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. Johnlogic

    I am fine with someone wanting to start giving days off for Muslim holidays... just as soon as you support giving days off for every other religion in America. Hinduism, Zorastrianism, Judaism, etc.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
  2. Zaistars69

    This article is rediculous. The kids don't have to pick between their schooling and their faith. You can be any faith you want and still go to public schools. That's why we have them as neutral in regards to faith. Yes this country was founded and set up by xtians, that's just life. and that's how our school system is set up. They don't call it xmas break anymore because of religous tolerance, be happy with that.
    Public schools should be strictly for education. Education of fact and non religous life needs. Teach our kids what they need to prosper in this world, do not teach them how to hate (ie. main stream religon.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  3. MA

    How about Hindu religion? Every 4th to 5th person in US is a Hindu so os there going to be holidays for Hindu festivals etc??

    July 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Nothing againts Hinduism or their right have holidays durring their religious festival. Are you saying that 20-25% of the people living in the US are Hindus?

      July 2, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  4. Jeekers

    My question is... what are you doing praying in the middle of the sidewalk?? I do not care what your religion is, but anyone praying in the middle of a busy sidewalk is a bit of a freak. I am a practicing Catholic and would never think of wearing my religion on my sleeve and kneeling in the middle of the side walk to say the Lord's Prayer. You wanna pray, go someplace quite. Get off the sidewalk.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  5. MyEyesAreOpen

    Pastafarians unite!
    Let us proclaim September 19th (Talk like a Pirate Day) to be an official FSM holiday and demand our equal religious rights and have it become a school holiday too!

    May you be blessed with a marinara stain... Ramen

    July 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  6. Eric

    If you want off for Muslim holiday's, go back to the middle east. There's no place for it here. This country was not founded on Islamic principles which is why our women are allowed to be educated and walk amongst us without covering up. It is also why there is freedom to practice various religions without treading upon others rights or murdering them for not converting as is required by the koran ! If America starts acknowledging islamic holidays we will begin a long downward spiral which will be impossible to recover from. We (real Americans) do not support your beliefs and do not want them forced on us.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Mohammed

      ummm.. I am American and I am Muslim, does that make me a Fake American? May be you should do a little bit of investigation on what Islam does for Women and what these so called "Muslim Countries" treat Women based on their cultural beliefs. Arab/East Culture is not the same as what Islam teaches you. Heck, Muslims recoginzed the rights of women long before we in the West even gave them Voting Rights. So my dear fellow citizen even though you claim to be a real American and by your defination, I am a Fake American, please do some study on Islam rather than listening to Fox News.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Bob

      Mohammed, BobWholikeBeef, history teaches us what Islam does.. No matter how many times you and your cronies say 'Islam is a peaceful religion' and 'Islam gives rights to women' etc etc.. actions speak louder than words.. results of what islam is capable of has been seen everywhere in the world... results can be seen all over the world... Muslims have declared war against almost every other religion.. Christianity, Hinduism, Jews, Buddhism etc...

      9/11, Mumbai shootings, Taliban, Bombings in England, Israel/Gaza etc are proof of that...

      Muslims want others to give them rights, but muslim nations have almost no rights and tolerance for other religions... don't go singing that Bangladesh has hindu holidays crap... Bangladesh owes its very existence to India – if not for India, they would be with Pakistan and would be a barbaric nation and taliban stronghold...

      Open your eyes and look around everywhere in the world... Muslims and extremism have become synonymous words... We have read Kuran and it clearly teaches violence against non-muslims.. All other religions teach tolerance, forgiveness and love and Kuran teaches 'kill non-muslims (Quafirs)', 'declare war against non-muslims (Jihad)'... If this is your religious book teaches, no wonder so many muslims are terrorists... and others stay quiet when their brothers bomb our cities and infrastructures.

      Yes, other religions also have violent people, but they are exception – not a norm.. their religious books do not teach violence... Oklahoma bombing guys are exceptions, people who blow up abortion clinics are misguided.. not sanctioned by Bible... but Kuran sanctions violence, murder and barbarism...

      Go research the life of your prophet Mohammed (we have).. He was the most corrupt, charlatan, pedofile, plagiarist, violent, selfish and self-serving murderor. He stole from other prophets and saints and called it his own. He was a murderor. Do not compare Christianity, Hinduism, Judiasm to Islam.. These religions have real prophets who sacrificed their lives and comforts for welfare of people... They were enlightened masters. Mohammed was the opposite. He taught intolerance, manipulation, deceit & garbage. If this is how his character was, no wonder he wrote a venoumous book 'Kuran' spewing poison against non-muslims....

      All other religions (including Christianity) want to do good, help others, be tolerant to other religions, That is why those countries gave rights to muslims (France, Lebanon, India, England, now US).. but muslims reproduce like virus and take over and then turn against the very hand that fed them (just as Kuran teaches)...

      We do not say that muslims are bad people, they are just misguided by their corrupt religious teachings.. Common muslims do not know much about real Islam... they hardly ever read or understand Kuran.. So they are nice & simple people, but those who get deep into the islamic studies become hardliners because they actually read the Kuran.. Why is that ? because they are studying the wrong & poisonous philosophy (Kuran).. and following a false prophet (Mohammed)...

      This is why muslims are universally disliked. Its time you wake up and look at your own religion and belief system with a honest hard look.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Bob, simple reply. Show me wher in Islam it says that you can go kill innocent people. Before you go out and find the Verses from teh Quran which talk about fighting the None-Beleivers, I urge youto go beyond that and read why that verse is being said their. There has to be a reason no? No Major Religion blindly advocates Violence. Give us some credit. We are not morons, if we saw something like that do you not think we would question it and Muslim population would go down? It is rasing instead. Be honest to yoru self and to others. Before yous ay anything, please include thw wholse scope of a verse, not just the line that suits your arguments.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  7. DP

    Sep 11th every year would make a good muslim holiday.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  8. Andy Post

    I could get behind a policy of having a number of floating holidays each school year for which a student's absence would be excused. That would seem to satisfy the requirements of the First Amendment.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  9. HT

    Why don't we do away with public school system recognition of all holidays pertaining to religion, and instead just allow students to be absent from class without penalty if they wish to observe a religious holiday, as many colleges and universities do? Ask for parents to submit a note at the beginning of the school year requesting certain religious holidays off. If enough kids request the day off to warrant a school closing, so be it – but no one is penalized for observing his/her holiday, and the government doesn't have to go through this insanity of trying to acknowledge everyone's religion. Otherwise, where does it end?

    July 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  10. Larry

    Are you kidding me...celebrate Muslum holidays in NYC? Where were you on 911? Like it or not, Muslums will always be linked to that terrorist attack, so either live with that fact or move to a country that celebrates the Muslum religion. We can't even call it Christmas holiday in our own schools any more. Adatpt or get out. Our borders need closed now!

    July 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  11. Wowhead

    Let's just get rid of Christmas break and the Federal holiday on Dec. 25 and Spring break all together. Then there would be no reason for any public schools to close during those time periods.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  12. dr.zor

    i am Muslim and grew up here in US i did feel bad on holidays like EID where i had to goto school and miss out on the whole festival and greetings, but i kno this much that exceptions were made if parents came and talk to principal. The reason why Muslim holiday wouldn't work is that they are on Islamic calender which means new date every year second we are a minority and i don't think all others will be too happy about this. i think the exception should be: Muslim kids be allowed a day off if they prefer or at least morning for the prayer and that's about it i don't think we need a holiday. Kids get enough days off during other breaks and its better for them to stay in school and learn.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  13. relians

    never give in to religious terrorism, never give an inch to islam, this is what's next, "On April 13, militants forbade the playing of music on radio stations, calling it "un-Islamic" first they want you to celebrate their holidays, next follow their stupid laws...

    July 1, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  14. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Ernan you know the Muslims were doing wonders with math and science while smelly Crusaders who never took a bath cause they were told it was bad for them were taking lands that Muslims, Jews, and Christians that are not Catholic lived in, and they kill most of them too. If anything the perfect example of radicals come from the Church funded Crusaders. Thankfully the church ha changed from doing that mostly, but also, the church has lost a lot of power.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Zaistars69

      dude, all people back in those barbaric days did stupid, violent things. But hopefully most ot he world has evolved past that sort of rediculousness. Problem is that people who follow religion (mainstream) mostly subscribe to that sort of nonsense. i'm talking true believers, not these pick and choosers. Religion fails to evolve with the times and should be abolished. Too bad that would cause war.
      I say, get rid of all the books and everyone look into themselves for answers. Stop trying to learn how to live from centuries old fairy tales.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  15. Uncle Sam

    Just Say No!

    July 1, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  16. cindy

    Schools don't observe Christian holidays, why should they observe Muslim holidays. This country takes Christian rights away but caters to the Muslims, What kind of crap is that? If you are going deny rights for one religion, all should be deined. Muslims should go back to their own country. They hate Americans and want to murder us all. We don't go to ntheur countries and demand our religion be recognized. This country bends over backwards for everyone but Americans and I am sick of it.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Yeah? This is MY COUNTRY and I am Muslim. Where do you want me to go?

      July 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  17. Tengu

    You're ALL missing the point.
    There should never be a choice between an education and following once
    fate. That’s why private schools with religious emphasis exist.
    There’re plenty of catholic schools, Yeshivas, etc in the greater NY area.
    Are there no Madrassa in New York where kids can get an education equal to
    the public school and yet observer the religious holidays?

    P.S. I don't see anyone closing public schools for any of the Jewish holidays, do you?

    July 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  18. Love Greece

    Fine – Let's observe Muslim holidays! BUT let's also acknowledge Greek Holidays, Hispanic Holidays, Italian Holidays, etc.!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  19. 0nanism0

    Regardless of whether it's called Winter/Xmas Break or whether it's Spring/Easter Break, everyone gets that time off. If we're going to start giving attention to Muslim holidays then make sure EVERYONE gets them off and not just Muslims.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  20. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Okay, they are asking for 2 DAYS. Christmas break, as I will say it for what it truly is is 2 WEEKS.

    Oh and my the way, remind me NOT to vote for Michael next election.

    July 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
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About this blog

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.