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. Mark from Middle River

    "hen 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."

    So for you a group must go against its own belief, say that its chief prophet is a con man for you to be open to accept it? That is like the klan saying, as soon as African Americans admit that MLK was a communist that hated democracy and The United States ...then they can celebrate MLK day.

    July 4, 2010 at 9:16 am |
    • Reality


      MLK was real, a leader and a martyr. Gabriel was never real and never will be. And Mohammed was a warmongering, womnanizing Arab. Again when Muslims come to this reality, we can all celebrate.

      July 4, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  2. Reality

    Once again, 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 4, 2010 at 8:24 am |
  3. dwighthuth

    Okay everyone let's head on down to Danny K's and have a few rounds of Tulamore Dew to make you forget about your problems.

    July 4, 2010 at 7:07 am |
  4. Mark from Middle River

    ....we never try to get along? I have to disagree with that one.

    July 4, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  5. flave

    I feel that Muslims are being treated like not part of this society...Jews and Christians can celebrate their fate and schools are shut down but when it comes to Muslims then they can't. What is wrong with this picture? We say that people in middle east are not tolerant. Are we?????????? We say that they hate us. Do we hate them??????? it looks like we always blame them for not getting along with us, but we never ask our selves if we try to get along with them....

    July 4, 2010 at 2:50 am |
  6. Mark from Middle River

    Toby – Same argument same responce. Your statement falls apart because most folks know too much good deeds are done normally by people of faith. It is the same as the klan or the black panthers who only see evil in those from the opposing groups. There are Muslims, Christians , Buddist, Jews and Hindus who do good work in societies around the planet. Some have done bad but folks have woke up to your way of hate Toby. Anyone that has not the ability to judge persons as individuals does not have too much of a mandate and even less support in the end.

    Society wants to live in peace and folks like you are the ones still clutching to old hatreds and fears. One day we will be free of you. And the klan and the panthers... all gone.

    July 4, 2010 at 2:37 am |
  7. AlexNYC

    As a New York City resident and someone near the WTC on 9/11/01 – I have always supported holidays and their contributions to American society. I always thank a Veteran on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and I watch every special on TV that celebrates the life of MLK on his birthday. I am trying to be as PC as possible here, but really – who are we kidding? If there was a Muslim holiday, and "day off" – what "contributions" to our country would we all think of first?? I live in NYC, and it seems like EVERY WEEK we have a new terrorist plot being uncovered, where yes – Muslims want to murder as many Americans as possible. Why would I want my children to have a day off to "honor" them? The religion that in its OWN WORDS teaches hatred and abuse of women is something I'm supposed to want my kids to appreciate? I know what youre all gonna say – that theyre not all terrorists, and that we should be tollerant. Id agree with you, except that even today theres a story about a Muslim actress from the Harry Potter movies being beaten by her father and brothers for the sin of – having a boyfriend. Even though shes in her 20s.

    This article really annoys me – this guy says "it's not easy fitting in". Has anyone EVER regardless of religion, sex, or race EVER had an easy time fitting in – anywhere from junior high school to the"click at work"? Life is about overcoming obstacles, and it isnt always fair. Believe me, I learned that the hard way when I lost a very close friend on 9/11/01.

    July 4, 2010 at 1:54 am |
  8. Toby

    Religions are awash with violent and immoral ideas, and it is the duty and privilege of any caring and thoughtful individual to call out those who look forward to "end times", preach apocalyptic ideas, tell innocent children that they are born guilty of crimes they never committed, preach atonement through human sacrifice of an innocent, and sponge off society by accepting tax breaks for perpetuating nonsense and violence.The problem is that religion "Christianity and Islam in particular) have had a "gravy ride" for far too long. People were afraid to challenge the ridiculous and life-destroying nonsense that these death cults espouse. But then the world awoke on September 11th, when 3000 innocent people were incinerated because 19 Muslim men believed that they were doing the divine work of Allah and that they would be rewarded in paradise. The rules have changed my friend, and the free ride of deference to silly and dangerous ideas has long past. Many of us simply want to live in peace, but recognize that conflicting and divisive doctrines of the supernatural may well take us all down.

    July 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
    • jonathan


      You're a moron for claiming moral equivalency between contemporary Christianity and Islam. Here's the REALITY: There will NEVER be a world without religion, so the best we can do is decide which religions have shown that they can live in relative peace with others in a civil society? Judeo-Christianity has done a fine job of it; Islam, on the other hand, brings trouble wherever it goes.

      Here's an idea: drop your Utopianism and pick a side. And BTW – I'm neither a Jew nor a Christian; I'm just a person who has a pragmatic outlook on things.

      July 4, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  9. chewie

    I have been to the Middle East several times and in several muslim countries. If you could actually see how the "religious police" enforce their peaceful religion you would be aware that they do not allow any difference of opinion concerning islam. All stores must be shut down, all people must be off the street and other strict rules when those 5 times a day prayer times are called on loud speakers that play the call to prayer hymns so loud you can't do anything else anyway.. And you had better pray or you will probable go to jail. Wake up New York ,no muslim school holidays

    July 3, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
  10. Tony Mississippi

    This Country was FOUNDED on Christian values. This is the religion we honor with holidays. There is no way we can give every religion that is now in this country holidays, nobody would ever get anything done.
    Accept the traditions of this country or go to a predominatly Muslim Country that does not recognize Christianity, thats right, just being Christian in most Muslum Countries will get you murdered.
    CNN ....Please stop giving people like this media coverage! Outragous

    July 3, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Toby

      Some of our Founding Fathers were Christians, many were not. Among those who rejected Christian revelation were Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, and John Adams. Regardless, some of the value espoused by Christians ARE a part of our nation's heritage, but the idea that America is a Christian nation or that it was founded with the intent to be a Christian nation is simply not borne out by the facts. Those who founded this nation were escaping religious tyranny in England and did NOT want religion playing any deciding role in the government of our nation. This is precisely why you will find no reference to a deity, Jesus, or the Resurrection in any of our founding documents.

      "Question with boldness even the existence of god, for if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear." ~Thomas Jefferson

      'I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved - the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!"
      - John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

      "The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing and admits of no conclusion."
      - Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1793-5)

      "..and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to [Jesus'] divinity;
      though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble." ~Benjamin Franklin

      July 3, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
    • jonathan

      Radical secularists like Toby will NEVER help our cause in the fight against radical Islam. They are cowards who dislike Western Civilization as much as the terrorists who seek to destroy it,

      July 4, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • jonathan

      And BTW: separation of church and state was meant to give us freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion. Separation of church and state DOES NOT eliminate religion from the public sphere; it means only that the government cannot officially name ANY religion as the 'State' religion. That is ALL that separation of church and state means in American political life.

      Anti-religionists like Toby (most of whom are leftists) insist on transmogrifying the original intention of separation of church and state into a radical secularist agenda, without realizing that some of us actually KNOW SOMETHING about the ideas that form the bedrock of our society. It is important to understand this.

      The Founding Fathers based the Declaration of Independence largely on the theory of Natural Law, as propounded by the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke. (ALL of the Founding Fathers were extremely familiar with Burke. You would not have been considered an educated person in those days unless you had read him.) Regardless of what any of the Founding Fathers believed about organized religion, they felt that our rights were 'God' given, in the sense that they proceeded from Natural Law and existed a-priori, with no need of proof or precedent. This means that despite what any of the founding fathers thought about 'God' or any particular religion, they believed that our rights were 'Divine' in origin. The Founding Fathers were leery of any notion of 'rights' that were derived solely from 'human' invention, because they saw the shortcomings AS WELL as the benefits of Enlightenment thought in Europe. With the knowledge of Enlightenment thought as a double-edged sword, the FF realized that the ONLY way we could have universal rights that were not subject to debate was to establish them as Divine in origin.

      THAT was the true genius of the Founding Fathers. If they did NOT promote this idea, we would STILL be arguing about whether or not we had a right to free speech, a right to own property, etc, etc. When ANY American claims that a particular right is 'inalienable' – regardless of their beliefs about God or religion – they are paying homage to the idea of Divine Rights as derived from the concept of Natural Law and are IMPLICITLY agreeing that our rights are Divine in origin.

      In other words; for any right to be 'inalienable,' it must be Divine in origin. THAT was what the Founding Fathers believed – regardless of the gripes any of them had with organized religion.

      That's the truth, whether atheists and anti-religionists like it or not.

      July 4, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  11. Tensai13

    Islamic holidays during school time? This is what we really don't need, yet more divisive and dangerous religious ideology to undermine our public school education system. A secular education should be compulsory for all Americans. Keep our public schools a religion free zone and we have a much greater chance of creating better educated and more moral citizens.

    July 3, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  12. kaci

    I feel to bring in the Muslim faith is a mistake. They really do not feel like most religions in America. I do believe they have a hidden agenda to kill Americans for their religions. They don't talk about it, but they do hate us. Sharia Law is thing to be despised but now they are trying to make this a law in the U.K. They would do the same here.

    July 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  13. finster

    In the interests of education and peaceful coexistence, let's remove all religious holidays from the calendar and instead designate one day every month as a 'personal day' during which anyone can choose to observe whatever they wish, or to observe nothing at all.

    July 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  14. Khaled Anntar

    Here comes a man who says part of the truth that Quran reveals thundred of years ago. Jesus Chris was never crucified or killed. If Jesus Chris was God's son or favorite being how would God allow His son to be tortured to death; what's a horrible way for a prince to die!!!! Christians need to understand they are responsible for the sins they commit and Jesus Chris was never tortured or died to forgive their sins. Only God and God only, Allah the Almighty who has the power to forgive or punish or do both. Allah the Almighty says in Quran " That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of God";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, God raised him up unto Himself; and God is Exalted in Power, Wise;-“

    July 3, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Karima

      First of all, please read revelation 22:17-19(the original bible). Overall, it states that anyone that changes or alters the bible will be cursed and their name will not be in the "book of life". Mohammed STOLE information from the bible and changed them to his needs and beliefs-which has nothing to do with the real text of the bible. Their belief system is totally different than ours. Secondly, Muslims do not know the REAL love that GOD has for his children. The quran does not say talks about GOD LOVE but maybe 5 times in the quran. In the bible, it talks about GODS love throughout the entire book. Because of the many issues in the biblcal days, the people were not getting it right. GOD wanted to show the people that he loved us so much that he is willing to give up his only son. NOW THATS LOVE!!! As humans, we would never do this, but GOD is not human therefore he is the almighty and powerful. GOD knows that he son was going to heaven, and that his suffering would be short term. GOD was sending a message and a very strong one. Jesus was the perfect exmaple of how all of us are suppose to live. Forgiving, trusting, loving, honest, helpful and pure. THERE IS NOTHING BAD ANYONE CAN SAY ABOUT JESUS-I don't think they can say the same for mohammed knowing his background. Third, Can we have christians holidays in Mulsim countries? If I wanted to go and live in a muslim country will you create my holidays for me beause I am christian?? I don't think so! Fourth, this is a christian country and you have the right to practice whatever religion you choose to. Thats the wonderful part about America. However, the culture of our country is Christian based, and therefore to 'add' would change our system, and it is not right. Most of us respect the culture and the religion, however you are pushing it to make your beliefs into our belief system. It is illegal to sell or talk about christian based information in mulsim countries. People can go to jail and sometimes even die if caught preaching the word of Christ in Muslim countries. So to intergrate both religions in a christian based and approve muslim holidays in a christian environment is totally unacceptable and is not the place for it. Worship your "black box" kabaa, (black meaning death) on your own. No one cares what your worship and most of us respect others and their religions, but when you start pushing your influences and beliefs in our country this is not exceptable in a christian environment. Keep your holidays and enjoy them. We all understand the ramadan, afterall Mohammed copied this from the bible as well, with Christians it is called "lent" –holiday– we fast for 40 days, in which Jesus was in the garden without food and water right before he was crucified, and he knew that he was going to die. Mohammed stories are not original and mimic the true stories of the bible. But what is most amaziing that all the prophets had different journeys in life, why was mohammed coping the lives of the other prophets. I believe he tried to teach the people, but because of greed it became something else.

      July 3, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  15. The_Mick

    "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..." America's Muslim leaders have NOT issued a fatwa (official condemnation) of Osama bin-Laden as the Muslim leaders in Spain, etc. have and a USA Today poll shows that 5% of American Muslims (120,000 people) feel that violence against the USA is justified. So how has the Muslim community attempted to fit into mainstream society?

    July 3, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  16. Ashley

    To put it simply the school breaks and days off coincide with Judeo-Christian holidays with summer vacation which had to with farmers and growing season. There really isn't really a separation of church and state, no matter what they say.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  17. jonathan

    One thing we need to do is expose and punish homegrown, America-hating radical leftists who support fascists like Imam Khalid. The supporters of freedom need to start exercising their freedoms!!

    We could start with Hezbollah recruitment centers like Columbia University and NYU.

    July 3, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  18. bright godwins, southern nigeria

    what r u ppl arguing about? ppl r behaeded, deported or even persecuted for christianizing in islamic nations, where is their conscience should they ask 4 equal rights in a non moslem world?

    July 3, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  19. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Um about my name, i just kinda picked it cause it was catchy. I was thinking of PhillWhoLikesToChill too so i flipped a coin, I got tails so I'm BobWhoLIkesBeef 🙂 Anyways, yeah I read that stuff about the Banu Tribe 1 or 2 years ago so I knew i wouldn't remember everything.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:33 am |
  20. lluvia

    None of the states or school districts celebrate any religious holidays. Why should this be any different. Call your child in as not attending school and take an absence like the jewish do. Even school prayer was eliminated why would this take precedence. Its separation of chruch and state remember.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:28 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.