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. David

    JJMurray we are all different....because I believe the big bang has some credence I am different or alike or what???? You points seem to sway like the wind...and go whichever way a little piece of conversation steers you. My point is that religions are for the most part fabrications of man to explain the word and will of God. I find that extremely egotistical and id have to say vain...and in a religious context id call that blasphemy. Because in my eyes no man...absolutely no man can speak for the will and word of God....it breeds conversations like on this blog...full of hatred and divide.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • JJMurray

      David: "JJMurray we are all different....because I believe the big bang has some credence I am different or alike or what???? You points seem to sway like the wind...and go whichever way a little piece of conversation steers you. My point is that religions are for the most part fabrications of man to explain the word and will of God..." Not sure what points you think are swaying in the wind but in any case, in this instance, you apparently missed my point entirely. You were the one who said the Big bang was a "truth" and pointing out that religions do not use "truths". I simply pointed out that the Big Bang is no more a truth than a belief in God. Both are theories and so by taking a stance that "science", i.e. the Big Bang was more believable because of your theory which is no more provable than the theory of a God was hypocritical, something you claim people who believe in God are.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  2. JJMurray

    David: "Lets see JJMUrray....do I find more credence in the world created in the "Big Bang" or in the world created in 6 days....and God resting on the 7th day.....btw...did God rest the 8th...9th and 10th day too?" --- Doesn't really matter what YOU put more credence in, neither one is a "truth". Some people have faith that there is a God. You have faith that there was a Big Bang. Neither of you is arguing from fact but are instead accepting theory as truth. Are you therefore that different?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  3. David

    Religion seems to breed more evil than it does good. mmmm....how can this be?....because we are people !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How can a person speak for God!!! absolutely ludicrous. Man tries to "invent" God. When all say it was the other way around hahahahahhaha. MY God is better than your God??????? What frickin insanity!!!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      My God IS your God.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  4. Mr. SickNtired

    I am so sick and tired of everyone arguing about everything. No one can be happy anymore because they aren't treated special. What happened to everyone being American? Now everyone has to be "something-American' instead of just American. This country is dividing itself more and more and it can only lead to no good. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." He know the colonies had to pull together to survive. Too bad we have forgotten that lesson. Wake up, people...we have far bigger problems than public school holidays. Get over yourselves before we wake up one morning and we are owned(or conquered) by China.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  5. JJMurray

    The PC crowd in this country have spent years to succeed at removing Christmas and Easter from the school calendar without taking away "breaks" that have been accepted for generations of school kids and their parents. So fine. As a culture we have accepted this (more or less) and therefore it would not make sense to now add a holiday for another religion when these people have spent so much time and effort to remove all religion from school. As for being "fair" to those who want time off for their holidays, sorry, but the breaks in spring and winter got there first no matter how it happened and no one really wants to get rid of them now that they have been de-religionized. Besides, even if you got your "religious" holidays, it would just mean the PC crowd would have to demand they be removed down the road anyway and who wants another fight like that?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • Corso

      You are corrwect, but again, muslim and islam are behind 1,400 years. Hard for them to catch up. Just saying...

      July 1, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Corso, I am not sure I understand how a religion can be behind. A religion is for all times, unless you are claiming that religion changes with time, and then you divert from the original teaching of that religion, which is not the same thing any more. If you belive in a Supreme Being, then by thinking that you know better and religion should change to accomodate you, you are basically sayng that what God said is wrong and you know better. That unfortunately is against Islam and any practicing Chrsitan or Jew will agree in their terms also.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      1,400 years? What are you talking about? Its A RELIGION.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  6. Corso

    Its a muslim thing...

    July 1, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  7. Jenna

    Muslim religious holidays should not be recognized in schools. Christmas and Easter are not recognized as "Christian" holidays in schools, all references to Christianity or the reasons Christians celebrate these holidays have been wiped out from the public school system. Why would we take another school day away from our kids to celebrate a religious holiday? If religion is not ok, then it isn't ok – Muslim, Christian or otherwise. Comparing the commercialized, paganized, current form of "Christmas" in our schools to a muslim holy day is absolutely ridiculous. If you want to celebrate a Muslim religious holiday, bring the Christianity back to Christmas and Easter. Either have none or have all.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • Joamiq

      Everyone knows that "winter break" and "spring break" are there for Christmas and Easter, so it's silly to pretend otherwise. And don't forget that in NYC, the Jewish high holy days are school holidays as well.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  8. David

    Lets see JJMUrray....do I find more credence in the world created in the "Big Bang" or in the world created in 6 days....and God resting on the 7th day.....btw...did God rest the 8th...9th and 10th day too?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • Joamiq

      You can choose to put your faith in the Big Bang, or God, or whatever else you wish. The point he makes is an important one, however, from a logical standpoint. The Big Bang is no less a theory than religions are.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  9. Anon

    Interestingly, students of almost any faith have to attend school on their holidays. That is why students are allowed a certain number of absences per year: in case of sickness and for any other reason a student would want to be absent. I have to work on my holidays, on my birthday, etc and no one cares. Also, if you are protesting for Muslim holidays to be declared national holidays, what about all of the other religions (Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc)? I'm sure they all have religious holidays as well. If we were to celebrate all holidays, no one would ever be working.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  10. Corso

    Why aren't muslim women allowed to marry jews or christian men?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  11. David

    religion is the product of egotistical minds. Brainwashed and fighting over it!!!!!!!!! If there is one God than there is one truth and no need to fight over it. The words and actions of "religious" people attest to this.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  12. BlackOps

    I am. Try pushing an agenda in Saudi Arabia. See how that works out. Tolerant my ass!

    July 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Joamiq

      Well, that sucks for you and I wish you well, but again, we're talking about New York City, not Saudi Arabia.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  13. JJMurray

    David: "...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..." -- Actually the "Big Bang" is a theory, not a known truth.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  14. Onodera

    Religious holidays have no business in our schools. I'm all for periodic breaks, but perhaps personal days could be utilitzed for those that wish to celebrate something that is not on the school calendar as a break. Besides, when you are sick on test day, more oftne than not, you are allowed to make up that test(s).

    July 1, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  15. BlackOps

    Do you think I'll be able to celebrate Christmas in Saudi Arabia with no problems? When Islam becomes more tolerant with Christians maybe we'll tolerate Islam. Fair?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Joamiq

      What happens in Saudi Arabia is irrelevant. No one on this thread lives there. We're talking about New York City.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Why do you guys always bring up Saudia Arabia? Majority of the Muslim populations are non-Arabs. Also, the biggest Christmas tree I ever saw in my life was in Dubai Airport a few years back. That definately is saying something about Christanity being practiced in Muslim Countries, isnt it?

      July 1, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Anon

      Mohammed: Christmas trees are not really Christian, there are a secular decoration for winter celebrations originally used for celebration of the winter solstice. Plus, Dubai is just trying to attract Westerners who spend money in their country. That is why 90% of Dubai exists.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Anon, I agree with you Christmas trees are not a sign of Christanity, and are not from Christanity. Yet, they have become a symbol of Christanity and Christmas, don't you agree? Dubai may be trying to attract Westerners, but it is allowing the Practice of Christanity. Just do a Google search on Churches in Middle East and you will find news articles of Churches in the Middle East. If people still want to push the issue of no Chruches in Saudia Arabia, how about opening a Mosque in Vatican City? Forget that, people were/are up in arms about opening a Mosque near ground zero even though alot of Muslims denounce what happened on 911. I forget where, but some Europen countries have disallowed the building of Churches. Look man basically it is going to come down to this. "you didnt let me do this so I wont let you do this" in some part of the world we do not even live in. We live in the US and we should be tolerant of each other. Rather than just saying crap we hare 2nd-3rd hand we should do our own independent study of what a Religion basically says or does not say. I can say without a doubt, that this country, My Country, is without a doubt the best country to live in. We have the best track record of Religious Freedom. Unfortunately, sometimes that is not reflected in these forums.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  16. Mark from Middle River

    JJMurray- ""...And what's with the hating on Muslims in this comments thread?".

    Was your voice was heard on the "why are Christians jerks online" thread. I did a quick search and notice you did not. There were days of hating of Christians post on that thread. How can I as a Christian, find sympathy for Muslims when they are attacked on a thread about them when I find them absent when I am being attacked on one dealing with my faith?

    I do find your post though very different here from some of the rabid atheist post. Thank you.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Joamiq

      Let me just say as a Muslim that I feel your frustration regarding attacks on Christianity, and I am sorry that it happened. It's probably just that there weren't many Muslims reading that article.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
    • JJMurray

      Mark from Middle River: "JJMurray- ""...And what's with the hating on Muslims in this comments thread?". Was your voice was heard on the "why are Christians jerks online" thread...." ---- Actually I was quoting someone else which is why I use those pesky little " " marks, just like I did above to indicate what you wrote.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Actually I saw that article, read it and ignored it. I do not think I poseted anything about that article either? Why? Because the Chrsitans I know personally are nice and decent people. An article of CNN hardly does justice in describing them.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  17. salim

    Being an American-born muslim, I've always felt cheated when I had/have to go to school on a scared day like the Eid. It seems so unfair that a country that preaches equality actually hinders someone from enjoying and celebrating a Holy day. I hope this changes very soon.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • Corso

      Where is the ACLU?

      July 1, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  18. Scott

    I agree with this well written article. I am Jewish and grew up in the NYC school system in the 60s. The city's and school system's Muslim population has mushroomed to a level that is similar to the Jewish population, and it's unfair to make such a large number of Muslim students take a "sick day" on these important holidays. Not to mention the money lost on state funds due to absenteeism. It's tome to correct this.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  19. mkjp

    It has been my experience that by the time people get to college, they simply request that their profs not plan exams or other important things on major religious holidays. So if the public schools don't by default give the days off, parents should talk to the school (principals, teachers) about not having exams on days they plan to have their kids miss school. I can't imagine it would be so much of an upset to a planned curriculum to move an exam by one day if anything happens to be scheduled on a religious holiday. Yes, ideally no one would have to worry about doing this. But it would be worth a shot.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  20. Historyscoper

    While modern Muslims have all sorts of explanations of Islam for Western ears, only by studying the little-known history of the rise of Islam in the 7th cent. can you ever hope to understand its true nature of seeking total supremacy of Muslims over non-Muslims and men over women by all means available, including in innocuous-looking stages. Go to school free anytime with the Historyscoper and master the key facts at http://go.to/islamhistory

    July 1, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Joamiq

      Reading 7th century history will teach you nothing about Muslims in America today. The only way to really learn the truth is to befriend the Muslims in your community.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      I agree Joam, .... can you go and tell those attacking Christianity that none of us who are alive today were there during the crusades, the inquisitions, the fight with the native Americans, or slavery.

      Thanks 🙂

      July 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • Joamiq

      @Mark: Bring those people to me and I promise to yell some sense into them. That kind of discourse does no good. Not gonna lie, many Muslims are far from perfect! But I (and many other American Muslims) do everything in our power to open their eyes.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:07 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.