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. Ccziny

    Reading these Comments I know half of you all dont live in NYC, Other than National Holidays, We Get Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanna Off Our Winter Break is the length it is because it covers Hannukkah and Christmas, and our Spring Break is its length because it covers Passover and Easter..... Is anyone getting the pattern here? Those two Holidays should be added to the laudry list of days NYC public schools are closed, It is all but fair. The real issue is , If anyone proposed taking off no holidays except for National Holidays i am sure our Jewish Mayor would have and extreme issue with that..... Its unacceptable and it needs to change, Thats is exactly why i voted for Bill De Blasio because he is one of the only men on the NYC Council with common decency and SENSE!

    July 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  2. thethinman

    12% small minority wants to enforce their religion on everyone. build your temples, but if you can afford to build it pay the taxes on it, all churches need to pay taxes.

    July 6, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  3. Drew

    Is this a joke? Our education system is broken – we need more school days, not less – Atheism is the answer!

    July 6, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  4. Consumingpeace

    An interesting proposition made by Khalid Latif, yet one still shrouded in the modern liberal discourse of democratic America. Why does one need city representation or school boards to justify how and in what capacity young Muslims can practice their religious observances? Even if NYC representatives were to say “Yes, worship on those dates and cancel school” doesn’t it still place the local powers that be over and above their specific worshipping practices, regulating them on their political terms? I don’t think that’s what religious believers of any persuasion should seek: one’s faith-based observances shouldn’t need a ‘stamp of approval’ from New York, D.C, or any other city for that matter. I’d challenge Mr. Latif’s viewpoints and suggest that NY Muslims become a peaceful and faithful people by worshipping on their holidays irrespective of what the public school system says. Yes, they’d have to be prepared for the consequences of their actions (i.e. missing school, work, etc.), but not before a line is drawn in the sand as to what it means to witness, thereby placing one’s intentions in the faith as opposed to widespread approval. If anything, having thousands of Muslim believers miss school for religious observances would show other religious segments why their “days of obligation” are intrinsically vital.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  5. TotalNonSense

    This is really sad. Not only Islam as INVADED the USA, but american have become so used to it, that the enemies of humanity can now insult us in public? what do we need to stop this? a another civil war? Islam need to be stop at all cost, and letting muslims insulting america 5 times a day is not the ay to do it.

    July 6, 2010 at 10:46 am |
  6. Dave from Newfoundland, Canada.

    JJ......While I agree with what you say, there is a lot of interesting debate....have a look at this site....

    July 6, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  7. Dave from Newfoundland, Canada.

    Are the Americans turning into Canadians? We spend all of our time here in Canada tripping over one another trying to be "nice" and not offend, or discrimiate, or harrass, or hurt anyone's feelings, or make them feel unwelcome. Larry makes a lot of good points in his comments. It's hard to understand a culture that encourages violence against women, violence against their neighbours, violence and hatred against other nations, suicide bombings, stoning people to death, so called "honor killings", chemical and biological weapons testing on prisoners, and a long list of other "not so nice" practices. This has less to do with religion than it does common sense. Regardless if one is a Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, or an atheist.....there are certain things that are simply wrong. And until such time that the threats and actions of certain segments of society become less radical, less violent, and less hostile toward the rest of society....then they don't desereve to be heard. Furthermore, Muslims need to understand that they do not have any special "rights" that supercede everyone else. They are one voice in a nation of many voices. If there should be any special rights, it should be for the other 85% of society who built this country. If a Christian child is not permitted to say a prayer in a public school (which is the case in many provinces) then a Muslim should certainly not have access to special religious holidays. It's gotten so bad, we're not even allowed to say Merry Christmas anymore for fear of offending non-Christians! We have to say Season's Greetings!!!! Come on – get real! America is supposed to be the melting pot for all cultures. And I totally welcome all of them. But part of that deal should simply be (as Australia does) that if you are here in our country, here are the rules of this society. If you can't accept and play by those rules, then go back home. I really don't mean to sound discriminatory, but I just cannot imagine living in a middle eastern country and expecting them to change their culture because I was different! And....it woiuldn't happen! So my message would simply be – Welcome to America....practice whatever religion you wish and you are free to do so, but our culture will not change to suit you. It is what it is....and we need to stop feeling ashamed of it! All people of all faiths have a distinct need, and a right to their own beliefs, and I respect that 100%. But it's not right to try and "impose" your beliefs on me, and then expect me not only to accept them, but to accommodate them. And politicians need to start standing up for what's right, and what they believe....instead of polling opinion, and doing whatever will keep them elected!

    July 6, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  8. JJ

    this country was built on CHRISTIAN values,
    the ones asking for muslim holidays let's see first any of the muslim countries give a christian holiday or in some muslim countries even allows one church to be built.
    yet we are giving them every thing in this Christian country and we are not getting any thing back but trouble.
    I know I grew up in muslim country and we were not even allowed to wear a Cross.

    July 6, 2010 at 3:49 am |
  9. ybs

    Can't wait until the day we have "In Allah we trust" and "So help me Allah!"

    Christian hypocrites will sing a different tune on the separation of church & state!

    July 6, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  10. Educated

    I dont understand how you people can be so ignorant. how can you blame ALL muslims for what a small group did from OVERSEAS. There were no American muslims involved in 911. And for all of you that say we should only recognize christian religions I could bring up the KKK or Westboro Baptist Church, both of which are based on chirstian ideals. Such hypocrites. and another thing, i live in MD and when i was in high school we got off for at least 3 jewish holidays as well

    July 5, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
    • TotalNonSense

      Hey Educated, of course there is no American Muslim involed in 9/11, because there is no such thing as a american muslim. there is so many mulsims terrorist arround the world that they can hardly be called a small group. and what about the rest of the mulsims who do nothing to stop terrorist. Muslims is eighter a terorist or supporting them. that is why they m,ust be stop at all cost and this start byt expulsing them from north america.

      July 6, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • Toby

      That's like insisting that we can't judge all Nazis just because those associated with the SS were complicit in the genocide of the Jews. Islam is a corrupt, divisive, totalitarian ideology that seeks the subjugation of all infidels. The justification for these evils actions are found throughout the Koran and hadith. They are preached by twisted, hateful mullahs every day in mosques throughout the world. Islam is not a religion of peace, nor is it suited to moderation or modernity. To those who acceptance for these sickly, destructive ideas, ask yourself why Islam does not repudiate the idea of martyrdom? Why does Islam not recognize a woman as equal to a man? Why does Islam teach its children that they must hate the Jew? The world cannot peacefully coexist with Islam any more than it can peacefully coexist with a religious ideology that seeks to destroy, oppress, kill, and torture those who do not believe its doctrines.

      July 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
    • Matt

      Educated: You are absolutely correct but no one seems to be listening to you. I am just amazed about all the hateful things that people say. Hate leads to hate. It's better not to hate or feel anger at all. Love and understanding is the correct path. I was moved by what the woman from the tour bus did for the author in the above story. I think she understands what's important in life.

      July 16, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  11. jona

    Mkay... it's over. If we took every holiday for every religious group in America and gave time of for each one it would make ths school and work year about ten days a year. So either it is time to segregate holidays so that businesses and schools carry on without you while you make the CHOICE to take the time off or we eliminate all time off for religious holidays.

    Those are our choices. Period.

    July 5, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  12. sanethinker

    Islam needs to be accomodative of other faith, be compatiable rather than rival to other civilization. Their is trust deficit between other believers and Islam, every one knows who is to blame. Only then can we accomodate their wishes. They should introspect and correct their weird ways of world view as totalitarian exculusive jihadi practice.
    Until then we can consider 9/11 as a day of rememberance of political Islam (cheered by many of its followers across the world). They keep harping not me approach and continue their act across the world like London/Bali/Jakarta/Bombay/Spain/Moscow/Israel bombings, only the victim knows the painful side of this polical Islam.

    July 5, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  13. Michael, Chapel HIll

    It may be the first step towards choping the hands of someone or heads of others. A college Prof.s hand was cut off by Muslim terrorists in the southern state of Kerala for questions about the Prophet.

    July 5, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  14. The Old Wolf

    Islam is worse than kudzu. It's worming its way into our society at every opening. Jihad is being waged at an administrative level, but the goal is the same – to make America submit to Shari'a law. America is a Christian nation – and while the First Amendment affords all people the right to believe as they will, efforts to change the religious fiber of our nation to conform to the rantings of a bloodthirsty pedophile (specifically: Mohammed) should be met with the most ferocious resistance.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  15. E

    Schools can't celebrate Christian holidays. We have to call Easter concerts and holidays "Spring" concerts and holidays. We have to call Christmas concerts and holidays "Winter" concerts and holidays. So, why do we have to celebrate Muslim holidays when we can't celebrate true Christian holidays? What hypocrites our government is. I am sure Muslim nations don't observe Christian holidays. Christianity is a true religion. Islam is not.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  16. E

    This is a Christian nation, not a Muslim nation. Do not make our children observe Muslim holidays.

    July 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  17. Magus

    To the extent that there is reference to Christianity in public schools, there is no notice of God incarnate, nor Christ risen; just Santa Claus and Easter Bunny! Would Muslims like their holy days thus trivialized!!!

    July 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  18. Magus

    While the Jewish holidays are named, the Christian holidays have been made generic. There should be no religious holidays in our public schools. When the UN included the Muslim days, they took away the Christian days (e.g., Good Friday).

    July 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  19. Ynotliberty

    Sorry pal, we're not Europe. You're asking us to cater to your religion? At the risk of sounding offensive, if I went over to Iran, and demanded they observe MY spiritual beliefs, I would be brutally murdered in the most hideous of ways. Put frankly, we're not going to cater to a demographic, of which the majority want us dead. Sorry pal, no dice.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  20. PJ

    No way. The Mayor is right – kids need school more than holidays. If Muslims get holidays then Hindus, Buddists and even Pagans should get their holy days too.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:13 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.