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. Laks

    When I was a kid I Asked my dad why I have to wear Uniform to the school. He explained about "inculcating the equality among kids e.t.c" I didnt' understand @ that time but now many of the adults around need to understand the essence of being equal to live in harmony in a society . Why do you keep looking to be special while living in a equal society. This religion is making mankind unequal among equals. The religious rituals whether going to church on Sundays, Praying five times a day, are personal preferences of a person only the person who does that enjoys doing it. If you don't Pray for 5 times a day or you don't go to church on Sunday nothing will happen to the society as whole but it's only your faith keeps you haunting for not doing so. So let's not try make new rules of society for the personal satisfaction of few people.

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

    If schools close for something other than recognized Federal and State holidays then yes, they should close for Muslim holidays. We close for Jewish ones. Close for one, close for all or close for none.

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

      What Jewish Holidays do we close on?

      July 1, 2010 at 10:53 am |
  3. wyominguy

    Islam exercises huge control over its followers, praying 5 times a day is but one example and is extreme to say the last. The radicals of the religion have used this control to cause much death and pain. For any government to recognize this fanatical religion and offer holidays in a Taxpayer supported system would be inappropriate.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  4. Rebecca

    For those spouting that individuals should attend school on Christmas..it's a weak point. Christmas lies within the school Winter vacation week(or two weeks) depending on the state. So give it a rest. For jewish faiths I have heard that individuals are allowed to have "holidays" however they must pick which ones and they still cannot exceed attendance rules. So perhaps something like this can be put into place? It's not really about not wanting anyone to practice or not practice a faith, it's about school policies and procedures that must be followed (and met per budget and state/ gov't funding; it's also about seperation of church and state) in order for your child to receive proper education and be able to move up in grade levels. If you want your child to have education and practice faith send him/her to a faith based private school (such as those who attend catholic schools).

    July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • Carl

      But if Christmas ever didn't fall within the "Winter Break", I'm sure you'd have lots of whiny Christians whose kids are forced to attend school on Dec 25.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  5. DC

    I am a muslim living in NYC for the past 22 years.. I am proud to be an Ameican and I support my country all the way! I believe we are better than the rest of the world and it is a shame when i see that America is being compared with the Midlle east countries like Saudi Arabia.. were women are treated like garbage and they dont have any RIGHTS.. it is sad because lot of Americans think of us as terrorists and murderers.. but not all of us are like that.. you cant look at Saudi Arabia and think thats how muslims are.. they are nothing but BARBARIANS.. they use my religion as an excuse to rule over people.. its also sad that we as muslims do not have a person/leader representing us WHO can tell people not all muslims are bad..
    Islam teaches to respect all faith .. and teaches nothing but to be a good human being..its a shame because these terrorists interpret the Quran their way so that they can achieve what ever sick crap they believe in.. because of these goons we are mOving backwards instead of looking forward..
    i do not believe in organized religion and i believe that no matter what your faith .. you should respect one another as human being and as long as you are a good person and you dont harm anyone you will live a peaceful life.. i also think that just like in NY's most suburbs do observe all faith during the school break (christianity, judaism, islam, hindu and Sikh) it should be included in NYC holidays.. its not about WHY MUSLIMS SHOULD DEMAND THIS? THEY SHOULD GO BACK? WHY SHOULD WE GO BACK WHEN THIS IS OUR HOME? WOULD YOU LIKE IT IF SOMEONE TOLD YOU TO PACK UP AND GO BACK TO ENGLAND/ITALY/IRELAND?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  6. Sid

    I want Jewish holidays, Hindu, Buddhist and every freaking religion out there

    July 1, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  7. CosmicC

    Check your history. While the west was in the "dark ages" the Islamic world experienced an age of discovery and enlightenment. If the west had opened up to their math and science, we might be better off today.

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

      THANK YOU for being one of the few shining examples of intelligence in here. Its refreshing.

      July 1, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • ChuckyCheese

      Then what happened? The Muslim religious Fanatics came in and shut the lights off. Last time I checked, the rest of the world picked on that whole math thing and ran with it – Muslim = algebra, Calculus = Christianity (Newton). Booya!

      July 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
      • Earnán

        ChuckyCheese: "Algebra" was the Islamic world taking credit for the work of Hindu mathematicians.

        Who the Muslim world oppressed and murdered for being polytheists.

        July 1, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
        • tim

          And then the Christians came in and killed the Muslims for living in the holy land. All religions are linked to the murder of millions of people I fail to see why you brought this up. Christians killed Native Americans for being polytheist, what is your point?

          July 1, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
        • BobWhoLikesBeef

          Earnan you are absolutely wrong. It is forbidden by law to kill citizens of lands taken over. They were aloud to stay and live their lives along with the Muslims. Then the Crusaders came and after raping the women, killed everyone, or almost everyone.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
        • BobWhoLikesBeef

          Earnan you fit my definition of a fanatic. You hate the Muslim Religion and you hate our ethnicity I would call it racism, since you fit the definition of a racist, but then you would give another long conversation which has no point.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
        • Johnlogic

          I love how anyone who correctly points out that Muslims may not really have invented algebra and eyeglasses is immediately labeled racist.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
        • Spike

          You sir are the 1st person I have come across that knows the meaning of dhimmi, as in dhimmitude. My hat is off to you. You are also one of the few people who knows the real history leading to crusade, and the only other person who knows the real origin of algebra and the concept of zero (India in the 4th cent BC). Islamic society did very much to destroy Hellenic traditions of learning in the Greek speaking territories and it is only because of the subjegated Greek speakers that the knowledge was eventually transfered to the West.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
        • BobWhoLikesBeef

          Spike i can see you don't know the first thing about the crusades. There was more than one.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
        • JimmyTImmy

          Earnan much of Islam is bad, they need to clean up the fanatics. But Bob is correct on the fact that Muslims are not supposed to kill civilians. Muslims need to start denying the ways of the radicals. And by the way, the Crusades was spawned by hatred of Muslims and greed.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
        • Spike

          Wrong Timmy, the Quran prescribes killing the unbeliever if they do not convert or accept dhimmitude. So yes, Jihad does allow killing civilians. Like Chucky, you got the dumbed-down, PC version. The Crusades were a reaction after 500 years if Islamic aggressions and depradations on Christian kingdoms.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
        • BobWhoLikesBeef

          Actually Spike the Crusades, that was I believe the main goal of the Church. However the failure of the crusades has spawned even more aggression between the two religions.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
        • Earnán

          JimmyTImmy: Islam has been killing "civilians" since Mohammed led his forces in genocidal war against the Banu Qurayza tribe.

          Note that this isn't a case of "Christians distorting the Bible"-this it the ISLAMIC PROPHET PERSONALLY ENGAGING IN GENOCIDAL WARFARE.

          That rather trumps anything in the Quran.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
        • BobWhoLikesBeef

          Earnan, just a question, is the Bany Qurayza tribe a Jewish tribe?

          July 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
        • Earnán

          BobWhoLikesBeef: The Banu Qurayza WERE a Jewish tribe.

          Until they were exterminated by Mohammed. After they had surrendered to him and were disarmed.

          Why, BobWhoLikesBeef, was it OK to murder them if they were Jews?

          July 1, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
        • Mohammed

          And how do you treat Traitors in any country these days or in the past? I am assuming you just let them go so that they can stab you in the back again? Be practical.

          July 1, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
        • Mohammed

          Maybe you should also mention that the the Banu Qurayza tribe acted traitorously to the already under powered Muslims of Medina and that the Women and Children were spared? Naah dont mention that, just keep feeding everyone your one sides hate stories.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
        • JimmyTImmy

          And i forgot to add to my last sentence, brainwashing by the Church.

          July 1, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
        • ligaya143

          @ tim, Christians were already in the holy land before Islam was founded by Muhammad. Christianity was founded by Jesus of Nazareth in 33 AD in Jerusalem. Islam was founded 600 years later. Muslims invaded the holy land and killed Christians and Jews. They destroyed churches and looted them and used them to build their mosques.That's the reason why the stone slab that covers the burial ground of jesus was intentionally broken by Christians into halves to prevent the muslims from taking it and used it as a floor in their mosques. Crusades was just a response to the Islamic invasion of the holy land to protect Christian pilgrims from muslim kidnapping and selling them to slavery and protect christian churches from further looting.

          July 1, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
        • ChuckyCheese

          Earnán, I think we are trying to make the same point. I just happen to remember my math teacher mentioning that algebra had been developed in the middle east and that the number symbols that we currently use are arabic in nature. My point was that they stopped there and regressed back into their own current "dark age" while the rest of the world embraced the math and built upon it, contrary to what CosmicC had said.

          July 1, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
        • Earnán

          ChuckyCheese: Your teacher gave you the politically correct, dumbed-down version.

          The so-called "Arabic" numerals are Hindu. The "Arabic" label is due merely to their appropriation by the Caliphate which blocked communication between the Christian west and Hindu India.

          July 1, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • Angie

      Exactly. And if any of you wear glasses and enjoy coffee...well guess what???? Both coffee and the science of optics were invented by yes, a MUSLIM.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
      • Earnán

        Coffee was "invented" by Christian Ethiopians.

        The science of optics was invented by Christian Dutchmen.

        Try cracking open a real book instead of your quran.

        July 1, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
      • Toby

        I don't think anyone disputes that Algebra is a byproduct of the Islamic culture. However, how does this prove the veracity of the Islamic doctrines? How would this prove that Allah is the true god? Please understand, Islam could have invented the entire industrialized civilization (which it most certainly did not) and it STILL would not prove that this religion is true. Remember, Islam teaches that infidels and those who denounce Islam should suffer death. This is an explicit teaching of the Islamic faith. So, it may be that the individual(s) who developed Algebra claimed to be Muslim, but perhaps they didn't believe a word of it and just didn't want to have their heads cut off. Either way, Algebra being an "Islamic discovery" says nothing about the religion or the truth of Islamic doctrines-absolutely nothing.

        July 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
    • Janet

      And they also smashed airplanes into buildings just to make a silly point.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
    • Earnán

      CosmicC: pull your head out of there. It's dark, and it smells like yesterday's burritos.

      Europe took that science and math and ran with it. If you put down the bong and opened your eyes you might have noticed that.

      Islam turned its back on the science (mostly lifted from the Greeks and Romans) and the math (stolen from the Hindus that Islam was merrily murdering for being polytheists) and retreated into century after century of violent religious bigotry and intolerance.

      There's a reason that the Islamic world's only meaningful exports are oil and angry religious nuts. And as much as it'll break your bitter little bigoted heart... It's not because of mean old European Christians or even Republicans.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
      • ChuckyCheese


        Who was that addressed to?

        July 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
      • Johnlogic

        By the same logic you clearly are an Islamophile and choose to ignore anything wrong with it.

        Why dont you try disputing Earnan's logic instead of using the old, tired "Everyone hates Islam" tirade?

        July 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
      • Earnán

        Tim: so, other than widespread aggressive war waged on peoples from southwestern Europe to India to northwestern Africa... What exactly where these marvelous "cultural achievements"?

        July 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • JJMurray

      Hmmm, let's see. The west should have listened to the Muslims while they were in the dark ages. Well, looking at western countries today and comparing them to Islamic ones, I would say the Muslims are currently in the dark ages. Maybe if they would listen to the west they would wind up being better off in the future...your logic, not mine.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • ligaya143

      As far as my history lessons tells me was that the middle east was far advanced in math and science and arts before the coming of Islam. Islam prohibited all forms of secular arts and learning. They retrogessed after Islam. These middle eastern mathematicians and scientists and artists were from BC or before 666 AD before Islam was founded.

      July 1, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • rromanik

      yea where did all the so-called enlightenment lead the mohams. nowhere

      July 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  8. T-Bone

    Three cheers for Mike Bloomberg on not including Muslim holidays in the school calendar. Public schools do not even allow for Christmas to be mentioned, much less taught anymore. KIds do not need to be educated about Ramadan unless they are Muslim and that should happen in the home.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  9. Corso

    Is this a bad joke?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  10. JJ

    BTW...Easter is on Sunday! Winter Break Replaced Christmas...So what other Christian Holidays do we get off?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  11. RMS

    If you want specific religious holiday's off then I suggest you go to a religious run school. Public educational systems cannot accommadate every single religion when it determines the school schedule. If you have a conflict – make arrangements with your teachers to make up what is missed if you must take a non-scheduled holiday. And when I went to school sports were an elective – your choice to participate or not. Start independent leagues between churches of the same denomination. What happened to people taking responsibility for the way they choose to live instead of expecting everyone else to make special arrangements for them?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  12. Ed

    One of the greatest things about America is that people of all religious backgrounds and ethnicities are given a fair shake to prove themselves worthy of belonging to this great nation. Muslims should be no exception to that golden rule which makes this country one of the best to live in, in the entire world...

    July 1, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  13. Shannon

    There is no way I want to observe muslim holidays in my very own country. We have Christians schools were they can observe their holidays and worship however they wanb. Muslim should do the same if they wabnt to observe their own muslim holiday.

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

    We should not close our public schools for ANY religious holiday. Keep religion out of our schools! Like the old saying goes, "Don't pray in my schools, and I wont think in your church".

    July 1, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  15. Earnán

    Take this dhimmi crap and shove it up your $#%^@.

    No hadji holidays in the UIS.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:00 am |
  16. Shane

    I can remember having the Chinese kids in my high school take Chinese new year off, and that was back in the 80s. I don't see a problem with it.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  17. seaswept

    Hmm. Observing Muslim holidays in New York City. New. York. City. Let me know how that works out for you!

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  18. David

    Can Iran observe Jewish religious days?

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am |
    • Earnán

      Of course not.

      Islam does not respect any other religion, no matter what dhimmi traitors may say about "tolerance." Islam's tolerance of other faiths has always been that of "you can be a second-class citizen so long as your keep your mouth shut and give us your money and your children."

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

      Many Christians in America don't respect any other religions. They seem to think their country was somehow founded on their own religion (it wasn't), and, while they'd complain to no end if their kids were required to attend school on Dec 25, they have no problem forcing Muslim students to attend school on their religious holidays.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
    • Earnán

      @Carl: Islam offers you submission or death.

      Which is it going to be?

      July 1, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Arsio

      Acturally jews do have seats in irans government and they are excused during holidays. But not a national holiday because their population is extremely low in Iran (around 1 percent). So do some research before you jump to conclusion making ignorant statements simply because you hate Islam as much as most writing here.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • Earnán

      Arsio: Iranian Jews-those who haven't fled after seeing many of their community hanged as "spies"-have a couple of token seats in the powerless Iranian parliament.

      In the real world, Iranian Jews have even fewer civil liberties than Iranian Muslims. There is a reason that 95% or more of the Persian Jews-who have lived in Iran for thousands of years-far longer than Islam has existed-there is a reason that 95+% of those Persian Jews now live outside Iran.

      Decades of oppression and murder by fanatic Muslims drove them from their homes.

      Shame on your for trying to pretend otherwise. SHAME ON YOU.

      July 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  19. DA

    Students do not get a day off for Easter. Easter is on a Sunday. No school anyway. The writed left out one very interesting item. Are there any Jewish holidays? I don't know. I would guess not, otherwise he would have stated it. When the author will make the argument for Jewish holidays I will listen. Of course that will never happen.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  20. clammer

    McCluck should run for president. FREE THE IRISH.

    July 1, 2010 at 9:58 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34
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.