My Take: New York's schools should observe Muslim holidays

Category: Life & Society Topics: Islamic Calendar Values: Education Channel: Opinion Views: 3439

A child at a recent rally for Muslim holidays to be observed by New York city schools.

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.

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Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of the school's Islamic Center

Source: CNN Belief Blog


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  6 Comments   Comment

  1. Eric from USA

    I think this article is great, but the author is confused. America is built on freedom of expression, not compulsory acknowledgement of expression. Schools are required to allow students to miss days from class at a rate of usually 5-8 per semester.

    The beauty of the woman who gave you her scarf indicates the freedom that all Americans allow other Americans to practice their beliefs. However, don't confuse that act as compulsory for everyone to allow you to worship on something clean. This is a metaphor for acknowledging Muslim holidays at school, particularly when a Madrassa is more applicable for your child if you want to be instructed in Islamic teachings.

    Judeao holidays observed by Americans are not primarily faith-based, they are functional. All Christian holidays were moved or invented out of convenience. Jesus was not born in December, Easter corresponds with the planting of the harvest and summer break was designed to allow kids to work the farms.

    It is non-sensical to add Muslim holidays, because they serve no functional purpose any more. Eid ul-Fir corresponded to the end of a fast that was designed to spare the livestock not out of any practice of restraint. Eid Ul Adha was designed to promote visitation to Mecca which kicked out Muhammad because he was not economically viable to the city so a planned pilgramidge was part of the deal.

    You want your kid to observe a holiday, then take the day off. Don't force my kid to take your day off so you can feel like you are observing your faith. There is almost a dozen countries with large Muslim majorities, move there and get your faith in order.

    Otherwise read the Constitution and love why you are here and not in Pakistan, because it's a nation's culture that determines its hospitality.

  2. shahnaz muhammad from us

    The whole world &whats in it belongs to ALLAH & All holidays of islam & muslims must be observed the world over INSHAALLAH

  3. Kam from -

    Um, I observe one thing here. Whenever some people get addicted to religion,( or similar mindset) troubles start. Then seeds of intolerance are sown.

    Kam

  4. NMJ from India

    Hey Romesh, you need to understand what it means not having holiday on the day which comes after u fast and pray for almost one month. Well, for working people there will not be any exam. But if a kid has to give exam on EID day.....that is something unfair. Schools should have holidays on at least two Big Islamic days. (though optional)

  5. Samin from usa

    Yes we do have Jewish holidays, Christian holidays in all USA. Almost all muslim countries have Christian Holiday. In Indonesia there are 4 Christian national Holidays, even if Christian is less than 8% of Indonesian population. Indonesia also have Hindhu Holiday, Budhist Holiday and Chineese Holiday. If this good for them why not.

  6. Romesh Chander from USA

    Come on. Why limit it to schools? Extend them everywhere. Let the banks, stock exchanges, bars, theateres, movie houses, universities, stores, doctor offices, phatmacies, etc close on Muslim Holidays. To be fair to everybody, they should also close on Jewish holidays, Hindu Holidays, Christian holidays, Chinese holidays, Mexican holidays, Buddhist holidays, Native American holidays, etc. Won't that be swell. Pretty soon, everyday will be a holiday. Even shutdown beaches and ATM machines on holidays. No work. Won't that be great. I hate working. Man, USA will be a Heaven on Earth. Nobody will long for the other 'Heaven'.