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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. fed up

    I agree w/tcassa. I live in a country founded on Christian faith and beliefs. Political Correctness should have gone by the wayside years ago. Stop the madness. Muslims, if you want your own schools and your own holidays, go to a Muslim country! This country was founded on certain virtues that Christians held close. I say it is way past time that we hold those values close and say, "enough is enough". Sorry Muslims, I'm not buying.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Carl

      No, this country was NOT founded on Christian beliefs. Our founding fathers, such as Jefferson and Franklin saw what a farce religion is.

      Maybe you should go somewhere else.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  2. SomeoneElse

    I have travelled the world and worked on Christmas in countries that don't celebrate it. Our holidays are barely religious anymore (a good thing in my opinion) and are available for everyone. To allow any religious or secular group their own holiday would just be chaos, and to believe there are supposedly educated people who would support such is absurd.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  3. Sam

    IF this is observed, then some one will ask for Hindu holidays, and may be even Scientology holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  4. Islam_religion_of_terror

    France has lost its culture and tradition,Islam took over France. french people are now minority inside their own country..[coming soon in the US]. Muslim are now dictating the law...according to Muslim Quoran... France got what she deserved. but I don't want this to happen in the US.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Carl

      Yeah, let's base our policies around a hatred and mistrust of a religious-ethnic group. It worked great for Germany in the 1930's-40's.

      I swear, replace "Muslim" with "Jew", and some of you posters sound just like Hitler.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • Earnán

      Carl: Please point out to us when and where Jews flew airplanes into buildings in Germany.

      Let us know how many Germans were murdered by Jewish suicide bombers.

      How many Jews left Germany to attend religious-zealot training camps, and then returned to target their fellow citizens?

      The problem with being too "open-minded" is that sometimes your brains fall right out that gaping hole.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:06 am |
    • Islam_religion_of_terror

      Carl, we are fighting to keep our tradition and culture, but terrorist Muslim like you want destruction of any non-mulsim

      July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • Common Sense

      Can't agree more. If they want to develop policies according to Muslim rules, GO BACK TO THEIR OWN COUNTRY!!!!

      July 1, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • csjd56

      What tradition and culture are you fighting to keep? People say America is supposedly founded on Christian beliefs, but it seems like there are plenty of Americans who are anti-God and want nothing to do with faith. I'm not agreeing with the article, but taking an attack approach isn't going to work.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:05 am |
  5. Charles

    Zebula, that is actually a common misconception. Jesus Christ said to be aware of false prophets that many would come. To a Christian that is what the Muslim faith is, and the one that they worship is not the Christian God. To a Christian the Muslim god is more along the lines of Satan.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  6. David

    Maybe they can just celebrate on the closest weekend...that may be a fair compromise

    July 1, 2010 at 9:57 am |
  7. GG

    Its sad to see so many negative comments. You who spread hatred are no different than the 'nut job muslims'.

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

      GG... they are suing your liberal self doubt and multiculturalism (which is noble in a narcissistic way) against you. Dont you see the irony of using your tolerance to defend their intolerance.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Earnán

      GG: I haven't seen any of these "hateful" Americans strapping on suicide vests to murder Muslims.

      Crawl back under your rock.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • @earnan

      They do not have to wear them, they ride them they float them and they fly them

      July 1, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  8. John

    As a muslim i think its only fair that schools do observe the holiday. christians get an entire week off for Christmas and all muslims require just 1 day off. some times that day is on a weekend, so we dont need to miss school.

    Simply saying no to this but then going off for your week long christamas holiday just shows ignorance and fear of other religions

    July 1, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • ApeHanger

      As a secular, American taxpayer, I say take your religion out of the schools that are funded by my taxes. You want to pray, go home and do it their.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • Jen

      Why should the city be expected to have a school system that makes life for many others more inconvenient in order for your students to have the day off? We live in a basically Christian nation, whether or not you like it, and of course, the majority faith is the one which needs to be accomodated most. There are smaller steps that could be taken to accomodate the prayer needs of those students rather than rescheduling a whole school system over the needs of a small minority. If you have an issue with that, you should move elsewhere.

      July 6, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  9. Rach

    I am a Christian and I do see the unfairness in the situation and the inconveience of not being able to celebrate due to having to attend class. Although my school has taken away the Good Friday and so the only religous holday I get off is Christmas because it falls during winter break. I don't know what the situation is in New York but these children should be able to miss class without punishments whether it is for Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. holidays

    July 1, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  10. Douglas

    Separation of Church and State!! Giving days off that are specifically because of a religious connection goes against the establishment clause. If it were up to me...I wouldn't give ANY days off for ANY religion. I'd also knock out some of the other days that kids get off. It's not like EVERYONE here is so devout during the month of December that they are thinking of Jesus...they're thinking of Christmas and presents, let's be real. But seriously, the schools have too many days off anyway...that's why the kids go to the very end of June. I'd rather give up some days and get out in the beginning of June.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  11. svscnn

    Seems to me that it would be fair to simply give each child – regardless of religion – a set of say 2 or 3 "personal" days per year that can be used in addition to the regularly scheduled secular school breaks. Religious families could utilize them as fits their respective religious schedules, and non-religious families can grab a few extra days of their favorite recreational activity.

    Then everything is equal, while no one religion is favored or slighted.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:55 am |
    • Storm

      If each kid has a different "personal day" then that defeats the purpose. Everyone has to miss the same days otherwise the kid still misses class.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:24 am |
  12. Zebula

    Charles, I feel sorry for you, laboring under ignorance and myth as you do. It's arrogant of you to think your religion is more important than another's, too.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  13. Tex21

    I don't live in NY. Even though they seem like a screwed up liberal bunch I think it would be a mistake to give ground to the islamic cancer.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  14. MT

    I'm not sure what we're arguing about. There is no Christmas holiday at schools. It's "Winter" Break, etc. If the one or two Muslim holidays that are added are watered down with secular language then I'm in favor. If we're going to give equal treatment let's make sure it's "equal" equal treatment.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  15. cole007

    Why should NY observe Muslim holidays??? No, I think that whoever decides to come to this country, should follow the rules of this country. ALL RULES, not just the ones they deem important. If Americans start to overpopulate in other countries I doubt that holidays would be added to celebrate that fact. Our holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, etc... are not celebrated in other countries. Now, it is someone's own prerogative to take off any holiday that they would like to. So, you can still observe and celebrate your holiday, but don't expect the entire country/state to do so.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  16. Sam

    12% school kids might b muslim...88% ARE NOT.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  17. PSK

    Here is the deal. We should allow muslim holidays as soon as we can celebrate Christmas in Mecca!

    July 1, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  18. Dave

    They shouldnt get off for Muslim holidays, but I also dont think students should have off for religious holidays of other faiths. Christmas is very much a secular holiday for many, they know what its supposed to represent, but all it is, is presents and family for many. And as for Jewish holidays, dont get me started, a huge proportion of jews dont practice their faith, and some are religious two days a year. I am fairly anti religious so keep your religion at home...all of you. As to the ascertation about Mosques....sure build Mosques, but keep that Whabbism in the desert. The problem is that the majority of mosques constructed worldwide are done so with funding from the Saudis, to preach an intollerant sect of Islam (suprise same one Al-Queda and the Taliban adhere to). Whenever one of these homegrown or immigrant terrorist get caught we can trace them to mosques that sponsered them or supported them. I have no issue with new mosques (other then my general and non denomination specific dislike of all religion) but a big issue with Whabbi Mosques.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  19. faithisprivate

    Christmas is now winter break. Easter is on a Sunday. This debate is further evidence of religions ability to leverage post modern liberal philosophy to the advantage of divisive groups. 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. They live by one rule and expect another for us under the guise of global and American multiculturalism. The truth is, multiculturalism is as much a fallacy as the Muslim faith is or for that matter any religious faith. To each is own but it is a private matter not a public one. Hence no public school should be brought into this tripe.

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

      Very well put. I think you've hit the nail on the head.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  20. Kevin

    I worship ODEN and his son, THOR. I need a few days off from school for my faith.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:53 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.