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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. GOD

    Mohamed was a pedophile wasn't he? didn't they have their way with little boys and girls back then? A to think people follow an idiot like him? Really...what has come from that region? Liars, thieves, murderers for thousands of years? what else? who in their right mind would pay attention to this crap? This is America, if you don't like the rules here, go back to where you came from and get murdered by your own for things as innocent as reading a book, or watching t.v.! listening to the radio! (oh I forgot, they don't approve of those things over there! and you could be stoned or hung. So Civilized aren't they?)

    July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
    • Gregg

      All religions come from "that region". Look who is so ignorant now. And how dare you use God's name for trash such as this. Mathematics, philosophy, rhetoric, science, and literature, all were developed in that region before ancient rome and greece. Regardless of the religion, or factual account, our world, our races, were born there, created there, and flourished there.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:57 am |
    • Joe

      what has come from that region?

      Uhm...Christianity

      July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  2. McCluck

    You can have days off only if my religion has days off too.

    I would like to propose an alternative to other religions. Pink unicorns arguably are a much better deity. Here is why.

    -They have just as much proof for their existence.
    -The leaders of their church are not affiliated with the protection of pedophiles.
    -There have been few deaths and wars in the name of the pink unicorns
    -They don’t kill people who don’t agree with them.
    -They don’t have a hoard of complete idiot bigots following them who have found a way to justify their hatred by cherry picking and quoting scripture out of context.

    Most important: They are much prettier and smell like cotton candy.

    We should only address real things with our policies. Not fairytales. Since the burden of proof is on those who believe all religion must be treated as false until proven otherwise. Get rid of holidays that endorse any specific religion as they have no place as national holidays. Give people a designated amount of spiritual days or something.-That way people who believe in nonsense ideas can use them as they please. Me? I’ll just be taking relaxing days where I will pay homage to real things such as beer.

    Separation of church and state- lol we are not even close yet

    July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  3. MA

    So, Muslims are settlers, now? What are Americans? Actually, what were they a little over 200 years ago?

    The guy based his argument on statistics. Officials are stating that 12% of students in ny schools are muslims, therefore these two days should be included in the calendar. What's the issue with this argument/proposition? Unfortunately, it's a tad late for Muslims to work out a week/two-week holiday to cover both holidays because 1) Muslim holidays are based on lunar calendars, and 2) these two holidays in particular are almost 3 months apart.

    ..and really? now we're comparing the US to KSA? ... i rest my case.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  4. Rabbi David

    As a Rabbi, I do have somewhat of an axe to grind here, but Jews are not the majority in this country.Respect for any person's belief is important.Mixing state holidays and religions is a bad idea.Somebody is going to get left out and be upset.Where does it end? A national "Gay Day?" or a special day for the physically challenged, then what about the intellectually challenged? Regardless of religion,orientation or affiliation this just will not satisfy everybody.This society has a burr on to make everybody happy and that ain't EVER going to happen! Lets just have days off that celebrate nothing other than freedom to exist in peace.Oh, thats right, they are called weekends!

    July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  5. Chimike

    The amount of hatred being spewed on here is sickening. Apparently the phrase "pursuit of happiness" shouldn't be extended to all Americans, judging by the comments on this article. And telling people to "go back where they came from?" Really? This hatred is unacceptable.

    With that said, religion has no place in public schools unless its being taught in the same way they teach Greek Mythology. If you'd like to use a religious holiday to keep your kid home from school, then you should be able to call your child in sick. But it should not prevent the education of any of the other students who don't celebrate it.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
  6. Zebula

    You do realize that Muslims worship the same God that you do, right?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:52 am |
    • Kathleen

      You folks can go back and forth with whose religion is the superior when the fact of the matter is there is only one God. He may even be alien for all we know. However, it's a God that frowns upon anyone who straps on a vest to blow up and kill innocent people. Get out and take your stench with you.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:55 am |
      • Imbecile

        So, there's only one god, and he's yours, huh?

        I prefer, "there is no god."

        July 1, 2010 at 11:03 am |
      • Adam

        I love this girl!

        July 1, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  7. clammer

    l ron hubbard comment is great.

    this is what religion is good for....bickering. on a higher level the bickering turns to mass murder and all sorts of ills committed by all religions since the dawn of time. this is what needs to be taught in public schools!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!why is this so hard to understand?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  8. Grant

    It's seeing closed-minded comments like these that make me very disappointed. Intolerance towards Muslims (as with any other person) is pathetic, and to hide behind the terrorism flag is cowardly. You write off an entire race of people based on the actions of some. Americans as a nation aren't exactly squeaky clean either, however that doesn't mean I'll write off all of you.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • faithisprivate

      Hey Grant...
      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). Wake up this is their war of persistence that is being won on one PC front after another.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  9. Charles

    Saganhill, I really feel sorry for you. You have obviously had some bad experiences and hate God. That is what most Atheist do without realizing it. There is always a part of the Atheist that doubts because it would take true arrogance to claim you know there is no God. It is actually not much difference than your claim of the arrogance of those who believe. I think if you can come to grips with your hatred you may see that there are people of faith who may know a little more than you.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  10. nymets

    No way. I am tolerant of ALL religious beliefs except those of Islam. No other religions at this point in history are causing the world so much pain, violence, and horror. As far as I am concerned, if you want to practice your backwards religion that was founded by a pedophile, abuses women and advocates violence, then go do it somewhere else. I don't even really want to see your children in school next to mine, but since I have no control over that, keep your stone throwing, women hating views in the middle east where they belong.

    As for your little "protesting the building of our mosques" comment. You REALLY disgust me. This from a person who practices a religion that has millions of it's adherents everywhere calling for the death of anyone who draws their child touching, slave owning prophet, but is upset when new yorkers are mad about the building of a mosque (which as everyone knows, become hotbeds of islamic fundamentalist education) right next to the spot that your pathetic comrades killed thousands of innocent people. Seriously, this country would be a better place if you all left, and this world a better place if your insane pedophile of a prophet was never born. Everyone knows that, and no one wants to say it.

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

      So no pedophiles in Catholicism?

      July 1, 2010 at 9:54 am |
    • nymets

      Are those priests the people who foudned Christianity/ Catholicism. Does christianity explicitly say pedophila is ok? No. Islam, on the other hand, allows for children as young as 9 to be married, using the logic that sense mohammed did it, so can we. Use your brain before you open your mouth, if you have one that hasn't been soaked beyond all recognition with the importance of political correctness.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • DL

      My sentiments exactly...I have friends in Europe, where Muslims openly roam the streets and attack them, these people do not assimilate..Europe is waking up, trying to elect leaders to remove them (which are being murdered by Muslims). It's time the world stands up and sends them home.

      July 6, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  11. Islam_religion_of_terror

    They islamized Europe .Estimated in 2015 Muslim populations will be above 50%. Europe has lost their culture, trasition and freedome...and now they coming to the US...Go Obama.. open more doors to the muslim world.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  12. Sally Jane Richards

    It's all happening – what next – prayer times set aside for Muslim students during school, wash basins like at University of Minnesota so they don't try to wash their feet before praying in the school basins for washing hands, demands for special cafeteria food, demands that girls cover their heads, then faces, then disappear from school altogether, wake up New York and hold on to our great city before they knock down the rest of the buildings!

    July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • but, seriously

      But, Sally Jane, aren't the problems with America today due to the fact thaat we took prayer out of the schools?

      July 2, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  13. Grego

    If you want your kid to be out of school on your particular faith's holiday, you can do what Jews and people of many other faiths do: keep your kid out that day. What's the big deal?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • faithisprivate

      exactly it is a private matter. Muslims have made it clear.... use American multiculturalism and liberal self doubt to infiltrate and subvert through a new majority based on the guise of world peace. That is peace under the singular rule of Allah of course. Lets draw a line and stick to it. We are dealing with a religion that is intolerant does anyone else see the irony of using our tolerance to defend their intolerance.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  14. spacebunny

    I came into my marriage with an open mind but now I realize that just because Westerners are willing to tolerate Muslims doesn't mean most of them will give you the same courtesy. I have heard my husband say the most ugly and ignorant things about Jews, Christians, and Westerners in general. Making Muslim holidays part of the school calendar doesn't show the U.S. is tolerant, it is a message to Muslims that America is ready to accept Islam–believe me, that is not something most Americans want. It took me 5 years of marriage to a Muslim and being around his friends and family to understand how Muslims really think. Muslim school calendars are a BAD idea.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • nymets

      See, all these people calling for tolerance of the poor innocent muslims probably have ZERO first hand experience. Their "tolerance" will eventually be the downfall of this country. Thank you for speaking out on your real life experiences.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:53 am |
    • Spike

      Those calling for accepting this Muslim push are what Lenin called useful idiots. They are stupid Western liberals willing to accomodate the enemy. And yes, they are the enemy. For them there are two worlds, Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb. To Muslims there is their world, the house of Islam, and there is ours, the house of war (where Muslims go to fight).

      July 1, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  15. ApeHanger

    This idea he's floating about celebrating Muslim holidays in schools (in New York or otherwise) is all about pushing Islam into the faces of children and attempting to indoctrinate them. Perhaps he sees this as a method to raise a new generation of jihadists.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  16. ayse

    If you are truly a Muslim you should know not to pray in the middle of a dirty street. You should also know you don’t have to interrupt other people’s lives so that you can pray. Islam is a very tolerant religion and allows you to catch up the prayers you missed during day at night. Again if you were truly a Muslim you would have known this too.

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

      Islam is a very tolerant religion...

      Really? Could have fooled me and millions others.

      July 1, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  17. Jane

    Separation of Church and State is a fundamental foundation on which this country was built. If you cannot understand what that means you have not earned the right to live here.

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

      One more time, Separation of Church and state is not in the Constitution.

      July 9, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  18. HI

    Islam is a cult and not a religion. It's promotion needs to be avoided.

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

      Islam is a false religion created by a false prophet for the purpose of conquest and political domination.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • question

      @Spike Would you please elaborate why Islam is a FALSE religion? How do you know yours is a true religion? Can you prove them? Or it is just your FAITH tells you so.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  19. Hindu

    Im hindu and Im sure there are just as many Hindus in NYC if not more than the Muslim community. You dont see them rallying anywhere. Also Im from India where you have the Muslim Festival Holidays but you dont see that happening in Pakistan where there are still a few Hindus. Dont be a hypocrite. And also like someone before me said when Muslims are ready to give equal rights to women (examine your own marriage and divorce contracts)then maybe rest of teh world can feel taht they are part of the same society. You just want all the good things that come from being a part of the society without mbeing part of it.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • dr.zor

      In Pakistan, We celebrate holi, rakhsha bandan,Diwali, Christmas. it shameful to see why Indians and Pakistani are just looking for reasons to attack each other not knowing you are people of same land eat same food wear similar clothing speak same languages. As far as america goes i don't think we need Muslim holiday as they change every year and kids need more time in school, exception should only be only, give them an excuse absence if they wish. Now i am not going to embrace you how good marriages are India, although remote areas still burn women alive as there men die, why do women have to wear white clothing forever after her husband dies or why is she considered bad luck. why do you have to pay money to guys family to get a girl married and that still happens my friend just paid 20K to get his sister married. we all have issues my friend its until we stop distinguishing ourselves from other we cannot create peace in this world. i hope i didn't offend you......

      July 1, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  20. Maria Alfonso

    No and No. Why should we have to accomdate them? Please. The religion those people praise promotes hate and murder. Our troops are dying becuase of these people. Besides they already have 9/11 to celebrate, those POS.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:48 am |
    • All American

      Those troops you mention are mostly Christian... who happily slaughter innocent Moslems for God and Country. Make no mistake: All religion is evil. The only difference between Al Quaeda and the Pentagon is the size of the budget.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:07 am |
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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.