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. Umme Omar

    dr. Lemons, it is not just xenophobia, for us Muslims, thanks to the media, it is Islamophobia. You should check out CAIR's website. In USA hate crimes against Muslims are committed on regular basis.

    July 1, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  2. Mike Desai

    All muslim people wants to get all the rights in non muslim country but don't ask for same in their country. Same guy has different rules and ideas when comes to Muslim country. And we are idiots who wants to feel good at expenses at loosing a lot.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  3. Mark from Middle River

    Umme Omar – I wrote that because Islam is a religion, just as Christianity and Judism. For a few days I heard a good amount of rabid atheist complain about Christianity. In a few exchanges the same posted about the evils of all organized religions.

    You state that your concerns with Christians : "In the beginning I always thought what is the problem with atheists, why they don't belive in one God. But now I am thinking why some Christians are so ruthless online although they believe in the same God we do. Do they have this licence of hurting other people because Christ gave away his life for their sins?"

    I question that because it is the same statements so many say about Islam and causing those to leave the faith. Do some Muslims feel they have a licence to hurt or kill others because the Koran says. The same as with some Christians, if you interpret the Koran, the Bible, the Torah and chances are even the Greenpeace charter any twisted mind could make that leap.

    The point that I come to is if you read, some of the rabid atheist comments your question of is the problem atheist or Christians, I feel you will see that to them the problem is all persons of faith.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Mohammed

      You know, I have to agree with you Mark. Problem is with the people who claim to follow the religion, not with the religion itself.

      July 1, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
  4. Dr. Lemons

    With the xenophobia so present in many American cities, it's going to be hard to give Muslims the ability to be off on their religious holidays. For unfortunate reasons, radical Islam has given non-Muslims a terrible and unfortunate view of Islam worldwide. It's going to be a long while before we can give Muslims the same rights Christians and Jews have, and it's unfortunate that every time many Americans think of Islam, they picture violence and oppression instead of considering the fact that Islam is as diverse as many other religions. I've met many Muslims in my life who were kinder and friendlier than many Christians I have met.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  5. Sorry123456

    While unfortunate that some feel discriminated against, if NY (then, presumably in later years, all of America) ends up changing to observe beliefs of other religions, then the Christians lose. Christmas used to be loudly and happily celebrated in my town. Over the past 20 years, the word "Christmas" and related decorations have faded, leaving us with the "Festival of Trees and Lights." I love Christmas. I grew up on Christmas. Now it is turning into the "Happy Winter Celebration." I suggest Muslims – especially those that came to America from a different country – back off. It's happening slowly. Don't force it. "Christmas break" is now "Winter break." "Christmas parties" are now "Holiday parties." YOU have to be lumped in with the rest of the religions. Or do you want your kids out of school for Ramadan, Christmas, and the full week of Hanukkah ? Perhaps we should go Jehovah's Witness and abolish all holidays and birthday celebrations. How about that? Everybody loses but the JH.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  6. Mariah

    you know what from what i remember muslims have been living here for centuries and were living in peace, till the unfortunate events of 911 occured...and become profiled as terrorists....remember KKK they were all white....what do you profile them as? Should we profile all of christian and white people as barbarians and terrorists? and are you saying the killings of native americans werent barbaric? taking their land, killing there men women and children were ok? hmmmmmm interesting....look im not a hater who hates white people...in fact some of my very good friends are white blue eyes beautiful people...and i love the states...but just trying to give you guys a lil taste of your own medicine...taste bad right? now put yourself in our shoes...having to live with this bs everyday....one group of people do something suddenley were all judged the same....

    July 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  7. Jack

    If they observe Muslim holidays then they must observe all religious holidays. I am afraid that the ACLU will never let religion and government run schools do such a thing...it might bring morals, ethics, integrety, and teach students that their actions have consequences. Certainly the ACLU does not want the children to be taught such "drivel". We must maintain separation of government and religion...just ask them.

    July 1, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  8. Mariah

    and you have room to talk considering your an immigrant yourself....whoaaaa lmaoooo you will always be considered a 2nd class citizen....

    July 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      Yes, but most immigrants don't bring along a barbarian sixth century ideology along with them.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • Mohammed

      dgitlctrl, what is it about Islam that treatens you so much? Have you ever taken the time to study it, or are you just content in just passing deragotary comments about it? You seriously expect people to believe that immigrants leave their culture and religion behind when they migrate here?

      July 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  9. Mariah

    edobner the day you people pack your bags and go back to Europe, (this land obviously belonged to native americans, till you people stole it)...on that day every muslim will move back to their nation.....

    July 1, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      There is no one to give back to dear lady (the Native American population is extremely small). Most of the Native American population was decimated upon contact with diseases of the Old World. Besides the Native Americans had no conception of property. You can't steal what others do not purport to have.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  10. edobner

    "My Take", NO, NewYork schools should NOT observe Muslim holidays. I am an immigrant, and I never felt I had to let go of things I held dear in hopes that I can just belong. I felt that this great country with all it's diverse opportunities increased and enhanced all the things I held dear.
    Islam is not a mere religion, it is a political movement. It is probably the most oppressive, inhuman movement; To mention only one, their treatment of women is not better than that of cattle.
    My dear friend, with all the christian love I can muster fror you, with all the religious, political and sociatal problems you must endure in this country, why in God's name don't you pack your belongings and move back where you came from. I don't think so, but I hope there you could parctice your religious convictions unhobstructed. Of course I do suspect why you don't move back, but that would be a whole other matter. May God bless you.


    July 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  11. David

    Look people because some people don't believe in your religions doesn't make them atheist...we all don't wear our private thoughts about God on a CNN blog. We just watch you fight over it and see how ridiculous you are.

    July 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  12. Taline

    I am Armenian raised in Lebanon and there is a big Armenian community living there. And untill now the schools will not observe the Armenian christmas, and I had to go to school every Christmas day........
    If we have to observe every holiday of the different religions in The United States, kids will have to stay home...........

    July 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  13. JJMurray

    Mohammed: "Corso, I am not sure I understand how a religion can be behind. ...." -– I think he means that Christianity got a lot of what Islam is going through now out of its system hundreds of years ago and hopefully in a few hundred years Islam will also have weeded out the violent fanatics. just my guess at the end of a long day.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • Mohammed

      JJ ok, so are you saying that it is OK to change the teachings of a Religion to accomodate what you beleive is right? I know a lot of people do that, even Muslims do that. Would that not stray from the original teachings of that religion? I mean for us Muslims, and Christans and Jews, there came to us these Prophets, like David, Jesus and Muhammad (Peace be upon them all). These guys tought us our religions and these Guys had dirct link to God. We belive what They tought us and we follow it. Who are we to say that what we learned from Them is wrong and we should change it because we do not like it or it does not suit us any more? Are we or those who claim to know better claiming to be prophets also?

      PS: I know the issue of Jesus (PBUH) as devine being s a different topic and since its my comment, I am stating about what I beleive.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  14. Umme Omar

    Mark from Middle River: On 'Why are christians jirk online' no Muslim actually contributed any postings. We did not take anybody's side but we did not attack anybody either. Here on this message board, some Christians are attacking Islam and Muslims, I even see some atheists actually (maybe unwittingly) defending us by talking about some jerk things that Christians did in the past. I have been reading these posts for a very long time and long enough to say that although I see many nice Christians in my town and at work and other places, there are many Christians who actually are jerk on line. In the beginning I always thought what is the problem with atheists, why they don't belive in one God. But now I am thinking why some Christians are so ruthless online although they believe in the same God we do. Do they have this licence of hurting other people because Christ gave away his life for their sins? Is their God not same as our Allah? Why they keep saying that America was founded on Christianity? Is atheism the problem or Christianity is the problem. Why are so many Christians converting to atheism?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      I am raised in a very relgious Muslim family. After reading so many verses in quran in which Allah so lovingly talks about Jesus Christ and his faithful followers, I alwsys had a soft heart for Christians but after reading some of these posts (especiallly those on mosque on ground zero) I am really very sad and heartbroken. You do not even know that when everybody was attacking jesus's character on 'Lightening struck Jesus statue', there were some Muslims, including myself, who were quoting verses of Quran about the beautiful Prophet Jesus and defending Christians too. I was even defending you and your God in 'prayers in Gulf' and other related articles. But now I am sure Christianity is not about God or Jesus Christ. It is just about Christians. Jesus is the fall guy. Nobody needs him. All Christians care about is themselves. really.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • jpeay

      Umme Omar, to answer your question, "Is their God not same as our Allah?" the answer is no. They are as different as day and night. God, is the Most High, the creator of heaven and earth. Allah is the creation of a man, Mohammed, and the Father of Lies, impersonating the Angel Gabriel, Satan himself.

      Jesus is no prophet, but as the Bible tells us, the Son of God, our High Priest and the savior of man. Please, if the Holy Spirit would move you, put down the Quran and read the Holy Bible. In there you and your family will find the Truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

      July 1, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • Mohammed

      Jpeay, could you pleas explain how you came to the conclusion that how you came to the Conclusion that "Allah" is man's creation? Allah is Abraham's God. Is that not the same God Christans and Jews worship?

      July 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  15. Captain Under-Pants

    My bad I mean Spelling and GRAMMER!

    July 1, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  16. Captain Under-Pants

    Another P.S. Sorry for my bad grammer!

    July 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
  17. Captain Under-Pants

    I agree in my opinion that muslim holidays should only be for the islamic peoples who want them! Not in the great schools of New York City! P.S. By the way and if they want a new building for ground zero why don't they just build a Game Stop there or a Best Buy instead of some old mosque! I'm mean one of you reporters or associates could tell the people working there you know!

    July 1, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Joamiq

      There is no mosque being built at Ground Zero. What is being built is an interfaith community center, and I believe it is being built across the street from a church.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      The center is both a mosque as well as a community center.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  18. Drew

    If you look on a political side you really can't because of separation of religion and the government. On a religious side the Muslin community will be happy, but the non-Muslim community wont be and cause some trouble because of it. If you let them do that then soon more religious groups will be asking for more. Like maybe bring religious books to school, like the Bible or Qur'an, let Christians wear crosses and soon bring back prayer in school. I know the school in my state the children are not allowed to bring any religious items. I am sure some still do, but they are not allowed to. I am just saying no one is really righ here or even trying to start a debate.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Mariah

    I dont know what some of you haters are talking about...but the the Glorious Qur’an says: take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom.”
    [Al-Qur’an 6:151]....I think you guys are getting your bs from your own individual corrupted mind...

    About this whole article really doesn't really bother me, theres more to worry about then NYC allowing children to have a holiday for Muslims...But at the same token, we also shouldn't have a holiday for the Jews...I understand the vast majority of the US are Christians so having Chrisitan holidays off are fine...but one thing that bothers me a lot is so many of you guys are bombarding Islam, and if you for once walk into a Masq and speak to an educated Imam you probably will realize how wrong you judged the beautiful religion...

    July 1, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  20. Mark from Middle River

    Thanks for the post guys/girls. It is just something that just concerned me that when that thread was going full flame I wondered if I would hear any Muslims, Hindu or Buddhist jump in and comment. In the end I looks that because it was dealing with Islam many did not read and passed it by. Just keep it in your minds that when some of the rabid atheist jump on Christians know that sooner or later they will come to your doorsteps.

    One of my favorite quotes :

    When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    Then they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out for me.
    Pastor Martin Niemöller

    July 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      Except dear friend, the Jews, trade unionists, etc. didn't go around flying planes into buildings, condemn to death apostates and blasphemers, slaughter fellow muslims left and right because of slight sectarian differences (e.g. Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, Ahmadis in Pakistan), or generally behave like we were still in the 12th century.

      July 1, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • David

      when they came for the rabid atheist who was there? lmao

      July 1, 2010 at 3:52 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.