what they want to do, and are left alone to peruse their American dream.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  17. Reallyfunny

    BTW, I don't see terrorists when they are fighting against practically all religions – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, during the fight they pause for the prayer and stop killing. I am not sure if they paused for prayers when the persecuted everyone from middle-east to Pakistan and killed or converted everyone.

    Islam doesn't believe in rights or freedom. They don't give it to anyone, then why ask for it to others?

    July 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  18. sb

    If you do not like the way things are done in America go elsewhere and live. Religion has done nothing but cause problems in the world. There have been more deaths as a result of religion than anyone would like to admit. No religious holidays should be recognized in schools because all it does is reinforce the differences between our children. In the end science will win out or the alien race that spawned us here will return and prove our real ancestory.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  19. Juli

    Why is religion made into such a big deal ONLY for the Muslims? There was a statementin this article about Muslim children having to chose beteween education or their faith. All Baptist Christians have to do the same exact thing every day. Way should we give into Muslim way only? We are in America where we all have the freedom of religion. Not just the freedom of being a Muslim, but the freedom of also serving God the creatorof this world in the way we all want to worship Him. If we take Christain ways out of our schools then it is only fair to take out the Muslim's way too. America is about being equal in all things. So STOP complaining until you're ready to be fair on all accounts. If you are allowed your worshiping ways in these school then we should be able to keep out 10 COMMANDMENTS posted anywhere and keep God in America in the way that the Founding Father of this COUNRTY started in the building of this great country of freedom.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
  20. Abhijit

    Let us simplify this discussion. There are 10% muslim students in the school. So what?

    July 1, 2010 at 11:59 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.