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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. The Lab Rat

    Next thing you know, these clowns will have the gall to ask for a holiday celebrating 9/11.

    Every Muslim in this country should be giving thanks during their multiple prayer breaks that I'm not president.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • absolutely not

      Ditto!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You hit it right on the head!!!

      July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  2. Zebula

    But Charles how do you know Jesus wasn't a false prophet? The Jews didn't accept him any more than you accept Muhammad. In any event, since we are free to practice religion in this country, shouldn't we be fair to all?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  3. Kay York

    I can't believe that we are actually considering this, I'm not fond of all the holidays the schools take as it is, simply because it interferes with the taching schedules, not for any religious reasons, that said, since when do we care what the other countries believe their rights?? do they recognize any of our rights in their country? I think not. we really need to STOP wanting to be liked by everyobe and get back to concentrating on being #1 again, which we are fastly giving up... When they start bowing to American rights in their country, then , maybe, we'll discuss theirs, If they don't like it here, GO HOME /..

    July 1, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  4. Kyle

    When would these muslims get satisfied? Would they ever? If muslim holidays are observed in public schools, what about Buddhists, Jewish, Hindu and others? If you have exam on your holiday, it is your choice to follow faith or education; not the City. No one is pointing the gun to take exam or to go to school on muslim holiday.

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

    Currently certain cities and towns give holidays for Rosh-Hashanah and Yom Kippur – Jewish High Holy Days – and other towns do not. I think to prevent discrimination while not creating a scenario where there are 365 hoildays a year, it should simply be %-based to get it on the ballot – and a simply majority to approve it. So if 20% or more of the community identifies themselves with a certain faith then certain holidays should be added to the calandar. With regard to some of the comments here: the ignorance and hatred of people only provokes the most extremes of any religion. Want me to prove Christians are no different? – hmm, lets see, Spanish Inquisition, Holocaust, Crusades, Neo-Nazi, etc, etc, etc. There's no religion without the extremist sect. It's the individual people who are extremist. If you really want to get rid of the extremists, you have to make them into insignificant bugs by isolating them from the own culture – praise the good muslims so they become Americans and not the enemy. When you do that. The few extremists in the mix get rooted out pretty fast when no one's protecting them anymore. Again – think Neo-Nazi – there's not too many Christians who DON'Tidentify themselves as Neo-Nazi yet are will to say there's nothing wrong with them. That's the true way to succeed!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  6. DRB

    Be afraid. Be very afraid. Out of all of the religions I have studied, the Muslims I fear the most. 12% of the school population is just a beginning. Don't cave in and condone this measure. Do your own research – it'll open your eyes. Fear is a learned thing. Mohammed was a good teacher.

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

      Racism is a learned thing.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  7. Culprit

    This is ridiculous. Looks like they are now even trying to make U.S. an Islamic country.

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

      You got it right. They have succeeded in Africa and Southeast Asia. So watch out. Expansion with population. In democracy, majority decides.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • Shannon

      I agree... seems that is what they are trying to do without saying anything.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  8. 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 10:06 am |
  9. Gaz

    Sorry. The diverse nature of the U.S could potentially mean every other day off if we tried to please everyone!

    Some of our current holidays may well be based around the Christian calendar, which was based around the pagan...etc, but even as a seculist non-believer I can't see changing what we have.

    An official recognition of ALL faiths (or faith day) may work (but probably only on paper) as a way to bring people together through respect, including non-believers, but assigning a new holiday to Islam would merely be a religion taking advantage of PC America by using its 15 minutes in the spotlight (due to other current events).

    July 1, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  10. Bonnie

    No Way should we honor Muslim Holidays. Public schools have Spring Breaks and Winter Breaks, and do not celebrate religious holidays. This is another case of government trying to placate and cater to a minority. If Muslim parents wish to keep their children home on their religious holidays, that is their business, but it should not be a matter of policy.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  11. Gene

    Absolutely not! It's enough that we already 'celebrate' a whole bunch of other holidays that have nothing to do with anything. If you want it so much then get the schools to allow kids a couple of days off each year to observe the holidays. As a working parent I dont want to waste my vacation days just because you want to celebrate your holidays.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:06 am |
  12. Joe

    Yea how about Pastafarian holidays as well!!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  13. Charles

    Zebula, please don't feel sorry for me nothing bad will come from my faith, it has actually made me a much more loving and forgiving person. When I die if my faith is true I will reap the rewards, if you are right then I will not know any better. I use to be where you are, I told everyone I did not believe but deep down there is always doubt. If you are truly honest you will acknowledge this, as I acknowledge that I have doubts in my faith everyone does. I would never be that arrogant to say anything is for certain.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  14. me

    admits that a lot of my tolerance for this religion has disappeared in light of recent events. it's not fair, admits my own prejudice and is honest. for that I apologize. However, I think if you want your child to observe Islamic holidays you should take them to Islamic countries or to Islamic schools (lke jewish people and catholic people do). If you want to educate the citizens about Islamic culture, perhaps you could use these days as teaching tools and head down to the schools and clear up some misconceptions people have – like the Jewish parents and Islamic parents did when I was a child. Islam at this moment has a huge PR problem. The radicals are setting the dialogue on the national stage. This little movement isn't going to help.

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

      I don't think Islam has PR problem but Islam itself is a problem. It's a religion of cowards have have double standards. Where they are majority they don't care about democracy, equality or human rights, and when they are in minority they suddenly talk about democracy, secularism, equality and human rights. Every week millions of US$ are siphoned to Islamic country in the name of charity and also get tax benefit here. The money is used to fight US Military and promote Jihad in Porkistan. It's DOUBLE STANDARD not PR problem.

      July 1, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  15. David

    Enough is enough is enough........I am not observing and Islamic anything and believe me this is all just total bs as what is happening is instead of coming together this just shows further division. Truthfully religion has messed up alot of heads. If we would all observe the true nature of Gog the Almighty we wouldnt be at these antiquated backwoods and hillbilly junctures. Our civilization would revere the natural world and strive to only have more revealed and try to better things for the sake of humanity. Men have destroyed the world in the name of God. How much more can ego win over knowledge and humility?

    July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  16. Shannon

    There is no way I want to observe muslim holidays in my very own country. If muslims want to do that, they can start up their own muslim schools and observe their own holidays. We don't observe Chrisitan holidays here. We have winter Break and Spring/Fall Break. Get the face straight before you say we observe Christian holiday. If we can't have religion involved in our school system, that means muslims too!!! If they get the school to observe muslims holiday, then they can worm their way into having worshipping their religion into our system. Forget that, I won't have it!

    July 1, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  17. Corso

    Where is the ACLU when needed? Forgot is run by a bunch of muslims.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  18. Thomas

    Very good of the lady who gave you the scarf. NO RELIGIOUS holidays in public school period.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  19. Surthurfurd

    How about year round school with a couple weeks break between quarters. Religions can place their holidays on weekends.

    July 1, 2010 at 10:03 am |
  20. Sybaris

    Uh, actually, among other things, Muslims invented toothpaste and soap to improve your redneck hygiene.

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

      Sybaris: I've spend several years in the Islamic world... If they "invented toothpaste and soap" some one sure seems to have forgotten to notify the teeming Islamic masses.

      Whew! Stinkier than French ditch-diggers!

      July 1, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
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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.