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. HeIsGod

    I apologize to all Muslims! I did went overboard with my comments and I am sorry. Please accept my apology!

    July 1, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
    • Toby

      Enough with the apologizing!

      July 3, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
  2. Umme Omar

    HelsGod let me get it straight...one peson said that 'God is Allah' and that made you so angry that you wrote about 1000 lines bashing our religion? What about Jesus love God, God love humanity, Jesus our saviour and all that love and peace crap? Secondly our relgion is all about commands and teachings of Quran. If you have not read Quran, why are you talking about our religion? Yes there are some barbaric Muslim governments in middle east but they are not following our religion. They are like Hitler and his nazi forces or the Srbian Christians who carried atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. I hate Hitler but I really do not attach Christianity and of course I would never dare attack Jesus (PBUH) because he is our Prophet (not God though) So why are you attacking Islam? This article is not about whose relgion is the best or worst. This is only about 2 muslim holidays. You don't agree with those 2 holidays and you already made your point. Thank you good buy, lets move on. Sorry god is not Allah. Just Allah is Allah. OK? phew...

    July 1, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      No, I didn't get angry, I just went overboard with my comment and I do apologize! Why would a Muslim be surprised that I don't believe in Allah when I stated that I am a Christian? Why do you expect for me to believe in your god? That's the difference in our belief, Jesus Christ is God, the Son of God, being God Himself.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      BTW, go ahead and have your 2 day Muslim holiday, I don't see anything wrong with it. You have my vote, even if I am not a Muslim.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:36 pm |
  3. Umme Omar

    There is an article on cnn 'why Christians are jerk on line'. Well those of us who did not agree with the author should read messages posted by some Christians (HelsGod for example)

    July 1, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Umme Omar – LOL, I am not trying to upset you in any way, friend, really. As I said earlier, I am not bashing Muslims in any way, but I rather be respected as who I am, a believer and a follower of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Savior of the world and Redeemer of all sinners. I don't believe and refuse to believe in a god that the Holy Spirit has not revealed to me. I respect the fact that Muslims want to believe and Allah.

      If Allah is the god you want to believe, that is your choice, not mine. I respect that, but don't contradict in what I believe. You can call me a jerk all you want, it doesn't affect me in any way. You or CNN Article doesn't determine who I really am.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Yes you are right, I am a bit upset. Not with you or anybody else. It is just that quran talks so lovingly about Jesus (PBUH) and his followers, Muslims usually have a very soft corner for Christians. We are always trying to find common grounds with Christians and thats all. If it really offends you, sorry we take our words back. But Quran says the God of the people of scriptures is same as our God and Jesus (PBUH) is not son of God. He is son of Mary and he was born without a father through a miraculous birth. Sorry again if it hurt you. I respect your relgion but I cannot change my beliefs to please you. OK? peace.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Oh, Umme Omar, I don't want you to change your belief to please me, I am not God, He is the only One we should please. I am sorry that I sounded mean, and that isn't me. I know what it's like to be attacked by Atheist and Agnostics, but worse with Atheists. You hold your head up and be who you need to be. I like that fact that even if Muslims don't believe that Jesus is God, you don't bash Him. Peace to you to!

      July 1, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  4. AGray

    A quote for everyone saying this country was founded by Christians:
    "Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." –Thomas Jefferson

    Thomas Jefferson was NOT a Christian, by the way. He was a deist – look it up.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  5. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Lol what is it with you guys and Saudi Arabia? The population there numbered 20-30 MILLION. While the Muslim population is over 1.5 BILLION. Saudi Arabia is just one country. Its like comparing 1940 Nazi Germany as the Christian world.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
  6. JimmyTimmy

    If they are going to have Muslim holidays then they should have Hindu and Buddhist holidays. If they can't have that, no religious holidays at all.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Jimmytimmy...I am no genious of Math but Hindus have about a million gods and holidays and I don't think that can fit in one year. Buddhist..well how many Buddhists do you think actually live in New York city? Jews have their holidays in NYC and so do christians and USA is not a Christian or Jewish counry. Why you have a problem when Muslims want their holidays?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  7. HeIsGod

    @ nobody – Also I want to add the Value of the Human Soul:

    As can be seen in history and in today's daily newscasts, life can be cheap in Islamic nations and the needs and feelings of others are often ignored, or blatantly abused to create an atmosphere of fear. Fingers being cut off for offenses and people being tortured or imprisoned on the whims of others can be a way of life in war-torn countries that are governed by various opposing leaders of the Islamic faith. Such people have no qualms about killing others of the Islamic faith, and they claim to be ruling for Allah in the doing.

    Jesus taught that the soul of man is of great value: that we should love others as we love ourselves and that for one to give his life for another is the greatest form of love. Jesus also let us know the value that He places on the individual when He died on the Cross for every individual man, woman, and child. At the Cross we can also see that He is not a respecter of persons - that all persons are of equal value to Him–for all must come through this same "door" (faith in Christ) to be accepted by God. Also, His intolerance of man thinking more highly of himself than he ought can be seen in His bringing women to the fore and giving them places of honor.

    I am not bashing Muslims in any way, but I rather be respected as who I am, a believer and a follower of Christ Jesus, the Son of God, Savior of the world and Redeemer of all sinners. I don't believe and refuse to believe in a god that the Holy Spirit has not revealed to me. I respect the fact that Muslims want to believe and Allah.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:12 pm |
  8. nobody

    jpeay wrote:

    Hi "nobody." You are actually incorrect. Allah is not the name for the God of Abraham. It may very well be true that Ishmael grew up hearing about the Most High God, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob; but Mohammed did not know God and sought after his own path. On that path he discovered the Father of Lies himself. For you cannot deny Jesus and know God for Jesus is fully man and fully God, His Son. The Savior of the world. John 3:16.

    I pray that you put aside the Quran and pick up the Holy Bible; for there you will meet the one True God.


    Folks, remember when I mentioned letting other people do your thinking for you? Well, above is a textbook example.

    Jpeay, I pray you put down your book on Hebrew mythology and start thinking about the world around you, for there will you meet the one true god.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
  9. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Hey, Hitler was Catholic. Lets all hate Catholics now because one stupid guy decided to kill Jews and other minorities because they weren't "human enough". I'm pretty sure Hitler killed more people than 9/11 did, or even the losses we have had from Muslims in the past 50 years. I believe most Catholics are smarter than Hitler and his regime, and I'm pretty sure they don't all kill Jews or starve them in labor camps.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  10. Helpme

    @MO...are you the one IGNORANT at the teachings? Oh, you must enjoy women have absolutely NO rights under ISLAM..makes you feel 'manly' aye?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
  11. Did anyone take history?

    Christian holidays ARE based of the seasons, but not all of them just the winter solstace and the spring solstace because when Christians were trying to convert Pagans into Christianity they figured it would be easier if the clebrations they had were around the same times. That's why Christmas isn't on Christ's birthday.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  12. justme

    Why in the world would we celebrate a religion that tells people to kill one another? Hell no. Do that in my school and I'll yank my kids out so fast. There would be NO MORE tax money for the state. If you want a holiday then go back to the middle east where they celebrate barbarianism everyday. What's next? National Stone Women Day? or maybe "Hey, take a day off to cut your scalp day"?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      justme ... islam does not teach its followers to kill anybody. You did not read Quran. You are just saying what your media has been feeding you. There are about 12% Muslim kids in NewYork's public schools. What you just said were true they would kill each other or others. But they don't kill anybody. All the kids who carried out shootings in public schools were non Muslims. They don't even bully anybody. What about stone women day? I am a Muslim woman. Please stop talking for me or my rights. Islam has given me so many rights, you really don't have a clue.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  13. Noble9

    Why doesn't the school system come up with a list of officially sanctioned holiday dates and allow kids to pick a fixed number of them. Say 5 to 8 days or so. If you're christian you could use them for easter and christmas, if you're hindu you could use them for the festival of lights, jewish for yom kippur, etc. Why does everyone now have to take two more days off on muslim holidays?

    July 1, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  14. missadr

    I dunno. I think it's a practicality thing. If we start closing school on Muslim holidays, then we have to close down school on the holiday of EVERY religion. When will kids ever go to school?

    July 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  15. Mark from Middle River

    Umme Omar – "In USA hate crimes against Muslims are committed on regular basis."

    Umme, on CNN.com there was a Gay in America section where you will find members of the LGBT community will say that there are hate crimes against them. As a African American I have heard members of my own community say that there are hate crimes against us on a regular basis. There is a new TV show called "Huge" or something that tells about the crimes against obese teens and members of society. I could go on and on Umme but common sence has to be found established that not one person on this planet has ever had themselves or their family effected by hate.

    Umme, if we need to drag Muslim into this light of understanding that they are no different and in no ways more special than any other group, then this... with extreme amounts of dialogue ...is what you and other Muslims will begin to see. Imans in a few reports spoke that they wanted society to engage with Muslims and to learn about them. Now it is time for them to learn it is not a one way street. Dialogue is listening to others that have been targeted and finding commonality.

    The same folks that painted the swastikas on the temple, will see no difference in burning down your mosque or my AME church.

    July 1, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  16. nobody

    Mohammed wrote: JJ ok, so are you saying that it is OK to change the teachings of a Religion to accomodate what you beleive is right?

    What teachings? Show me any religion where all the followers agree on what's being taught. Muslims don't agree about Islam, Christians don't agree about Christianity, Jews don't agree about Judaism. They all have their own ideas because religion isn't supposed to be a journey by committee. As much as we deny this to ourselves, we know it because this truth is written on our souls. Spirituality is meant to be a personal journey. The minute you let someone else take the journey for you or insist on making the journey for someone else, you have corrupted the purpose.

    People adhere to organized religions out of fear - fear of being outcast and fear of being unsure. Organized religion is like social drug use. You get accepted into the club and you can relax and let something else do your thinking for you. It's the coward's way out though. You need to stop listening to what Mohammed thinks and start listening to what Mohammed thinks. God gave you a brain. Not using it is an insult to him. You don't want to insult God, do you? Open your eyes. You'll be amazed at what you see.

    July 1, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      "because religion isn't supposed to be a journey by committee" That is a very deep statement. I do disagree with it. I would drop in the word "faith" for religion because religion I feel is a specialized form of actions to understand and have a relationship with God.

      July 1, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • jpeay

      Hi "nobody." You are actually incorrect. Allah is not the name for the God of Abraham. It may very well be true that Ishmael grew up hearing about the Most High God, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob; but Mohammed did not know God and sought after his own path. On that path he discovered the Father of Lies himself. For you cannot deny Jesus and know God for Jesus is fully man and fully God, His Son. The Savior of the world. John 3:16.

      I pray that you put aside the Quran and pick up the Holy Bible; for there you will meet the one True God.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      dear muslims, dont reply to jpeay, He is just a Jerk online. Just report abuse and move on. islam teaches us to be nice to everybody online or offline.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
    • Mohammed

      There i sa difference in "missinterpretting" or "interpretting it differently" and "changing what your religion teaches you."

      July 2, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  17. Howard

    All you fools who are engaged in discussing whether Islam is a violent religion, a Theocracy, or suitable to merge into American culture ... are lost in your academic, intellectual hypotheticals ... while totally missing the reality that you are assisting an insidious enemy in creating your own demise. You are unaware lambs being led to your own slaughter ... while reveling in an illusion that you're oh so eloquent.

    July 1, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
  18. Pasadena47

    I think Iran should observe Christian holidays. I don't think they will. As a matter of fact I think that when they get the chance they will use nuclear weapons on somebody, next year perhaps. Let's hope they don't celebrate one of their religious holidays and bring one to school or to the new mosque near the World Trade Center in New York City. I don't care what you say, these are very dangerous people.

    July 1, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  19. HeIsGod

    WOW, so now the Muslims are being bashed and hated on? I am a nondenominational Christians and love Jesus Christ with all of my heart, mind, and soul! Though I don't know very much about the Muslim religion, except that they believe in Allah, which I don't believe, I will not sit here and be hateful towards them or any religious person. If they want to believe in their god, so be it. I am not the one they will have to answer to, it is the True Living God we ALL will have to answer to. There are so much hate, bitterness, and miserable people that can't seem to be happy for anyone or anything now a day. I would hate to have the life of a miserable person. If these Muslims are trying to have a holiday, so be it. I don't have anything against it, it doesn't hurt me or affect me in any kind of way. I praise Jesus Christ that He has allowed me to know who God really is regardless of what other religions, Atheists, Agnostics and unbelievers think, say or do!

    July 1, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
    • nobody

      You're a Christian who doesn't believe in Allah? You do realize Allah is simply their name for the god of Abraham, which is the same god Jews and Christians believe in?

      July 1, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      According to the Holy Bible, Allah is not mentioned and I do not read the Quran bible. God has many, but many names in the Bible and Allah is not one of them.

      According to the information I have obtain online is:

      Muslims (another name for Islamists) are taught that the average person cannot know for sure if Allah will grant them "eternal life." By playing on this insecurity, Islamic leaders can impress young minds to kill themselves in homicide bombings by promising them a secure place in paradise.

      Our God, Jehovah, God of Abraham:
      The New Testaments teaches that "eternal life" is a "gift" from God, made available to sinners by the sacrificial death of His Only Begotten Son on the Cross. Consequently, "eternal life" is offered to all; for "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." The Bible also says "...That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved"...for..."whosoever whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord [Jesus] will be saved." Isn't this what we can expect of a God of Love?

      Muslim's Lifestyle:
      he teachings of Islam not only set forth a stern religion, but they govern the total life of the believers as well. Unfortunately, history teaches us that, too often, gerrymandering fanatics or unbelieving opportunist take control of Islamic governments and oppress those under them in extreme and cruel ways. Built in the Muslim religion is the repression and abuse of women and children. Sadly, those under such governments usually live in poverty and dejection. Also, we should note that the Muslim religion is perpetuated by extreme indoctrination of the young; and that historically, its growth comes about by the use of violence or by appealing to the violent nature of man. I know that politicians feel that they have to be politically correct and say that Islam is a great, peaceful religion - but such statements are not validated by history.

      Lifestyle for Christians:
      Jesus taught that He had come that people might have life and have it more abundantly. He taught that it is better to give than to receive, and that every man and woman should develop their God given abilities so they can gain more and have more to give. The long-faced church member who glories in his poverty and self-denial impresses no one but himself. And we should not forget that as followers of Christ, it is important that we do make "good" impressions on others. This is because God has ordained that others are to see Jesus in His followers and, thereby, have reason to believe. Thus, His Church would grow and fulfill its Great Commission of taking the Good News that "Jesus Saves" to the world.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      My mother always taught me that God is God. The Christians and Jews also believe in god, but they practice their faith differently than I do. Allah is the Arabic word for God.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ BobWhoLikesBeef – I agree, God is God and besides Him, there none other. Do you know that Jesus Christ is God? The Great I AM? King of kings, Lord of lords?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      when you have not read the QURAN Bible, why are you talking so much about islam? If you don't want to bash Islam, how come you wrote 100 lines bashing islam? If you really do not care about giving 2 muslim holidays, what are you doing here and posting such long messages? If you want to stay happy and not do anything with miserable people, why waste time on us, on our religion ?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Umme Omar – When I first posted my comment, I clearly said that I do not believe in Allah, but when someone contradicts in what I believe, that is being disrespectful. I will back up what I say and I know who I serve, I speak for myself. I have never read Quran, I am not interested, therefore, don't tell me who Abraham's God is, because the Bible I read, says the contrary of what Quran says. Can you respect that?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  20. zayyan

    Most Americans worship power & money so you cannot demand anything for free
    Muslims in America must be independent & raise funds to build their schools so they can apply rules of Islam

    July 1, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
    • N.E. Body

      Why be independent? Then we are just separating ourselves from everyone else and become less attached to our home. America.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:29 am |
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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.