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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. OT

    1st amendment... Freedom of religion. this is not even a question to ask. we are all equal.
    But knowing that in the dollar there is "In God we trust", thus the amendment is broken, and so is the basic foundation of the country.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  2. Joe

    Well, as an athiest, I can apply the same argument to Christianity. To we athiests there is really no difference between Islam and Christianity.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  3. MP

    Let me clarify first that I'm neither a muslim, nor a Christian. So this is purely a 3rd point of view. If you ask for mulim holidays to be observed, what's stopping hindus, buddhists, jews, siks, and people of other indigenous religions from asking for the same? How ridiculous would it be to observe all those holidays?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:38 am |
    • Matt

      Jewish holidays are added, Thats the only holiday of religion that i see/

      July 1, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • Eric

      Since when are Jewish holidays celbrated? No way. I'm 33 and have never gotten a day off of school or work for a Jewish holiday. I am not Christian, but I accept the fact this country was founded on Christian ideals. Having days off for every other religion is a slippery slope. Take the day off for Eid. Nobody is stopping you. But should we close the entire school because of it? No way!

      July 1, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  4. Halil

    This is America, the land of the free, so to the idiots who compare Saudi Arabia and the U.S.A please go educate yourselves (but that's probably too difficult for you to do). Seeing that there are many Christians, Muslims, and Jews there is absolutely no harm if each faith is given the same freedom as others. Sad to see how much hatred there is while there's always a way to live with each other as nice, civil, human beings.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  5. Jay Dubbe

    Sorry, we will never observe Muslim holidays in our schools. Regardless of your opinion, this nation was founded on Christian ideals. It's a historical fact. I don't go to church and I don't practice any religion, so I don't have a horse in the race, but I am educated enough to understand the historical context of this American society. I also have the ability to take EMOTION out of this argument and look it purely based on the facts, so all you flying spaghetti monster types need to check yourself. We can't observe every religious groups holidays, it's not practical, so let's just stick with ones that are engrained in our society, ok?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • Scott

      Aaaannnd... here's one more who's spent a few too many hours in the Sunday morning brainwashing sessions. :p

      July 1, 2010 at 9:39 am |
    • Jay Dubbe

      Never spent a day in church or Sunday school, Scott. I can tell, however, that you are quite sensitive about the subject. Your also one that places emotion over facts. Good luck in life.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • jeff

      America was founded on secular ideals not any religious ideals

      July 1, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • Jay Dubbe

      Well, I suggest you read the biographies of John Adams, John Jay, and Thomas Paine. It's everywhere, right down to the first U.S. President being sworn in with his hand on the bible. I mean, if that isn't evidence enough. Wake up.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  6. Amanda

    You know who also has to go to school on their holidays...Jews. This country is notorious for not bending the rules for other faiths, I have had to deal with it my entire life. I never minded as a child, but as an adult working in Manhattan, it has become an issue. However, I still don't think society needs to bend to my ways. I don't think my holidays or any others need to be observed as a national holiday. There are already way too many "holidays" in this country...Columbus Day anyone?? Children need stability in their lives, and education already gets the short stick in our society.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:36 am |
    • Mina

      in new york city, jewish holidays are observed by the district so all students have those days off.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:16 am |
    • Zebula

      Well said Amanda. Although I am an atheist, it has always bothered me how people disrespect the people who practice the original of the "big three" and cave in to all the needs of the people who have skewed it so badly. Most Christians and Muslims don't realize their religion is all about power and control and has little to do with God. And I agree, our children should be getting as much time in school as possible.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • Saba

      Zebula,

      How exactly is Islam "all about power and control and has little to do with God"? Enlighten me. That is the one of most ignorant, narrow-minded and stereotypical statements I have ever heard. You obviously know nothing about Islam nor its principles, so personally, I believe you have no right to preach them. Get your facts straight.

      July 8, 2010 at 7:04 am |
  7. DJ

    Alf, he is talking about NY city with 12% of students are muslim, what is the %tage of muslims in Saudia arabia?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  8. Laks

    Dude why don't you write this on the Pakistani newspapers about the Hindu Holidays. Problem with the Muslims. They think of rights where they are minority and are fanatic Majarity where they are in abundance.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  9. Curious

    I say allow the holidays, which I do not mind including but I am sure the teachers union will have a fit that they have to work two more days out of the year. Though one question, since all "good" muslims pray 5 times a day does that then mean that the schools will now have to allow students breaks five times a day to pray, maybe put in a tower to call all of the faithful and braodcast a sermon? Just curious how far we are going to go towards making NYC closer to the middle east? After all this seems to be alot of hubbub for only 12% of the entire NYC school population. Though I guess we have gotten health care reform shoved down our throats for less percentage of the US population than that. Carry on NYC carry on.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  10. Tard

    And how many school days would be left for 'learning'?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  11. adam

    Not a chance, Latif. Our country was founded on Christian principles. We're the most accepting country in the world of other religions. If a Christian prayed in public in a typical Muslim country, they'd be executed. So, once you guys start to celebrate Christian holidays in all of your Muslim countries, that's when we'll celebrate Muslim holidays in America. Finally, if we started to celebrate every religions holidays, we'll never go to school or work. I know that something you're quite familiar with b/c Muslim countries are usually very poor and uneducated.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Scott

      This is a perfect example of a textbook response from a brainwashed, right wing, evangelical NUT.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • Charles

      Scott, who are you mad at?

      July 1, 2010 at 9:43 am |
    • AJ

      The author just know about rights and don't know about obligations.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      The Middle Easy is not the only area that holds Muslims you know. If you care to get an education the other Muslim countries are tolerant of your religions.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  12. Scott

    Freedom and diversity is the cornerstone of this country. If anything ever destroys it, it'll be religious nuts who think they're fighting some holy war for the invisible man who lives in the sky... geez, haven't we outgrown the needs for these ancient fairy tales yet?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  13. Paul

    Even though this country was founded on a Christian society we are a diverse multi cultural nation. As a vietnam vet and I believe that none of these so called muslims would ever fight or lay their life on the line for this country. Why should their religious beliefs be exempt from scholl when they took Lord's prayer out of our schools and even some Gov't buildings to segregate the church from the schools. It is my belief if they want a Muslim holiday move back to Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Iran.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • adam

      I totally agree. He's complaining about not fitting in. Well, go back to your country, you'll be able to easily fit in.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:37 am |
    • AJ

      I am not a Christian, I am Hindu and I fully agree with you Paul.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      You would be surprised in the number of Muslims serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the Viet War you didn't see many Muslims because people like you would treat them as dirt.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • Missy

      Hey Paul, My husband is a 1st Sergeant in the US Army Infantry preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Out of 120 Soldiers in his company, 4 are Muslim. This being said, I strongly reject your assertion that no Muslim is willing to fight and die for the US. You and anyone who agrees with you are truly ignorant of just who makes up our armed forces. Our armed forces represent a microcosm of society, so don't make generalizations based upon your own personal beliefs.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  14. Sarcastro

    What does Christmas have to do with this? Neither the elementary, middle, or high school districts here in the suburbs of Chicago celebrate Christmas. College kids at U of Illinois don't get Christmas off. In fact, kids don't even have Christmas plays or anything.

    The only reason they aren't going to school then is because it's WINTER break, not Christmas break. It's the dividing line between semesters. When the semester ends in December, you take a couple weeks off, recover from finals, and go back to school. It's also when the calendar changes from one year to the next, so it's a natural dividing line between semesters.

    If you want to celebrate any holidays during that semester break, cool, go for it. Kwanza, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, whatever falls in that area, God/Allah/Yawah/Festivus bless you. But don't go demanding special privileges above and beyond whatever historical traditions happen to be in place.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Mina

      the district i teach in doesn't change semesters in december, but we still have two weeks off at that time, so your argument doesn't hold for us.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  15. Chris

    I am just curious if there is any Jewish holidays that schools are closed for in NY? Schools are closed on Christmas day but that's a FEDERAL holiday. Sorry, all religions are viewed equally by the legal system in this country. Why should ISLAM be given some special priviledge? Thank you Mayor Bloomberg.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Mina

      all NYC schools are off for yom kippur and rosh hashana.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  16. Sally

    I think this is getting to be ridiculous. Has anyone really the time to take off for every holiday of every religion in the U.S.A? I don't think so. If you want to take the day out of class for religious reasons go for it but don't close the schools because of it. When I was in school and we had bible study, those who did not want to participate, went to the library for an hour. Same here.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  17. Ben

    All religion is fake. You pray and believe to make YOURSELF feel better. Dribble and pathetic dribble at that. I say NO and take away the damn X-mas holiday and whatever else and send the kids to school those extra days. Its a win win, no one complains their stupid religion is trampled on, the separation of church and state is upheld and your kids get more education.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  18. MPF

    As a practicing Catholic I don't see what the harm is in allowing Muslims to recognize their religion as much as Christians do. Adding two additional days off to the school year is not a crazy thing to ask for. Christians are beat up in society just as much as Muslims and it is because in the secular world, people are too afraid to believe in something. Christianity, Islam and Judaism should all be recognized equally in our monotheistic society as they are the three central pillars in the monotheistic world. Don't start gripping for Buddhism and so on and so forth because those are not major religions here in the United States.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:34 am |
    • Stacey

      I would beg to differ – in larger cities (i.e., Atlanta), there are huge pockets of people who practice Buddhism and Hinduism. The Asian population is quite large. Therefore, based on your explanation, school districts should also celebrate holidays for these two religions.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • VintageLydia

      Stacey, I see nothing wrong with school districts who have sizable Buddhist and Hindu populations taking days off for those religions. So long as they are replaced somewhere else (adding days to the school calendar) it should be a non-issue. There is a very large number of Muslims in NYC, so they are asking for the same respect that the Jews and Christians receive in that city.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • BobWhoLikesBeef

      Compared to Islam, Hindus and Buddhists are small in this country. MPF is correct.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  19. Cindy

    With the possible exception of Christmas, which is arguably more of a secular holiday these days than a purely religious one (or at least equally so,) there are no religious holidays on the public calendar. Why should these be added? That said, of course Muslim students should be allowed to take such days off without penalty.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  20. Saganhill

    No, Seperation of church and state means all religions not just christianity. Keep it out of schools and public. As far as you praying in public, there should be some sort of courtousy regarding that. You should keep your religious values in your own home.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:33 am |
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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.