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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. maddbearfan

    My personal opinion is that our forfathers were very wise to seperate church from state for many reasons because chuch has to have things "their" way or the highway. Religion is used as one of the biggest killers of mans entire existance. Used by very greedy self assuming people who think they above all others because "their" god or what ever supreme being they imagine in their heads has told them to. In my opinion, leave all the special holidays that all the religions like to celebrate off the calander and celebrate them on "YOUR" time, not during the school days unless you pay for the schools yourselves and not with my tax money. I don't want to be paying for your religious beliefs.

    July 16, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  2. Mike

    first i am not religous in any way what so ever. now with that said i have spent time in iraq and afganistan and have come across not only hateful people towards us and our many beliefs but also courtious and nice muslims as well. personally we have to think of the future and what we as a race have to do in order to survive. as we advance in technology and science the fact remains that no special person or being put us on this planet. to fight over a couple of holidays for any religion not, just the muslim faith only pushes us farther apart from one another. But one thing always puzzled me, why is americans always the infidel's? what about the other 90% of the world?

    July 16, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  3. Brad

    I must say it's pretty gutsy that the followers of the most backward, hateful and intolerant religion on this planet ask others for tolerance. If they want to pray 5 times a day, then go to some muslim country. Also, muslims are less than 1% of Americans, so I don't see the smallest reason schools should celebrate muslim holidays. It's interesting to see muslims condemning everything they don't like, but at the same time never speak up when scores of people are being killed every day in the name of their sick totalitarian cult.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  4. Russ

    because, and it is really quite simple, THIS IS AMERICA!

    July 14, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  5. Joe

    @Tim I could care less about christians either I am pagan. I believe in many things and NOTHING I have seen of Islam says anything about LOVE. I have see nothing good about, they don't let women walk around free, then have a ban music, stone people and genrally drag there knuckles round, same with Christians. Religion is brainwashing.

    July 13, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Holy Quran

    Hello George;
    You can't point out anyone else religion if you haven't believe on that. We believe and we know that Islam is a perfect religion. Its not a political movement.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:12 am |
  7. Holy Quran

    Wao that lady is very kind. she must know something about Islam with deep heart. We should pray our prayers in neat and clean place as Allah said. If you didn't get the time for go to a neat place then at-least you can take a piece of cloth with you for prayer.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  8. George

    Islam is not a religion, its a political movement.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  9. George

    what next soon they will be demanding Fridays off.

    July 13, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  10. Thomas from Reno

    Religion is the scourge of history. Separation of state and religion must be maintained if we want to be a civilized society.

    July 12, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  11. JLP

    If we let Islam get anymore of a foothold in this country, we will be in dire straights. Muslims are just waiting untill they are the majority and can implement Sharia law. There will be no more free speech or free anything else. Just look at Iran if you want a model of what this country will be under Islam. We are all infidels and we either convert or die.

    July 11, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  12. John

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
  13. AHindu

    If Muslims' faith is granted the holidays, then there are several holidays in Hindu, and Buddhist faiths that deserve to be observed. Then almost in 60 days in the year observance holidays will lead to unproductive days. Whatever already exista is alright. Now, introducing new holdays based on faith will only lead to fights, and radicalism, and disturbance in the society. The Muslim radicals want to intimidate the country. Stop the new arrivals of Muslims into USA.

    July 9, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  14. Kyle

    This is a blatent move in an attempt to un-villify Muslims; who after they spawn enough children, will take over the US just like they will in lets say, France !!!!
    Like rodents, they have numerous children and eventually, they will say that they are in the majority; using our system against us !
    We are soooo blind to this, its just incredible !

    July 9, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  15. Sarah

    Muslims are not unique in that school is in session on certain of their religious holidays– Jewish kids, Hindu kids and Orthodox Christain kids, among others, have the same situation. As an Orthodox Christian myself, I'm not sympathetic to the Muslims on this. We have too short a school year already relative to the rest of the world and that, among other things, accounts for why are children are receiving woefully inadequate educations in the public school system. In addition, the law provides that a student can't be penalized for missing school for religious beliefs. If a test falls on a day when a student will be out for religious reasons, he or she must be given the right to take a make-up test, for example. When I was in school, my mother made certain we had all of our work handed in and any tests taken before a day we might be out for religious reasons. I wish the schools would focus on teaching children math, science and other things required to make our society better, rather than focussing on this non-issue. If Muslims truly want to integrate into our society, do what other religious minorities do and quite whinning about stuff like this.

    July 9, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  16. Polonius

    I'd like to ask Khalid Latif what would happen to me if I go to Mecca and pray to Jesus in the street after dinner? Fight the stealth jihad!

    July 7, 2010 at 12:10 am |
  17. DanW

    We are living at the turning point of turning points in our human history. There are no more distant lands or isolated markets, this is it, it's just us here. If the religious leaders of this world do not preach to embrace everyone of those who herald from other faiths and those who are not faithful, we are going to sink in this battle to swim ashore. Each prophet had his say, the Jews will inherit the Earth, Islam will inherit the Earth, the Christians will inherit the Earth, and they were all right. The people of this world believe in a single G-d, and so too do they believe in many Gods, those who do not believe at all are not overwhelming in numbers. We need to stop this business of hatred and divisiveness if we are going to have any chance at a future here together, and to start down that path we must forgive those that trespass against us, do not forget where we have come from, and thank G-d for everyone and everything in our lives.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
    • MisterWalrus

      You had me until the moment of thanking G-d...I was on your side right up to that point.

      July 8, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  18. cheese4you

    Why don't you just takle a leave on these two day's instead of asking for school holiday's.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  19. Robert

    If we are to consider other religions for out of school days then the government needs to consider them for national holidays as well. Parents can't keep buring their vacation days because the schools want another day off. Kids are already out of school too much as it is. It's too hard for parents to take more and more time off in this economy because the schools are shut down.

    July 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  20. chuckster

    Americans, fight back march to Washington,D.C. and throw our worthless Congress and CNN out on their butts. Send them to Muzlim Countries to continue their stupid political needs!!!!

    July 6, 2010 at 4:28 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.