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. Eric G

    Lets put an end to the "Who killed more people, the crusaders or the muslims?" debate. As an atheist, my view is that it does not matter who killed more or did more horrific things in the process. What matters is that both sides killed many in their "gods" name.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Earnán

      Eric G: What matters is "Who is killing people for their faith TODAY."

      July 1, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  2. Rik

    Islam lacks leadership and will naver have it due to it's fear of false prophets therefore Islam is open for continuous interpretation. I believe most Muslims deplore the negative perceptions of Islam at the hands of these groups of extremists. Islam will not take over the world but religion in general has taken over the world as we can all see on this blog.

    Religion = fall of man

    Just believe in God. You can't go wrong with that.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • Momo

      Thats a good point.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    It will be best to bannish holidays for religious groups, of any kind, and to establish "floating" holidays that people can use for religious purposes, at their discretion, based on their own religious needs.

    Government must stop making holidays on the basis of religion.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  4. Mohammed

    Earnan, seriosly I are you really that naive or purposly blind to what is happening in this world today?

    July 1, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  5. Unknown

    I cannot believe muslims feel they should have their holidays to be a public school holiday. Ridiculous!!

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

      Why can't you believe it? There's no school in NYC for the Christian or Jewish high holy days.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  6. Spike

    Bob, you an idiot who does not understand the English language. I wrote 'leading to crusade", not "the Crusade". I know medieval history and can translate ancient Saxon.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  7. Deonna

    Solution: All religions celebrate their holidays on the weekend, then no student will miss school due to religion.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  8. Mariospants

    While it's probably acceptable that public schools should go out of their way to blacklist MAJOR religious holy days from exams or deadlines (some kind of authoritative national list would be required, but I'll bet even with community involvement it won't please everyone, sheesh) I don't buy having our public school system bend over backwards for religion. I'd suggest that the school council produce a web-based plebiscite for each community their schools are located in and allow parents to choose what days they have off, or something similar. Whatever works best, because the worst thing that will happen is we'll see an erosion of the public school system as each religious sect starts its own school board (and there goes integration).

    July 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  9. SN

    Let our school system observes all religious holidays: Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., and our children will have 365 days of holidays. May as well, get rid of the education system!

    July 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • Mariospants

      Agreed; we spend too much time and effort worrying about obsessive compulsive religious activities than we do the education of our children.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  10. Diane

    It's great that the author feels comfortable enough to pray wherever and whenever he wants/needs to. However, when Christians are Middle Eastern countries, such as our soldiers serving there, they can't even put up a Christmas tree because they're not allowed to.

    If this country is good enough to show religious tolerance and diversity, then why can we expect the same from Muslims? A lot of Muslims where I live in NYC don't show much respect for our traditions/customs, so why should we close schools for them? They wouldn't do it for us in their homelands.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  11. Mohammed

    @Jennifer and others who think CHristanity is not tolerated in Muslim Countries: The biggest Cristmas Tree I ever saw live in my life was actually in Dubai Airport.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • Earnán

      Mohammed: Try finding a Christian church in Saudi Arabia.

      There are millions of Christians living and working in Saudi Arabia, yet not a single Christian church, nor a single Christian minister is allowed in the country.

      The penalty for renouncing Islam is death by beheading, and it has been inflicted within the recent past.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Mohammed

      By your definition, Saudia Arabia is a Muslim Nation. By my definition it is not. It takes what it likes, and basically it is an autocracy that uses religion when it suits its purpose. So your example of using Saudia Arabia is not really valid. Look at other Muslim Countries, they have Churches and I know of some that even give School Holidays during Christan Holidays.
      Also look at Islamic History, there were times in there when Chrsitans Jews and Muslims lived ine peace and harmony. That is untill politics and politicians started meddling in there fore their own agenda.

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

    THis site is doing wierd things. Earnan, I was writing in reply to you. Once again, I take off my hat.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  13. Coop

    This is absurd, by the time I send my kid to school there will be 3 or 4 breaks throughout the day to pray to Mohammed, yet we can't say under god in the pledge of allegiance. People are too dense and self absorbed to believe that it could be any god of your choice.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  14. Justin

    As an atheist I do not believe any religious holidays in school. However this is not the case, although these religious holidays are often disguised under other names such as “winter break.” This same principle could and should be applied to all religious holidays equally. I am sure teacher workdays are spread sporadically throughout the year and with a little careful planning these days could be aligned with religious holidays. This is the land of religious freedom and I believe all religions should be treated equally.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  15. Viperstick

    At a time when secularists are doing all they can to drain the last drop of Christianity out of this country, I find it insulting that these same anti-religious zealots are becoming muslim apologists and arguing for the inclusion of muslim holidays in the NYC public school calendar. A pox on these people.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  16. Alex

    I believe it's unfair to Muslims to have to catch up on schoolwork they will miss because of thier holidays. I feel the same way about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – days all Jewish students miss when they fall on school days. I think school should be out, not "For Christmas" or "For Yom Kippur", but during those times to allow Christians and Jews to do thier thing. The same should hold for holidays of all religions. These should not be "religious holidays", but rather planned breaks in the schedule to accomidate all students' faiths. I think it would be good for Christian, Jewish , and other children (not to mention the teachers!) to have some time off to relax when saying prayers isn't required.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  17. ken

    its very simple. the Jews and Christians can have their holidays observed..... so too can the Muslims. you cannot exclude these people just because you don't like them. they are apart of this country as well. we all know the jewish ties are more or less no more than a political affair. its not like there is some genuine love other then a business relationship between us and them. if they were on the other side of the fence, then they would be the ones without the holidays. live life and be fair. keep the hate out of it.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  18. Earnán

    BobWhoLikesBeef: Tell it to the Jews and Christians Of Palestine.

    Tell it to the Christians of Egypt.

    Tell it to the Christians of Libya, Morocco, Tunisia.

    Tell it to the Christians of Anatolia, Syria, Greece, the Balkans...

    Tell it to the Druze and the Yazidi and the Baha'i.

    Tell it to the Buddhists and Hindus and Zoroastrians.

    Better yet: tell it to someone who might believe a single word of your bull%%#.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  19. Sarah

    I think there really is only one fair way to handle holidays and it should be applied to the workplace and federally recognized holidays as well. No religious holidays should be made federal holidays – including Christmas. We should still have secular holidays, like President's Day, MLK Day, Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Columbus Day, Independence Day, Labor Day etc.). Schools should observe these holidays and be closed. In regards to religious holidays, all students and employees should be given a set number of personal days each year, to be used at their choosing. Students can choose to take these days for religious holidays or other parent approved purposes. Each student should be asked to select these days in advance and a parent/guardian should approve. Making religious holidays into school or federal holidays in never going to work because some religions and some people will always be excluded.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • Alex

      I agree I've always thought it was unfair that Christians get "free" holidays while I have to use my personal days to take off work on mine. No free holidays!!!

      July 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  20. Turnipghost

    Public schools should serve the public. Why not have students declare their religion for that school year and get the certain days off?

    July 1, 2010 at 1:03 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.