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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. flycatcher

    My opinion, Far too many religious holidays already, if all religions were incorporated there would be no school, and it would be called education breaks instead. If your holiday schedule does not fit with in those already established then move to where yours are celebrated if they are so important to you. You claim to be a long time resident who has no problem adapting your prayer to the busy streets getting underfoot of busy people bustling around go to the bathroom and get in a quickie.

    July 5, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  2. One Whose Name Means Beloved of God

    Question:

    what do the teachers feel about this? just from the perspective of how they schedule tests, give lessons, plan for the next few months? Yes–we have winter break that happens to be around Christmas. But lots of people here assume that that break serves no educational purpose–like planning for the next 5 months? I'm betting every teacher in the US makes good use of that "break".

    I notice that no one is arguing that we get summers off for religious purposes at least. How about we actually look at what would make sense for the education of our children? How often do the teachers need time to plan? How often do the kids need a break? (I always thought spring break was stupid..) Can we come to a practical solution regarding family observations/appointments/traditions? Such as–every kid gets 5 days off a year–to use at their discretion. That way each family could prioritize what things really matter to them.

    July 5, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Shell

      Summer breaks were put in place for farmers and their children to be able to work the fields. :o) Strange but true.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • verify

      The Muslim students can certainly take off from school on their holidays without retribution. They can get the assignments and make up the work just like if they were out sick for the day.

      I'm pretty sure that teachers must alter their lesson plans once in a while - say if 10% of the class is out with the flu - I think they would use the day more for review for the students who are present.

      July 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  3. sanethinker

    Islam needs to learm to coexist with other religiion, respect them and never look through its narrow prism. Never give excuse of "its not me" approach. This escapism has caused great pain for others politically and economically. Why does US keep shelling out trillions of $$$ for the WOT for which the problem lied deep inside Islamic belief. All the extremist on 9/11 and other recernt act have shouted AOA and comminted this act. They were purely inspired by the belief. Check with their oraganisation, they are more than willing to spew venom of injustice and reason for such insane cause/jihad.

    July 5, 2010 at 8:34 am |
  4. LarissaFae

    For all those who are telling Muslims to go back to the countries they came from ... uhm ... I was born in Utah. I've never left America. I can't go back to the country I was born in, because I've never left it in the first place. Unless you think that the Mormons were successful in their attempts to make Utah its own sovereign nation, in which case you've been reading the wrong history books.

    So ... just sayin'. You know. It's possible to have been born in America, and to be able to trace one's family migration to America in the mid-1800's at the latest, and still be Muslim. And white, of European descent.

    Y'know. Just sayin'.

    July 5, 2010 at 6:20 am |
  5. Mark from Middle River

    Bob- Do not forget the internet can become the final part of the circle in some peoples lives. Its one thing to surround them selves with folks that think and act just as they do. The internet allows you to add media to validate your group. In the old times days it was a lone or maybe two news paper towns. If a person wanted news he or she had to go to this one paper. That one paper would shape and manipulate the general public whichever way it wanted to go.

    Now days a person can have a specific view point and within days he or she can create bonds with those that feel the same as them. Now the last part is that now that same person can find news media that just does not informs to fit him or her.

    July 5, 2010 at 4:10 am |
  6. BobWhoLikesBeef

    The internet interests me. Why? Many people who are against Islam here wouldn't dream of openly letting it be know, for fear of discrimination. In the internet you can express your anger at a religion and an ethnic group, and you will face no punishment.
    In the internet,i can talk without anyone interrupting what I'm saying right now. The internet is a way to express what your feeling, and you can express it confidently. In the internet I could just sit down and have a conversation with someone about something i believe in. I love how the internet amuses me.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  7. Mark from Middle River

    RIseAgainst – "When concerning Muslims"

    Welcome to the party kid. As a African American I can say the same thing. In fact there are few people in society that can not point to some part of themselves and give an example of the media focusing on a negative stereotypical image. Negative sells and a commercial spots to entice people to watch the six o'clock news works better when you scare the heck out of folks.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:21 am |
  8. BobWhoLikesBeef

    A lot of times people in America do these attempted suicide bombings, and shooting rampages because they don't feel they fit in. Same with many terrorists, they could just leave this world and the service they did to Allah would grant them their hearts desires, and they would never struggle again. They believe fighting non-Muslims is a free ticket to heaven. Luckily my parents grew up better than they did, and they didn't have those "i don't belong here feelings". So instead of killing people, they are now doctors. We need to reach out to American kids before these deep negative thoughts cross into their mind. They need to feel accepted. Because I have seen with my own eyes, and firsthand how life is when you aren't accepted. We must change this, we must accept anyone and everyone and make an impact when they are children, because thats what will affect them for the rest of their lives.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:17 am |
  9. BobWhoLikesBeef

    Guys, just telling everyone, whether your Christian, Muslim, Jew etc. this article isn't meant to discuss about whether Jesus lived as god or as a Prophet or anything like that. Its discussing if it is just for NYC schools to have religious holidays for two days important to Islam.

    Muslim is Muslim. Terrorist is terrorist. You are relating a belief with a position or definition if you say Muslim's are terrorists. Unfortunetely the discrimination towards Muslims will only benefit top terrorist leaders like Osama Bin Laden, the most wanted man in the world. It takes a mastermind to plan something like 9/11. Discrimination will only separate Americans, much like in the 60's, but this time its between supporters of Islams existence, and those who want it exterminated.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:10 am |
  10. RIseAgainst

    @AlecNYC:

    I can understand how you feel, but please don't generalize. When concerning Muslims. why is it that our media only portrays all the bad things that happen and always is clear to define the word Muslim in it? I understand that Islam and Muslims have a lot of negative attention to their names but honestly I can tell you that not all Muslims are like that. Yes there are the unfortunate group that nevertheless fail to live up to terrible stereotypes but I assure you that not all of us are like that. Please judge people individually. 9/11 was a horrible day for all us, and there is not a day I do not wish it didn't happen. There is no reason for anybody to rejoice on that day, and shame on those who celebrate the grief and tragedy that struck our nation. Also, I am very sorry to hear that you lost a loved one on that day. May they rest in peace.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:59 am |
    • Ynotliberty

      Of course not all Muslims are bad people, but you say we shouldn't generalize, even though there is an enormous demographic of Muslim extremists that want us dead. What's worse, the good Muslims of which you speak don't even speak out against the extremists, it being taboo to do so. In the end, their religion wants total conversion, or total death, to any and all that do not share their belief. They even rampantly kill their own people for the most shallow of reasons. Just what are we supposed to do? Not generalize? Treat everyone with respect and decency, even when their basic creed seeks to convert us or kill us? This view might sound ignorant to you, but then again, trying to play the old "oh their mostly good people, there's just a few bad apples" card sounds very ignorant to me... If I demanded my religion to be honored in a Muslim country, I would be killed. I want peace and understanding as much as the next, but numbers do not lie.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  11. sanethinker

    The other side of Islam is interference, it has created problem where ever they existed as minority. As majority they have acted similar like Hitler did to Jews. No rights for minority, equality for other sects among them and interpreting beliefs in narrow prism of its dominant sects like Deobandi, Salafi, Wahabi etc. What else others can expect out if it?

    July 4, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  12. HeIsGod

    @ muslims are vermin – I sure feel so sorry for you. You are so hateful and bitter. You sure have a very filthy heart! What makes you better than Muslims? May Jesus Christ have Mercy on your soul!! Even a pig has a better heart than you!

    July 4, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
    • Ynotliberty

      Now I'm not going to stand up for this guy, but look at you. You claim to be a Christian, and yet you cast such harsh judgement on another? I believe your bible says to judge not, lest ye be judged, am I wrong here? Aren't you supposed to pray for those with loathsome souls, not bitterly attack them in manners which assume you can see into their very soul? If I am wrong here, then please, by all means, enlighten me.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  13. muslims are vermin

    muslims are subhuman filth and need to be viewed and treated as such, an infestation of vermin that needs to be exterminated from the face of the earth.

    the muslim pig is unfit to breath the same air as a human being.

    July 4, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • Ynotliberty

      And as for you... It is ok to fear, as there is much to fear, but I can only hope you can find a way to purge yourself of this hate, or else it will consume you. You will become that which you hate. I'm sure you don't want that...

      July 5, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  14. HeIsGod

    @ Jahn – Thank you for your kindness, same to you!!

    July 4, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  15. Jahn

    As Americans, 6 million strong (3 % of the population) and growing Muslims should be treated like any other Americans no more or less. All Americans should be allowed to take off on Eid so they can celebrate Eid with their friends and family. Lets celebrate and enjoy life together.

    July 4, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      Thank you, Jahn, well said.

      July 4, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
    • Ynotliberty

      You stand up for Muslim holidays... are you aware that many Christians don't even get their holidays off, many hard working Americans are forced to work during their holidays... I'm all for equality, but you are preaching to cater to Muslims, in effect, giving them more rights to holidays than their Christian counterparts. Am I wrong here?

      July 5, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  16. sanethinker

    Lets us keep Sept 11 as day of rememberance, specially for our muslim friends to control their minority amoung them. unless they prove they are able to manage they should not deserve any other holiday they think they deserve. Nothing, Nada, Zilch.

    July 4, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
    • secular

      I agree with you

      July 4, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
    • HeIsGod

      You know, your comment is very pathetic! How can you blame all Muslims for what these fools did on 9/11? That is so un-American. Don't you know that this was prophesied in March of 2001? Also, the very Word of God speaks that this would happen because of the sins of America.

      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."

      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 4, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
    • Ynotliberty

      HAHAHA! Helsgod- the prophecy you speak of mentions towers... and little else concerning anything. Most buildings on this planet can be considered towers, and you don't see the coincidence here? It also says that all life shall cease... we're still here aren't we? Where are the streams of water flowing on ever lofty mountain, on every hill? If you truly think god caused 9/11, then your god must be a shallow, depraved warlord to say the least. None I would want to worship...

      July 5, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  17. m

    This article isn't clear. Are they asking for all NYC public schools to be closed those days or that those days are approved religious absences?

    No one can be discriminated for their religious beliefs in this country. No one has to choose between their religious beliefs and school/work.

    Are there many Muslim teachers in the system? Would it be difficult to find enough subs to fill in on those days? If so the schools should be closed. If not, then probably not.

    July 4, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
  18. Jen

    There is certainly a good argument to be made to support bringing ALL religious holidays into the school calendar, and in today's culture, that might well be the only option we have to keep everyone happy. However, to do that, we'd have to have students in school year round just to make up for the holidays, and you'd still have atheists who would be offended. Its 'a no win situation, and it's just not realistic, nor is it necessary. Christianity is and has always been the main religion here, so Christian holidays are the ones you'd expect to see celebrated, the same as you'd expect to see Muslim holidays celebrated in a Muslim country or Jewish holidays celebrated in Israel. There's nothing WRONG with that. Noone's saying that anyone MUST believe in the holiday, only that they live in a country where that is the tradition. Certainly, a child who wanted to take a few minutes alone to pray on a certain day should and could be accommodated, but to make it a day off for ALL students? There's no need.

    July 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
  19. Jabba

    Quote : I’m looking forward to the day that it’s celebration—not contention—that brings us together.

    Why muslims are always looking for contention and not acceptance. If you are in a non-religious country, accept it. Have your festival on the weekends like other faiths do.

    July 4, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Ynotliberty

      Thanks Hut! You've made more sense than anyone else here, myself included

      July 5, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  20. lovelyme

    I totally love this idea if Muslims have to have off for other holidays they should be aloud off for theirs. How about let them go to school on other holidays so they can be off without consider being absent when their Holidays come.

    July 4, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
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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.