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. Colin

    Anyone here read the story yesterday about how we are not hated anymore? Get over yourselves and learn to accept those things from elsewhere. This is a country of immigrants, that assimilated, oh nevermind that word is too big for your southern elementary school education. You want to preach about how they should play by our rules, why not play by the rules of the native americans, they were here first, or how about by the rules of the Irish immigrants they came here before the polish ones, or how about remembering where this country came from, who we were, and what we stood for, and then getting out of our own way to allow our country to be restored to the glory that it once was.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:47 am |
    • AmericaMan

      When you get out of bed in the morning, assuming you do, do you have trouble finding your rear end with both hands? Based on your stupid post I would judge you do have a hard time finding one cheek let alone both of them.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:19 am |
  2. jeff

    L Ron Hubbard's birthday should be a national holiday.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  3. David

    Yeayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy more time off school! Can we get these days observed at my work place too? :))))))))

    July 1, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  4. Edward

    @richunix It's ironic that you're so angry at Muslims and proclaim that Islam is not a religion because it promotes hatred because you've seen it at work in Afghanistan and Iraq. I assume that you're Christian? Do you know that you're religion is no better and that many times all throughout history your religion has been used as a basis for the slaughter of innocents all in the name of god? Witches and Pagan were hunted down and burned to death during the crusades simply because they did not practice your religion. There is nothing more dangerous than someone who thinks that they know what god thinks and that god is on thier side and opposed to anyone else who doesn't think like them because to that person there are no repercussions for their action since god is with them. The fact of the matter is that ALL religions espouse the kind of intolerance that you're speaking out against.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  5. Larry Walsh

    when you nut job muslims stop blowing up the world an learn that there's more to life than religion, then we'll talk about intergrating you into decent society.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • Colin

      How about when the nut job Catholics stop molesting children, we can integrate them too.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • Colin

      The fact of it is that many religions have extremists, and people who are anything but perfect, we cannot punish the whole because of a few, that is the policy they use in Kindergarten, why would we apply that to adults?

      July 1, 2010 at 9:50 am |
    • Karima

      Colin, where do you think the cathloic learned it from. Mohammed molested thousands of 8 year old girls, and married a 8 year old, and a 13 year old. GOD really punished Mohammed by not giving him ANY SONS...he had 8 children and all of them were GIRLS. Amazing, if he was a prophet don't youthink GOD would have granted him a son to pass down his teachings? That was the culture back then. He had to get his daughter's husband to keep his teachings going and then he DIED three years after Mohammed, his teachings were never suppose to grow, thats why the religion stays in AFRICA. Where the people have no choice no freedom, and uneducated. where the govenment controls what the people listen to and watch. REMEMBER the tribe that Mohammed came from worshipped cows and animals. They had no choice when Mohammed came back from living with his relatives that the people thought that he was a king cause he SOUNDED educated by his uncle who was a christian. He deceived the people because they were uneducated. Do you know how EASY it is too teach stupid people??? They will believe anything NEW.

      July 3, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  6. bjwoll

    I didn't know God founded America. I thought is was men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. I can't believe my history teachers lied to me all those years ago. Thanks for setting me straight.

    Speaking of teachers, you should focus less on religion and go back to school. Your grammar is terrible.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  7. ANov

    A lot of these responses are from people who does not live in NY or NJ, Public School in these area have holidays for Ros Hassanah and Yom Kippur already. Even for non Jew students. What he's asking is not unreasonable given the situation.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  8. red

    First, show good effort in promoting and supporting the existence and practice of quality education within all Muslim countries then come bark up our tree.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  9. clammer

    if public schools must accomodate all faiths then logically religion must have no place in public schools because there are people who have absolutely no religious affiliations. all or none and none is the best way to accomodate everyone.

    especially since religion has caused so much trouble in the world, it would benefit us all if it weren't taught to children in the first place even by their parents in the home or house of worship. TRUE STORY!!!

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  10. Sam

    what do u mean by major religion? all the religion r major...juss bcoz u r muslim , ur religion is major n others r not...what mayor bloomberg did was right...and abt the construction site, why shouldn't they protest? do u even know who is investing in the construction of the mosque? father of the hijacker...tell me one thing dude, i m christian..if i bomb ur house n my father comes to ur house n ask ur dad to allow him to make a church there , will he allow it? juss bcoz u r muslim, u dont have any right to call any religion minor or major..all religion r equal bcoz for the people who r christian, christianty is major religion, muslim people muslim religion is major, for jews their religion is bigger, for hindu their religion is bigger..so plse dont say that ur is major...learn to respect others religion too.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  11. MelCoast

    I have no problem with this except that schools do not close for religious holidays. Schools close for federally recognized holidays. Now that does include Christmas but no one can argue that today's government and families do not recognize Christmas as anything other than a commercial gift giving holiday. So I think that if the gentleman wants to have the school recognize the Muslim holiday then he needs to take it to the government. I am a Christian living in the Bible Belt (please hold your insults and God hating until I finish) but I have no problem with schools recognizing Muslim or Jewish holidays. I know how important my holidays are to me and how sad I would be to not have a day to recognize those with my family so I understand his fight.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • MelCoast

      Hmm well I take some of that back. Growing up on the coast we did get the day off for Mardi Gras, woo hoo!!!

      July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  12. eric

    you harbor a lot of hatred that you should really let go of, sir.

    but you are right... "muslim" is not a religion.... islam, however, is and it is practiced by millions of americans that are all around you in every walk of life. unless you are seriously considering murdering millions of innocent americans for practicing their faith of choice (which is our right, by the way) i suggest you keep your hateful ideas to yourself.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  13. Bojangles

    Alf, I am not sure what any comparision to Saudi Arabia's guidelines has to do with this(which you don't even seem to know). The fact here is that there seems to be a double standard. Simple as that.

    Jeff, What fantasies are you talking about? If you replaced "Eid" with "christmas", would it still be a fantasy to be left "out of our schools"?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  14. JohnGalt

    Alf Jamb: We're not in Saudi Arabia, we're in the United States. They have many rules and customs that would not fly here (e.g. women aren't allowed to drive). You need to examine this request on the basis of it's own merits, based on facts and reality in this country. We should apply the same rules to all religious holidays – ignore them, since honoring one means we need to honor them all. But the reality is Christmas is so culturally ingrained we wouldn't be able to undo it. But if we do not celebrate Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, etc holidays, then Muslim holidays are no exception. But if we celebrate the others, then we should honor the Muslim request. We can make up the days in summer, since kids in America are already well behind the curve with respect to the number of days/hours our children spend in school compared to other countries.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  15. me

    JUST BECAUSE YOU CAPITALIZE EVERYTHING DOESN'T MEAN IT IS RIGHT! Unless you have actually spoken to someone who is Muslim, and I mean spoken to, not lectured or yelled at, then you can't generalize what their religion means. Who cares if they believe in a "little man in the sky". If they are doing it peacefully, why not let them practice their religion? And before anyone says they are not doing it peacefully, don't forget that Christians bomb abortion clinics. Every religion has wacky fundamentalists.

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

      Ask any muslim which anti-jihad group is their favorite. There answer... um. thats right there are none. This religion silently capitulates the belief that Allah is the supreme god of all and that ALL lands are rightfully his (meaning theirs).

      July 1, 2010 at 10:28 am |
    • Eric

      Really? Tell me-in raw date-how many abortion clinics were blown up by those "fanatic Christians" this year? And then tell me how many Muslim suicide bomb attacks there were around the world? Wake up.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  16. msgt 69

    Mabey we can get the kids in saudi to take the day off for the 4th of july...muslim is evil, let's get real people..

    July 1, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  17. Raman

    You are absolutely correct Imam. Why Not? BTW, Since we are going all out, we should also extend this to other religions. Being a hindu with 330,000 deities, we would never have to go to school. AWESOME.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  18. AJ

    The author must know that, we don't care if he prays five times a day or fifty times a day because that doesn't make him any good or bad. Just don't kill innocent people in the name of islam. Why muslims don't report terrorist activity to police like other US citizen. History says that each terrorist had connections to some mosque, why don't other so called "good muslims" report it instead they keep mum.

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

      It's because there is no such thing as a "moderate" muslim. They will never turn over the criminals in their midst, because on some level, they are aligned with them. They may not be plotting terrorist acts, but they sure as hell arent going to prevent them, either.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  19. tcassa

    If schools keep adding more holidays, kids won't have a summer anymore. Do muslims know why we have summers off? More American history. Too much to ask, I know.

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

      To save the money on air conditioning, oh wait to work the farms, oh wait cuz it got damn hot in those schools back in the 1800's. Oh right all of those answers. It was for work, so you say if they need time out of school to plow the feilds then it is okay?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  20. firstcall97

    I was under the impression that for the past several years, If you had a religious observance you took it. When you go back to school your parents write a little note for you stating why you were gone.
    Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Zoroastrianism, doesn’t matter what you are observing as long as you have a parents note.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:43 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.