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. Sheila

    Does anyone see what is happening here???? Slowly but surely, WE are losing our freedoms in this country.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  2. Sheila

    Well, the illustrious ACLU doesn't stand for "We, the Americans." They defend everybody else. What happened to separating religion from schools and the states? Why would schools observe their stupid holidays and not ours???

    July 2, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  3. Frank Lee

    Thank you, Imam Latif, for stimulating the Christian Right wingnuts to defend the founding fathers' insistence on separation of church and state! LOL

    July 2, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  4. PF

    Why are religious holidays recognized in public schools? They should only be recognized in their respective private schools.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  5. Frank Milsum

    Isn't it apalling that in states the Pledge is now being said in the halways?

    July 2, 2010 at 9:17 am |
  6. Frank Milsum

    A battle we are losing as Americans, we are losing our rights to cater to Political Corectness. Such a shame that we are swirling down the porcelain tube as a country. Stand up for our beliefs not what these groups pressure us to do!

    July 2, 2010 at 9:15 am |
    • Gil T

      There's much truth in your words. People can no more stand up for a faith or political belief because the truth is many don't know what they profess.

      July 2, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  7. Reality

    It is all about the koran which dictates that male Muslims dominate the world and should do so by any means possible. Therefore no male Muslims to include Khalid Latif can be trusted. When the con game Mohammed pulled by saying he was visited by some mythical "flying, wingie, talking thingie" is finally recognized by Muslims, then we can celebrate with a school holiday.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:11 am |
  8. jonathan hanemann

    Muslims are using civil rights, political correctness, and the concept of 'equality' as a Trojan horse to spread Islamic hegemony and Sharia in the west. They have a directive to do so from radical (and not so radical) Muslims around the world.

    Next step is demanding that the Muslim call to prayer be broadcast across public schools that have large amounts of Muslim students. After that comes the demand that even women who are non-Muslims wear headscarves when they teach Muslim students (this demand has already been made in the U.K.). One thing follows another, and freedom is always given away piece by piece.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  9. wakeup

    For all you people complaining about Muslims and the oppression of women, why is it that there are so many modern Muslim nations that have had a woman president/prime minister and yet the US still has not? Where are women more oppressed? A woman in America can not leave her house without being called "ho".

    July 2, 2010 at 8:24 am |
    • digitalcntrl

      Mostly that is a result of dynastic politics so prevalant in Muslim countries. However for the bulk substrate of women (99.9%) the Muslim world is rife with extreme gender discrimination.

      July 2, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • Mohammed

      dgitalctrl, where are you getting yoru data from? Can you please share or qoute refernces?

      July 2, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      Well, of the female leaders Megawati Sukrnoputri of Indonesia got into power because her father was President and was the one who declared independence from Netherlands. Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan got into power because the legacy of her father who was Pakistan's leader. And two female leaders of Bangladesh were the wife and daughter of Ziaur Rahman who was a war hero as well as a former leader of Bangladesh.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • Mohammed

      I am asking about the 99.9% number

      July 2, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      By its very nature Islam is discriminatory against women. A woman's testimony is worth half a mans. A husband may beat his wife. A man can divorce his wife instantly while the opposite is not true. The only women who are able to escape this extreme patriarchy are female leaders or members of the super rich which account for the small % (it is a rough estimate) stated above.

      July 2, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
    • Faiz the Dirty Paki, Margalla Hills, Pakistan

      If you want to talk about the rights of women, then don't be a hypocrite and go fix your own society first. In America there is another rape every 3 minutes.
      Every society has it's problems with regard to women's right's, including ours in Pakistan. But our parliament is 24% women, and there are plenty of women in larger cities who are professionals, although in the rural areas, there is more of a traditionalist approach.

      Your "99.9%" statistic is nothing short of non-sense and does not deserve to be taken seriously.

      July 3, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  10. Geo

    If you want to go to school and have Muslim holidays off then go study in a Muslim country, period.

    July 2, 2010 at 4:06 am |
    • Umme Omar

      Geo, on the same note, if you want to go to school and have No Muslim days off, then go study in a country that does not have so many Muslim students, period. I mean in this country called USA, it is kind of getting harder to ignore Muslims because they are in so many numbers. So lets go to a place where there are no Muslims.
      But we have a better choice where we get to live in this country all together and try to get along with each other because this is what makes USA such a great place to live in the first place.

      July 2, 2010 at 7:39 am |
    • digitalcntrl

      More Muslims?? According to the Pew Forum, only 0.8% of Americans are Muslim. Even if the supporters of this resolution are to be believed only 10% of NYC public school students are Muslims, which is not a lot. Sorry, American has no intention of kowtowing to a barbarian religion.

      July 2, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • Mohammed

      Why should I leave my country and go to another country to practice my religion when my country protects my freedom to practice my religion?

      July 2, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      Freedom of Religion only means you have the right to believe in whatever you wish. It does not mean a specific religion can demand we recognize holidays for its religious festivals. It does not mean you have the right to build mosques anywhere you want to. And most importantly it does not excuse you from placing your ultimate loyalty to the nation above any loyalty to some religious community. Simply put I and a growing number of Americans have no desire to integrate such a regressive and primitive culture into our own. If you are unable to assimilate feel free to pack your bags.

      July 2, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • RIseAgainst

      I don't understand why I would have to leave my country to get 2 days off from class. It's a bit unreasonable.

      And @digitalcntrl: Hmm "barbarian" and "primitive". It seems you judge every person by all the stupidity of terrorists you see on TV. I don't understand how my views are so off from those of so many Americans. I don't want to pack my bags and leave because I cannot "assimilate" because my threads are woven into the fabric of this nation. You say "I and so many other Americans" as if you speak for the majority and assume that Muslims are not American? I am a proud American, this is my country, and I have a right to be here as much as you do. I am not loyal to any such religious community. I shall practice my religion within my own boundaries and I need no community to decide. I build my beliefs around the world i see not because my religion tells me so.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:25 am |
  11. BobWhoLikesBeef

    I agree N.E. Body, 2 DAYS isn't much to ask. I mean compared to winter break(Christmas break) which gets 2 WEEKS. Its nothing. Not to mention Christmas Break is just one of the Christian religious holidays.

    July 2, 2010 at 2:25 am |
    • N.E. Body

      Thank you. But I find the Christmas season especially exciting so strangely I must say that I love Christmas time. Faith is just another boundary that seems to separate us from just being human I suppose?

      July 2, 2010 at 2:33 am |
    • Geo

      Why do you want muslim holidays off anyway...so you can have time to stock up on ammonium nitrate?

      July 2, 2010 at 4:12 am |
    • Mohammed

      Geo: ammonium nitrate? Yes if I have agarden.. but I prefer organic fertlizers. You are refering to that no?

      July 2, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  12. N.E. Body

    Well it would actually be nice to have days off from class on days of celebration without doing make up work for once. If we can have days off for Hanukkah and Christmas and the such, I think we can surely fit in 2 measly days of Islamic Holidays. I am Muslim, I observe to a reasonable extent although I do not cover my head and I do believe that I deserve a day or 2 off as my classmates get to spend with their families to celebrate and etc. Muslims make up a rather substantial part of our schools' populace, just as Judaism and Christianity do.. The 3 main faiths are practiced by majority of the globe and surely we all deserve a day off?

    For those who argue that other faiths are not given equal treatment in for example many Middle Eastern countries, i say that this is not just any Eastern country, it is America and our fundamental general beliefs as a people are different from those of extremist Islamic countries. Even personally speaking i can't stand the Saudi Arabian government or nation for their asinine laws and overall control and treatment of people. Everyone no matter their faith, belief, or lack there of has a right to believe what they do and practice it.

    It's sad to know ignorance flourishes in a society where equality and acceptance should thrive. No one should ever judge a religion or its ppl based on the actions of complete idiots who did nothing but kill innocent people. Humanity is an ocean and a few drops shouldn't ruin it! 🙂

    July 2, 2010 at 2:18 am |
  13. Robert Ronny

    The guy who wrote the article complain about it's hard to build a mosque in NY? Well, at least here in America we didn't burnt down your mosques! While in moslem country they burnt down churches in daily basis! And the moslem government didn't do anything about it. You demand tolerance and understanding while islam and moslem countries notoriously are the most intolerant people of all. Not just toward Christianity but to all other religions. You know they called all other religions believer infidel? So all moslem in USA.. If you don't like our way.. Just go back to your moslem countries!

    July 2, 2010 at 2:00 am |
    • N.E. Body

      This is my country.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:20 am |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      Go back to my country? I don't have to. THIS IS my country.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  14. BobWhoLikesBeef

    I beg everyone to think how our enemies think. The terrorist we have today, absolutely have a reason for what they are doing.
    I know what terrorists have done is wrong, but forgiving though how hard it may be, especially for those who have lost lives to them, is key. Militants do not seem to hold their life with much value as you or I may. Why could that be? The way these people have grown up is basically what scars them. They grow up with not much to them. They are poor, they are not really educated that well, all that holds them together is the faith of Islam. Sadly, many use the words of Islam and twist them to mean things other than what they are meant to. They know about a better life in the heavens. Where they do not worry, where they do not fear. Where for all the good they have done in the name of Allah will be rewarded. The clerics and others use this to their means, and it is quite a useful weapon to them. Why, to have a group of young fearless boys who do not fear death. For them, there is no life in this world but death. If I was an Afghanistan boy in the same situation I might be doing just what they are doing right now. I count myself lucky that I am where I am today, and that even though I am with my deepest regards sorry for what has happened to 9/11 and other radical Muslim attacks, I am also sorry for those poor boys in Afghanistan, who believe they have no life in this world, the boys who will never get a good education, the boys who will never be thought of boys, but terrorists, murderers, and worthy of nothing but dirt by people, never to truly lead a good life. May God forgive them, and may God bless you all!

    July 2, 2010 at 1:07 am |
    • JimmyTimmy

      Well said Bob. Its these stupid Clerics who tell other people to kill Americans but are sitting on their buts while the brainwashed boys risk their lives and the lives of American men and women. Also, I'm pretty sure not all Terrorists are boys, just saying.

      July 2, 2010 at 1:23 am |
    • Gil T

      It's not that those boys or men are not afraid of death. They are afraid of life. Life with meager means is not necessarily a hopeless life. The clerics, for all their talk, fear men more than they fear God because if they were not so held by the fear of men they would denounce their murderous acts as of the Satan himself.

      July 2, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  15. Gil T

    America boasts proudly of being a melding pot of cultures and ethnicities. What binds those different cultures and ethnicities together in America is a longing to live free in a democracy. That democratic form of governance commemorated and celebrated by Americans in individuals and events in American history such as George Washington, the Fourth of July and Christmas have a common bond with our Founding Fathers: Faith in God and Jesus as the Son of God. Muslims are certainly free to commemorate and celebrate Muslim holidays. A legislated observance of Muslim holidays would be a political (that is the appropriate democratic political process in a republic) gain is not a melding of affirmation by some and denial by others of faith in Jesus as the incarnate Word of God by our Founding Fathers.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  16. BobWhoLikesBeef

    christopher the moment i finished reading that i thought "hey that sounds a lot like Al-Queda". Their idea must go something like that, kill all the dis-believers and the problem is fixed. We don't need you narrow minded people in this country. I recommend you grow up, or you will start having problems. Its getting harder and harder to exclude people just because of their Religion or ethnicity. Good luck, and I hope you change your views to a more grown up ideology for your benefit as well as everyone else.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  17. Umme Omar

    HelsGod...Apologies accepted. I am also sorry for calling you jerk but now everybody can see that you are not a jerk after all. BTW I am also not huge on these 2 holidays myself although I am a Muslim. It is probably because I don't live in NYC and my son is only 2 years. Long way to go before he starts his school. There are other things that are common between us. We both live in US and we both care about it. We also share this world. We have to get rid of this negativity on all sides. There are people in my faith who do not see USA as their friend and it frustrates me a great deal. But then there are people in USA who hate Islam and want to make 9/11 Muslim holiday. I don't think it is going to help this world.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Oh, how sweet that you have a 2 year old.....I hate that my baby girl grew up to fast, she will be 15 next month. Children are a blessing. Share every moment with your son and don't miss out on his life. Years will fly by your very eyes sooner than what you think. Also, don't worry about what other people say about your faith, they don't determine your life. Don't get frustrated, friend, don't give them the satisfaction. Keep you head up. You sound like a nice guy, don't give your kindness up for no one. It is very sad that over a few idiots that brought disaster on 9/11 labels every Muslims as murders. We get the same response with Christianity. I am a Mexican woman and I see this happening to Mexicans too. So, forget them, they don't pay our rent, feed us, or contribute in our lives whatsoever. I am so happy I had a chance to talk with you. My heart is full of so much joy right now, Muslims are kind people.

      God bless you and your family!!

      July 2, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • HeIsGod


      It is very sad that over a few idiots that brought disaster on 9/11, ignorant people label every Muslims as murderers.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  18. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Give HelsGod a break. I don't think in truth he meant what he said, and he actually forgave, rather than being stubborn and sticking to what he had said. But I must say friend, that I do not believe that Jesus Christ is God. I believe he was one of the Prophets. I have no problem with you or other people believing he is God, but I personally do not. I respect Jesus Christ but I respect him as a Prophet.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Thank you for your kindness, Bob!!

      July 1, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
    • nobody

      I think people need to recognize Jesus as one of mankind's most important teachers, if not *the* most important teacher. He taught us to love each other unconditionally - something which precious few of us actually do. He clearly indicated that this "Golden Rule" was the key to salvation. Unfortunately, many people instead grabbed at John 3:16 - perhaps the single most misunderstood line of text in human history. Jesus was no more or less divine than you or I, and it's his teachings you need to believe in to reach paradise. If there's one thing I know for sure, it's that neither God nor Jesus will judge anybody. The only person who will ever judge you, be it at the end of one life or a thousand, is yourself. Once you've lost your human ability to rationalize your behavior, you will decide your own fate. I imagine for many of us it won't be pretty.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
    • Mohammed

      I want to add to this. I understand that any Muslim who disrespect any Prophet, be it Jesus, David, Abraham, any one, he or she is either commiting a Grave sin or commiting Shirk, which is basically an unforgivable sin. Forgive me for I do not know which on it is, but it definately is a serious matter.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  19. NoMoreSkyFairies

    Let the only Muslim holiday be 9/11. That way the kids learn what Islam is all about.

    July 1, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Wow, so that children can become racist, hateful, bitter and label all Muslims as murderers? I would hate to ask if you have children, no, I don't want to know. If that's the case, you and those children are not better than Islam! I have met nice sweet Muslims. You need to place your head back in the sand because that's all you have in your brain, sand that doesn't allow you to think straight! May the Lord have Mercy on your soul and save it!

      July 2, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  20. Nite Shayde

    When they start closing down for Jewish high holidays then we can talk...

    July 1, 2010 at 11:31 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.