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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. Randy

    I don't have a problem with this – provided the individual schools or districts sort out the holidays themselves If a school district in, say, Detroit is mostly Muslim, and most of the parents want Muslim holidays off instead of Christian holidays, they should be allowed to make those decisions.

    What you want to avoid is where the whiny parents of one of the twelve Muslim kids in a Christian holiday town (or one of the 12 Christian kids in a Muslim holiday town) sue the school district for a court that either their holiday has to be observed by the whole school, or that no religious holidays can be taken by anyone. Those people, whatever their faith, should just be clubbed senseless for being pains in the you know what.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  2. RC

    I disagree, Muslims in America are useless, and potentially dangerous!

    July 1, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  3. RC

    Muslims in America are useless, and potentially dangerous.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  4. Michelle

    My hometown in NJ had a large Muslim population. We observed Muslim holidays in my grammar school as well as not serving pork or pork by products in our cafeteria. Our families had no issues with it.
    I learned a great deal about the muslim culture, and am proud to say some of my dearest friends are of Arabic and Turkish descent. I feel my own life has been enriched by attending such a diverse, multicultural school.
    People are just people!

    July 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  5. JJMurray

    godless: "...And what's with the hating on Muslims in this comments thread? What have the intricacies of their faith got to do with whether or not they're given opportunities to practice it?..." --– Just a note here, if the religion someone wants to practice condones human sacrifice should they be given the "opportunities to practice it"? I am not implying that Islam does this (though celebrating suicide bombers does make me wonder), just pointing out that just because a group of people "believes" something does not mean it is acceptable to an entire culture, in this case the American culture, nor that that culture should be required to adapt to that set of beliefs vice the other way around.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • David

      Everyone MUST READ: Comments enticed.......: And learn....yes talk about the intricacies of religion, how it used to brainwash and corrupt minds. Christians, Jews and Muslims are all of the same faith based root. If it is one God why is not one people? Here is the simple truth my friend, because man tries to express the will and word of God through fabrication and then when someone does not believe that word they kill. Listen to "Killing in the Name of" by RATM and put a philosophy behind it. It is a simple song with simple lyrics that explain the power of brainwashing and the power to overcome the twisted lies that are put before us. We do not have to fight over some fabrications. All of these religions have killed in the name of God...yet they profess the opposite, Why can't the hypocrisy of this be seen? Because thought control is real. Pure and simple these things have brainwashed masses of people. If some very intelligent civilized beings from somewhere else were to come here can you imagine what they must think. It would be reminiscent of the "Lazarus" episode in Star Trek or a similar episode in the Twilight Zone where it turned out the people were thought controlled by a computer. This is what has happened, lies on a grand scale which for some may have seen for good purposes have become so intertwined with cultures and beliefs they have destroyed the free thinking of minds. In these religions there were wars in heaven before the creations....there was killing on earth by the first peoples God created....even Moses who got the ten commandments...of which the first said "Tho shall not kill" immediately upon receiving slaughtered thousand of his own for not immediately adopting them. Then went on to slaughter thousands more to reach the "promised land". The crusades...all the way up to modern times...have all had killings in the name of God. How can this be if they believe God says tho shall not kill...except when he commands? It is the looniest concept if you really examine it outside the contexts of each religion. Killing breeds killing, no matter what the purpose is it will always spark revenge, Always! Come out of the pocket of fairy tales and look at what God has truly revealed. Everything that we know started billions of years ago from an event now known as the "The Big Bang". Take it from there...once religion incorporates known truths instead of fairy tales then we can begin to understand our true unity the true nature of our being and the true nature of the course we are on together and our collective purpose. Let humanity live and the craziness die. Killing in the name of!!!!!!!!

      July 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  6. Todd Beamer

    So I guess that September 11, the holiest day in Islam, will be a hoilday as well?

    July 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Really Man? Thats the best you could come up with? Try a bit harder and maybe you will get something constructive out of you, maybe. How is that you are ignoring the main stream Muslims, like me, who denounce what happened in September 11th?

      July 1, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Joamiq

      Todd Beamer was a friend of mine, and he would have abhorred such a statement. Shame on you.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  7. Mariah

    Earnan wow are you getting your information from some hate group website or book that talks nothing but bs about the quran and its true teachings? Or are you getting this information from your parents who fed you nothing but crap about islam? this much hate only comes from someone who is truely intimidated by islam...hmmmm maybe the fastest growing religion in the world bothering you a bit....i think so baby... why dont you bark this kinda stuff somewhere...like maybe your HOME....where they praise you....

    July 1, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Now now Mariah, be nice 😛

      July 1, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  8. tex11

    Nicely put Jennifer!

    July 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  9. godless

    I'm an atheist and have no use for most religions, but fair is fair: if Good Friday, Christmas, and all that business is reason enough to close schools why not close them for other prominent religions' high holy days? Seems illogical to do otherwise. I just wish us atheists had a day reserved for celebrating our varied beliefs.

    And what's with the hating on Muslims in this comments thread? What have the intricacies of their faith got to do with whether or not they're given opportunities to practice it? Y'all are just trying to veil your racism with a theological debate, and anyone with half a brain sees right through it. More and more I'm convinced that this whole god nonsense is a shield and sword for people to hide behind when they want to hurt others or avoid the scary possibility that we might be stuck here together on our own without some invisible daddy to resolve our problems. Ridiculous.

    I agree with Nietzsche that the true enemy is the Spirit of Gravity. People who take themselves too seriously are the worst.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  10. JJMurray

    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." ---– And so you have the problem with any monotheistic religion. If there is only one God then all others must be unbelievers and either they are already condemned and therefore "less than" or they need to be converted in order to "save" them. The Vikings had it right when the missionaries showed up. They basically said "Sure, we'll worship Jesus...along with all the other gods, after all, why take the chance of ticking off a god?"

    July 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  11. Alvin

    Its Spring break and Winter break. The global Islamic movement does not recognize separation of Church and State. In England where they have created their own Sharia courts to resolve conflicts, divorces, etc rather than the court that the rest of the citizens use. They have time on their side, the rest of us only look at things that impact our lives in very short terms..

    July 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  12. ligaya143

    If we will accomodate all religious observance of all religions and those without religion there will be fewer and fewer days for students to go to school and learn. The US public school children is already on the bottom of the ladder in Math and science proficiency compared to other countires of the world. WE need more school days not less.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  13. Sean

    Oh, Khalid, you are so devout and pious. Praying in the middle of the sidewalk for everyone to see. God must be so impressed with you. The pharisees did this too. Your piety and legalism does not impress God. "we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (menstrual rags), we fade like a leaf and our iniquities like the wind take us away. " Isaiah 64:6. You can not work hard enough at your piety for God's approval. Islam worships Man's works, just like Judaism, and Mormonism.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Joamiq

      @Sean: Worshipping man's works, as a matter of fact, is precisely what Islam is NOT about.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  14. JJMurray

    I really hate it when a site blocks a comment when there isn't a single cuss word or insult in it.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  15. CITIZENJDF

    I dont see what the big deal is. So NYC which has a good sized Muslim population wants to take 2 Mulsim holildays off to go the the 2 Jewish high holidays and Christmas and Easter that are already off. No one is suggesting that these days off be forced on the whole nation. To those people crying about less school for kids I assume that the school board full intends to tack on the two days at the end of the year as there are laws requiring a min. number of school days. Yes those oppressive middle eastern nation wouldn't allow Christain holidays off but isn't that what makes our country better than those countries? This country was not founded as a Christian nation but as a nation founded by Christians, big difference. Freedom of religion means all religions not just the ones we like. Also I know of rual school districts that take the first day of hunting season off because they know alot of kids will not be in so why cant the NYC schools do that for days they know their good sized population of Muslim kids wont be in?

    July 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  16. frank

    At some point America will have to stand up to this evil cult that is invading the US. Consider the following:
    In Saudi Arabia,there is a total blackout on anything Christian: one cannot carry a Bible on the street or have a Bible study in the privacy of one's own home. Even in our embassy, over which the American flag flies, Christian church services are banned. It is officially the death penalty in Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim countries (and enforced unofficially elsewhere) for a Muslim to convert to any other religion.

    Only Muslims can be citizens of Saudi Arabia. Even in Arab countries where shari'a(Islamic law) is not enforced by the government, Islam's influence prevents freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, and of conscience. In PLO territories, Christian Arabs, who once had freedom under Israel, now suffer persecution, imprisonment, and death for their faith. Yet neither the UN nor our own government protests such oppression behind the Islamic curtain. Muslims build mosques and worship freely in the West, but in their own countries they deny such freedoms to others. Instead of reporting this hypocrisy, the world media covers it up.

    Islam spread rapidly under Muhammad and his successors through jihad ("holy war"). Muhammad himself planned 65 campaigns and personally led 27 involving naked aggression and treachery. This incredible "evangelism" made "converts" by the millions at the point of a sword. At its peak, Islam had conquered all of North Africa and almost took over Europe.

    Islam continues its conquest worldwide. Today's invaders are millions of immigrants who make converts to Islam through misrepresentation. One sees on TV well-coifed and fashionably dressed women who claim to be converts to Islam and testify to its joys and peace-loving ways. Yet in Saudi Arabia, they would have to be veiled with only their eyes showing, would have to wear plain, dark full-length robes, could not drive a car, could be one of four wives habitually mistreated by their husband, could be divorced by mere denunciation, and would be virtual slaves under shari'a.

    Islam's earnest goal, set forth in the Qur'an (references given herein are from three versions) and Hadith (Islamic written tradition), remains the same: to bring all mankind into submission (that's what "Islam" means) and to kill or enslave all "infidels" (i.e., unbelievers in Allah and Muhammad his prophet–Surah 2:190-92; 4:76; 5:33; 9:5,29,41;47:4, etc.). Islam (in obedience to the Qur'an and Muhammad's example) is the driving force behind most terrorism today. According to the Hadith, Muhammad declared, "The last hour will not come before the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them."
    We must never ever let this evil cult establish a foothold in the United States.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Frank, just want to mention something. I am ignoring the rest of what you said, except you mentioned that "Only Muslims can be citizens of Saudi Arabia." That is not true. Just because you are Muslim does not automatically give you the option to become Saudi Citizen.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  17. Earnán

    Mohammed: are YOU so blind that you fail to see Islam is unable and unwilling to peacefully coexist with any other faith in anyplace on this world?

    Are you so DELUDED by your cult of Islamic victimization that you want to cry about the Crusades-hundreds of years after they ended-even as your coreligionists engage in genocidal war against other faiths TOODAY?

    July 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Wher are you getting your facts from? As a muslim I have no hate or rancor towards any Christan or Jews that I know. Infact I dont think I know of any Muslim personaly who have hate for people of other religion like you do, unfortunately. Please, go look at what Islam teaches you. There is a difference between that and what many practice. Why is Islam blamed for the short comings of the people who claim to follow them? Now I am pretty sure you will show me an example of all the atocities that Muslims have done on people of the other religions. Then I ask you to go look at the atrocities these people have done on Muslims. If I start qouting how Cristan Nazis mercilessly killed Jews in WW2, or how the West enslaved Millions from Africa nd the rest of the world, is that a reflection on Chrsitanity or the short comings of the people who follow that religion? I am asking you to show the same respect I am shwoing Chrstanity and Jews instead of blindly spewing forth hate speeches.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • Joamiq

      @Earnán: That is simply not true. Do you actually know any Muslims? Come to NYC and you'll see thousands upon thousands of Muslims coexisting with those of every other religion

      July 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  18. JJMurray

    As far as algebra and eye glasses...great, wonderful, good for you. How long ago did that happen now and why is it that so many Muslim people around the world today live in poverty with a minimal education? What has Islam "created" or "invented" in the last say 100 years? Heck, I'm sure the Huns created something as well, and look at all of the inventiveness in Germany under Hitler, does that make them somehow wonderfully peaceful cultures? Just because your culture invented something hundreds of years ago does not translate to what is happening today. You want something to brag about? Then show me all the Muslim groups and their huge followings that are out there trying to stop the radicals from blowing themselves and innocent people off the face of the Earth in the name of their religion. Now THAT would be a modern invention to be proud of...too bad it doesn't exist.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  19. Momo

    YES PLEEEAAASEE.. anything for more holidays.. the US has far too little.. We should close schools and offices on all religious holidays, not just muslim. In my homeland Sri Lanka we close for Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Muslim religious hoilidays.. and its frikkin great. So much time off to spend with loved ones. I vote for YES!!!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
  20. harpotoo

    I believe that after 1 single year with no islamic terrorism the entire world should take a day off and holiday. But I doubt the Goat lovers could last that long embracing their violent religion and not ACTING OUT on it.

    Run that Daniel Pearl video by US again would you?

    July 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Momo

      really? why dont we run the video of the US dropping an atomic bomb on the innocent people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? where Babies and Children were vaporized? or how about the video of the US dropping Napalm bombs on villages in vietnam burning to death thousands of "suspected" VC? or how about the video of... well you get my drift dont you?

      July 1, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
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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.