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. creeping

    Khalid Latif – who invited and or approved two pro-jihad, anti-American speakers to his NYU conference, is also the NYPD’s Muslim chaplain, and on unindicted co-conspirator to a terror-funding trial CAIR's NY Board of Directors. His sister is also a CAIR-NY member.

    Khalid Latif’s veiled threats of violence in a letter to NYU’s President if he were to allow a student organization to display Danish cartoons of Muhammad is evidence that he is no fan of freedom of speech and believes in defending sharia law's blasphemy statute (for lack of a better word).

    Latif repeatedly meets with and makes appearances at Muslim Brotherhood-linked events including the upcoming Fourth of July weekend ISNA conference that is hosted by a Muslim Brotherhood organization and will feature numerous jihad supporters... while most of America is celebrating America's independence, Latif and other Muslims at the ISNA conference will be planning something quite different.

    Creeping Sharia...

    July 2, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  2. Umme Omar

    BobWhoLikesBeef... First of all your name sounds very interesting to me but what does it really mean? Just curious

    Anyway thanks for speaking for Muslims. There is a small error in your post though. it is not Mecca, its Medina you are talking about. The Pagan invaders attacked medina and the Jewish tribes of Medina who were in a treaty with Muslims, secretly cut a deal with the invaders. Their own judge decided to execute them because they broke the treaty and plus, they also put Medinah in a very dangerous situation. But that is not the reason for us to distrust Jews.

    We should not distrust Jews and Christians but some muslims and especially palestinians may tend to distrust Jews because of Israel.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
    • Noble9

      From what I've seen, you guys don't just 'distrust jews', you friggin hate them with a passion.

      July 2, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  3. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Earnan I want to come on the Jewish tribe u were talking about. there were tribes in Mecca. There were invaders and the tribes united to protect Mecca. The Banu however secretly allying with the invaders, because they saw the growth of Islam and wanted to stop it. Even with the betrayal Mohammad still beat the invaders. the women and children were spared, and then the men fate was decided by a Banu judge. He decided to execute them. Why? Because they were threatening to the rest of Mecca. That is why to this day, some Muslims and especially Palestinians distrust Jews, all because of the betrayal of one tribe.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  4. Juan

    America celebrates non-denominational holidays. Seems the Muslims don't quite get it. Religious groups plan ACTIVITIES around these holidays that allow them to bring like minded individuals together during times when the whole family/individual is on holiday. Muslims would do well to mix with more real Americans to be American. We love our non-religious diversity. I am really not supportive of Muslim initatives/mindsets of this nature. Stop it!

    July 2, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  5. vince

    Church and state need to be separated for obvious reasons. Even Christmas is less about Christ and more about the fat man that brings presents and decorated plastic trees. Islam has a difficult time separating the two as a review of politics throughout the middle east and asia demonstrates. New York city has always been a shining example of a free and open society of many parts including having an open and active arts and gay community. I'm not sure promoting a holiday of a religion that demonizes free artistic expression as well as gay people (both in the Koran and the Hadith) fits what New York, as well as America, is all about.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  6. HeIsGod

    Hi, Umme Omar, how are you doing?

    I wanted to ask you regarding 9/11. Did you know that in March of 2001, a prophet prophecy that this will happen if American didn't repent for their sins? Also, the Word of God that I read also tells us about the Twin Towers? I am sharing this information with you and all Muslims that are sincere and kind to let you know that you shouldn't allow any American bash you for what happened.

    Zephaniah 1 The Great Day of the Lord

    14 "The great day of the LORD is near—
    near and coming quickly.
    Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter,
    the shouting of the warrior there.
    15 That day will be a day of wrath,
    a day of distress and anguish,
    a day of trouble and ruin,
    a day of darkness and gloom,
    a day of clouds and blackness,

    16 a day of trumpet and battle cry
    against the fortified cities
    and against the corner towers.

    17 I will bring distress on the people
    and they will walk like blind men,
    because they have sinned against the LORD.
    Their blood will be poured out like dust
    and their entrails like filth.

    18 Neither their silver nor their gold
    will be able to save them
    on the day of the LORD's wrath.
    In the fire of his jealousy
    the whole world will be consumed,
    for he will make a sudden end
    of all who live in the earth."

    July 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
    • HeIsGod


      In the day of great slaughter, when the towers fall, streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill.
      Isaiah 30:25 (NIV)

      July 2, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • Noble9

      So....why didn't the earth end on 9/11?

      July 2, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Hi, dear HelsGod, I am fine and how about yourself? Thank you for sharing this with me. And also thanks a million fr the kind words. Kind words always go the longest way. Happy Independence day. God bless America and the rest of the world. We can only forgive what happened in the past and also take responsibility for our actions. There is too much hatred and mistrust on all sides. Like somebody said in his book 'No peace is bad peace and no war is good war'. Although it is still not the end of this world, it is becoming too polarized. What you and me can do is draw everybody closer and live peacefully and in full submission to God Almighty. Peace. Have a great safe and fun-filled weekend.

      July 3, 2010 at 8:28 am |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Umme Omar – Hi, dear, good to hear from you. Happy 4th of July as well. I wanted to share this with you, not to contradict the Quran, but to let you and everyone know that this was already destinate by God because of the sins in America and because America has forgotten their God. Also, it was Satan's prophets, not the Muslims, that destroyed the twin towers. We have many so-called Christians that even Satan uses to bring about his destruction and I will not allow anyone to determine my faith and believe in God....period!! Have a very blessed day!!

      July 3, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      @ Noble9 – It wasn't the plan of God to destroy the world on that day. it was a warning that came before destruction mankind. Also, God is still sending many warnings through earth quacks, tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and so on all over the world. God is patient towards us and wants us to repent and return to Him.

      July 3, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  7. 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 7:40 pm |
  8. Kirk

    As a former NYC public school student, I cannot remember the last time I pledged allegance to this wonderful country, and you want students to pray to Allah??! The God our enemy kills for?! Then why don't we just teach our students extremism? Our Nation's heroes and heroines do not fight our battles for their kids to learn the same garbage they teach terrorists. Muslims can pray to whomever they want -at home, or mosque's.

    July 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • digitalcntrl


      This is no way surprising. Muslims emigrate to new lands, and start demanding we change who and what we are to please them.

      July 2, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  9. Dee

    When I can go through my life and not have to use my sick time for Passover and take exams early that are scheduled on Yom Kippur, I'll support this. News flash to New Yorkers: the rest of the country doesn't give a care about Jewish holidays. As a country it would be impossible to get every single holiday on the calendar, especially when some of them do not correspond to the 365 day solar calendar, and I have no problem with having to deal with the de facto Christian calendar which has become the de facto secular calendar. I only wish the muslims advocating this would stop trying to establish their religion instead of going with the flow. So I'm supposed to get Christmas and Ramadan off but not what I need? Then we give Beltane for the pagans and who knows what else. Please.

    July 2, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Dee...please read again, they are pushing for two Muslim holidays in just New York city , a place where Yaum kippur and Rosh Hashanah are already on school calender. If it is not a problem for the Muslim kids with jewish Holidays or the christian holidays, why are they having problems with Muslim holidays? It is only fair, Isn't it?

      July 2, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  10. Umme Omar

    James...I am not really huge on Muslim holidays or any other holidays since they are already falling behind in education but just for records there are atleast two jewish holidays on NYC school calender, Yaum Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

    July 2, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • digitalcntrl

      Your point?? If you have a problem with Jewish holidays then campaign against them. Sorry but giving Muslims special holidays would only invite demands from Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Wiccans, Shintos, Rastafarians, etc. for recognizing their holdiays. Would ever even be in school with that kind of situation?

      July 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  11. James

    What other major religions is he referring to? Easter is on a Sunday, so no impact there. Christmas is during winter break, so no significant impact there. What other religious holidays are there that might fall on a school day? It just seems to me that they are looking for special consideration. I remember Jewish kids having to just suck it up when their holidays conflicted with the school year. Of course, NY could just give them those two days, and extend the school year by two days to accomodate the request.

    July 2, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  12. Jed Marlin

    Islam is the religion of the Arab Empire
    Every other people conquered by the Arabs are forced to pray to the Arab god and face to the direction of the sacred meteorite in Mecca while they pray.
    The conquered Egyptians must face Arabia to pray. The conquered Persians (Iranians) must face and bow to Arabia to pray. The conquered Hinis of India must face and bow to Arabia to pray. The conquered Bosnians must face and bow to Arabia to pray.
    Is New York now conquered?
    Must New York face and bow to Arabia to pray?

    July 2, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • Umme Omar

      Jed marlin...have you been watching Fox' Bill O'Reilly factor lately? Where else would you get such misleading information from?

      July 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  13. DDRM

    That is why faith based schools should be fully funded. It's because Muslims/Christians/Jews wish to take their holidays and the schools shouldn't have to force their kids to attend school if it is a religious holiday – the only way to accomodate people of every main faith is to support school choice and faith based schools. We are all tax-payers and should have our taxes represented. This country was based on the fact that the Early Americans wanted to pray as they choose. Unfortunately, government has taken that right away by not allowing our taxes represent our choices.

    July 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  14. Spike

    “…he [Muhammad] declared undistinguishing and exterminating war, as a part of his religion, against all the rest of mankind…The precept of the Koran is, perpetual war against all who deny, that Mahomet is the prophet of God.” John Adams

    July 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  15. CAM

    Khalid Latif-
    I respect your position and wish your desired outcome was realistic. America was founded by Christians and will ALWAYS be a "Christian state".........that is what the "freedom of religion" exists to protect. Freedom to worship the Christian God is what those early settlers and Founding Fathers were speaking of. No one came here to find Mohammed. Don't misunderstand the American privilege of "freedom of religion"....................while it exists to protect all faiths, the fabric of America is CHRISTIAN.

    While the majority of Muslims are wonderful and peaceful people, the minority who are ignorant/blood thirsty killers make "acceptance" of the broader Muslim faith an IMPOSSIBLE request. If Muslims would police their own, then Christians would tolerate the differences.

    Even Americans that are not Christian take issue with Muslim "culture" for lack of understanding if nothing else. I have personally experienced what happened in France because they let the Muslim culture into their fabric. America wont let that happen and we will defend Christianity. Sadly, this means that Muslims will never feel the comfort you are seeking.

    I pray that the God of Gods, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, touches your heart this day through the Holy Spirit that He left to indwell us.

    May God bless you as you seek truth and understanding.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      CAM it is difficult for Muslims to police themselves in areas where militants thrive because the militants have guns, and they don't.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
    • Kate

      Uh no, the US is not and never has been a Christian state. The treaty of Tripoli specifically specifies that. Protection of freedom of religion is not just about Christian freedom of religion. Where did you get that from your school history class?

      July 2, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  16. Sergio

    Schools should be free of all religions, not just Islam. In school is where people of all ages go to learn about reality. We already have too much fantasy in television.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  17. Chipotle

    Cindy baby, this is the US of A based on mass extermination of 25 million original inhabitants. Apprently your daddy forgot to get used to how things were done here even before they set foot here.
    Don't try to sound as if history starts from 1776 or whatever date the killers chose to inaugurate themsleves with. Just like the media giving the impression that terrorism started on 9/11. Try going back to 5/51948.
    Anyway, regarding these holidays, I think all religious holidays should be removed and population should be allowed to take them as personal days off. Just don't hold any important exams on, say, the 25th of december etc.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  18. Sophia

    In my experience, school children of non-Christian faiths are excused from school for religious holidays. They are not expected to make up work and the absence does not count toward their attendance record. It may not be the perfect system, but there are so many faiths with so many holidays, one could hardly ask for every single one to be observed.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  19. Brian

    It would be nice if we could observe everyone's religious holidays. However, there are a limited number of school days and the children simply cannot be off for every religious holiday that comes along. Schools need to be more concerned with the task of educating than worrying about this issue. Many public schools do not observe religious holidays at all. There are winter and spring recesses but nothing overtly religious is implied in any of these breaks.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  20. cindy

    Grrrrrrr...... This is the United States of America based on a certain belief and I myself am tired of catering to every call from every group of people that have a cause. We have already had to change calling it Christmas, saying in god we trust and a never ending host of polically correct garbage. Does any other country in the WORLD continually make consessions like this? I think not. You want to live here....get with the program of how things are done IN THIS COUNTRY and no....that does not mean we need to change to accomodate you! I am so sick of this kind of stuff!

    July 2, 2010 at 12:21 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.