March/April 2012/1433 | $4.00 | www.isna.net
80 years for Sr. Clara Muhammad Schools • The pioneers of Zaytuna College • When Reading goes Wrong
Graduates of Islamic schools prove they can make decisions while remaining true to their faith Dealing with Learning Disabilities
When to call it quits with your child’s activities
Re Annu gis al tr ISNA pa atio Co ge n n v 31 Fo en rm tion
Recognizing when your child has a problem and working toward a solution
Vol. 41 No. 2 March/April 2012 visit isna online at: www.isna.net
Cover Story 19 Modern Muslims and Moral Lives
Muslim young adults deal with moral challenges ranging from differing with their parents on career choices to who they should marry. The moral reasoning behind their choices and how they deal with their dilemmas shows Muslims committed to upholding their faith and constructing the modern Muslim identity.
24 Moving Beyond “the Mosqueteria”
Why students at Valley Park Middle School in Toronto have garnered unwarranted media attention for discreetly performing prayers at school.
26 From MIST to Mentorship
The Muslim Interscholastic Tournament offers students an academic challenge while also providing a place to belong and share their personal concerns with the program facilitators.
In Focus: Islamic Schools 28 29 30 36 36 38
Examining Islamic Schools Teachers’ Challenges in the Field Sr. Clara Muhammad Schools Celebrate 80 Years The Ghazis of Education Standardizing Islamic Studies Modeling Your Islamic Studies Class on the Prophet’s Methods
Higher Education 40 The Price of Reaching for the American Dream 42 Zaytuna College: Studying with the Scholars
School and Family 44 47 48 51 54
The Shame and Denial of Mental Disabilities For Former Refugee, Hard Work and Faith Brings Results Can Reading Go Wrong? Overscheduled Families: When Is It Enough? A Halal & Healthy Response
Education Forum Focus 55 Examining Data for Tailored Results 56 Endowments Foster Strength
48 Departments 6 8 14 58 60
Editorial ISNA Matters Community Matters Reviews Food for the Spirit
59 A Giving Soul: Mary Ali DESIGN & LAYOUT BY: Gamal Abdelaziz, A-Ztype Copyeditor: Meha Ahmad. The views expressed in Islamic Horizons are not necessarily the views of its editors nor of the Islamic Society of North America. Islamic Horizons does not accept unsolicitated articles or submissions. All references to the Quran made are from The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Amana, Brentwood, MD.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Islamic Education Comes of Age
PRE SID ENT Mohamed Hagmagid Ali SECRE TA RY GENER A L Safaa Zarzour
ome 40-somethings born in the United States may recall attending an Islamic Sunday school in a basement somewhere, vaguely recollecting the beginnings of what laid the foundation of Islamic education in America. Now, as graduates of Islamic fulltime and weekend schools have reached adulthood, many raising families of their own, the landscape has changed dramatically. Physical structures have expanded and human capital is more readily available; resources for Islamic studies and Arabic have been tailored to American audiences and a new culture has emerged. The guinea pigs of Islamic schools have entered the workforce, taken leadership positions in Islamic organizations and have become positive contributors to society at large. While many have questioned the caliber of Islamic education in the past, the success of many graduates has allayed such fears. Graduates of Islamic schools have had no trouble gaining acceptance into the most prestigious universities in America, and have become teachers, engineers, physicians, lawyers, writers and entrepreneurs. For full-time schools, utilization of data based on standardized test scores has paved the way for this success, as it has improved their students’ learning ability, and of course their own sense of accomplishment and the community’s respect. The scores of Islamic school students rival those of the most successful schools in the nation. Data collected and analyzed after conducting various school-based state and nationally recognized tests provide the basis of change for the better. In the quest for success,
PUBLISHER The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
each piece of data must be crunched and analyzed by experts. In this issue, Dr. Hamed Ghazali highlights the gains made by students and schools that adapted to the datadriven culture. At a time when a growing number of Islamic schools are recognizing the centrality of data-driven culture to success, positive developments are emerging in the field of creating tests in subjects not available through the state—such as Islamic studies. The Chicago-based nonprofit IQRA’ International Educational Foundation has introduced the Islamic Studies Standardized Tests (ISST), developed by the same team of experts who created the national standards and competencies. Based on overall data, schools may choose to change educational material, redesign course curriculum and update program planning. Standardized test score results also aid in petitioning for new resources, after school enrichment programs, training sessions for current staff, additional support staff, or bringing on board educational consultants. The ISST can be used by users of virtually any textbook series, rendering it compatible with curriculums nationwide. Avenues, such as the ISNA Education Forum, affords educators and administrators the opportunity to discuss ideas, pool resources and develop materials that can serve Islamic schools and their students around the country. ISNA has provided the canvas and it is for the Education Forum participants to size up initiatives such as ISST, and help improve or even devise tests and methodologies that meet the goal of all educators: giving the best to their students.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
ED IT O R
Omer Bin Abdullah A ssistant Editor Deanna Othman ED IT O RIA L A DVIS O RY B OA RD
Susan Douglass (Chair); Dr. Jimmy Jones; Dr. Sulayman Nyang; Dr. Ingrid Mattson. ISL A MI C H O RIZO NS
is a bimonthly publication of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) P.O. Box 38 • Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 Copyright @2012 All rights reserved Reproduction, in whole or in part, of this material in mechanical or electronic form without written permission is strictly prohibited. Islamic Horizons magazine is available electronically on ProQuest’s Ethnic NewsWatch, LexisNexis, and EBSCO Discovery Service, and is indexed by Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Please see your librarian for access. The name “Islamic Horizons” is protected through trademark registration ISSN 8756‑2367 P O S T M A S TER
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ISNA Matters ISNA Holds First West Coast Education Forum
ISNA Secretary General Safaa Zarzour reminded, “Islamic schools go through growth phases; and if you care about your children, [participating in and developing] the Islamic school is an important ingredient in that recipe.” He was addressing the inaugural Annual West Coast ISNA Education Forum held in Long Beach, Calif., Jan. 13-14. The forum’s theme was “Educating Our Children For a Brighter Future.” The 200 education professionals in attendance were treated to a boost of inspiration, instilled with renewed commitment, and given a toolbox of ideas and skills to apply to their work within Islamic
schools. The keynote speakers at the dinner banquet and luncheon were Dr. Gasser Hathout, Dr. Maher Hathout, and Imam Mohammad Faqih. Gasser Hathout, an academician and physician, spoke of the individual, institutions, and ummah. He expressed that parents do not yet realize the critical value Islamic schools have for the ummah’s overall development. He said that adults can filter out Islamophobia, but children’s psyches are damaged by this prejudice. Islamic schools not only nurture children’s identities, they are richly able to foster spirituality, and are increasingly becoming more and more competitive with public schools.
ISNA Unveils Journalism Scholarship ISNA has announced a new scholarship: the Aziz Jamaluddin Scholarship in Journalism, which is available now to college freshman pursuing a college or university education in journalism or political science. The Aziz Jamaluddin ISNA Scholar-
ship Program will help encourage and support Muslims pursuing journalism. The program, administered by ISNA and funded by the Jamaluddin family, is guided by Aziz Jamaluddin’s interest in filling the void of voices representative of Islam inside mainstream American media. His continuing dedication and focus on helping and promoting education and training of future leaders serves as the inspiration for this scholarship. The primary goal is to have a generation of educated Muslims to speak out and communicate the true meaning of Islam in all types of media.
Maher Hathout, co-founder and senior advisor of MPAC and retired physician, said that we are historically trapped in a period of change. Citing the Arab Spring, he specified that with the necessary sacrifice and wisdom of today’s teachers and principals, we must have a vision for the future. We offer the solutions through our students for a brighter future, he said. Faqih, imam of the Islamic Institute of Orange County and instructor at AlMaghrib Institute, reminded teachers that although they are often the unsung heroes, God counts their deeds. He reminded the attendees that they are trusted by parents for the future, and that they are appreciated. He said that, in the end, we all work for God, and that happiness comes from when we connect with the One who created us. The conference featured three pre-conference workshops, 16 parallel sessions, and a panel session featuring experts addressing “Critical Issues in Islamic Education.” On the panel were Amira Al-Sarrat, principal of New Horizon Pasadena; Adita Arya, principal of Pillars Academy Mission Viejo; Fatima Bailey, education consultant specializing in parent-school relationships; Necva Ozgur, founder of MERIT Center; and Munir Shaikh, executive director of the Institute on Religion and Civic Values. (Courtesy: Sufia Azmat & Susan Labadi)
ISNA ANNOUNCES 2012 CONVENTION THEME The 49th Annual ISNA Convention, to be held in D.C. during Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31 – Sep. 3) will be under the theme “One Nation Under God: Striving for the Common Good.” The convention, to be held in the nation’s capital, will follow the month of Ramadan, with the nation preparing for the November presidential elections.
Information available online at www.isna.net. 8
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Leaders Discuss Engagement of Muslim Community
MAS-ICNA attendees at the conference in Chicago.
ISNA Secretary General Safaa Zarzour joined speakers from across the nation, such as Yusuf Estes, Jamal Badawi, Mustafa Hosny, Imam Zaid Shakir, and Ragheb Sirjanani, at the 10th
Annual MAS-ICNA convention to reflect on and commemorate the legacy of the “Prophet Muhammad: Model of faith, justice and liberty,” held in Chicago, Dec. 22-26, 2011.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Together, they all wove together various threads from the Prophet’s rich biography to provide attendees with both information and inspiration to deepen their love and understanding for arguably the most influential man who has walked the face of this earth. Zarzour spoke at two sessions, both focusing on the road map for and priorities of the Muslim American community. Speakers drew parallels between the Prophet’s involvement in his society before and after receiving the revelation, and his promotion of civic engagement in his community. The convention was an opportunity for leaders from a broad variety of national Muslim organizations to meet and discuss how to best serve the Muslim communities in the upcoming year. Discussions included how to leverage the relationships each organization has with civic organizations to better serve the Muslim community, as well as proactive strategies for cooperation between organizations on campaigns and projects for the community.
13th Annual ISNA-CISNA Education Forum 2012 Islamic Schools—Engaging Learning Communities April 6 – 8, 2012 • Westin O’Hare Hotel 6100 N. River Road, Rosemont, IL 60018
The conference program will focus on the following topics: • Arabic Language and Integration • Best Practices in Islamic Studies • Character Education and Islamic Environment • Characteristics of High Impact Boards and Members • Data Driven School Improvement • Developing Student Leaders • Effective Teaching Practices/Classroom Management • Guidelines for Effective Board Meetings • Integrating Technology into Teaching • Learning Assessment Models • Response to Intervention • Staff Empowerment/Succession Planning • Systematizing the School Functions for Sustainability • Weekend School Challenges and Solutions • Working Successfully with Difficult Personalities/Conflict Management
The Conference Features:
Educational Sessions, Training Workshops, Networking Session, Saturday Banquet with Keynote Address, Job Fair, Employment Notice Board, Bazaar, and more
Pre Conference Workshops:
(9:00 AM – 5:00 PM on Friday, April 6th) • Arabic Teaching Workshop • ASCD Workshop • Accreditation of Islamic Schools Workshop • Nuraniyah Workshop
For Registration & Hotel Reservations visit: WWW.ISNA.NET or call: (317) 838-8129 For Bazaar & Sponsorships call: (317) 838-8131
Reflections from Medina
ISNA Central Zone Conference reflects on following the Prophet’s example. By Mariam Siddiqui
n ISNA’s first annual regional conference in Cincinnati, hundreds of people were brought together from throughout Southern Ohio and the Midwest region to fill the mirrored halls of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati on Dec. 16, 2011. At the conference, “In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Building a Vibrant and Faithful Community,” ISNA Secretary General Safaa Zarzour addressed the attendees, saying that it was love of the Prophet that led them all to the conference. “The way Prophet Muhammad led his life, there was absolutely no human being on the face of this earth who left behind such a dynamic legacy. No one whatsoever,” Zarzour said. “To embody such grace, such beauty, such utter humanity, this is something we have to strive and struggle towards—to just be a natural human being.” Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
The conference’s topics of discussion embodied different elements for piecing together the fabric of the Prophet’s ummah. Sarah Soliman, participant and MYNA advisor, said the conference hosted by the greater Cincinnati community “was a refreshing discussion about many timely topics and issues, but with an eye towards the Prophetic model of dealing with similar issues during his time. The weekend was full of thought-provoking lectures with a practical component about topics such as time management in an era of information overload, family and spousal relations, and making our masajid more inclusive.” The speakers emphasized not only the importance, but also the practicality of following the sunnah, reflecting moments in the Prophet’s life with our own lives. “The Prophet was a human being who had human emotions. We often forget that. If we depict him as a non-human, superhero-type image, then it will be difficult to manifest his actions and strive to become like him,” said Dr. Altaf Husain, ISNA Shura member. “His 11
We have to have hope. No one should believe that Allah has forsaken us. To rebuild a Medina, we have to transcend our barriers.” —Imam Mohamed Magid message is timeless. […] The worst thing you can do is let your kids believe that Islam is not relevant to them now.” The conference focus was clear: the Prophet’s message, the life he led, and how one can look to his life to solve the issues today. The various breakout sessions mirrored the messages from Prophet Muhammad’s Medina, helping the community revive and rebuild the Medina. “The sessions reaffirmed why I believe what I believe. It helped me understand what it really means to be Muslim, what it entails,” said attendee Sharrell Jackson. “It was a beautiful experience.” The evening concluded with ISNA President Imam Mohamed Majid’s keynote address, at the ISNA banquet. Azhar Azeez, ISNA-US vice president, highlighted ISNA’s work and its growth. “Never say that, ‘I would have done something, but it’s no use.’ ISNA was started by people who had dedicated years upon years to this cause,” Azeez said. Majid allowed the audience to contemplate and appreciate the growth of the ummah. “Today we are in the month of Muharram, which was the month in which the first community of Medina was born. How many Muslim communities have been born since then?” Magid asked. “We have to have hope. No one should believe that Allah has forsaken us. To rebuild a Medina, we have to transcend our barriers.” The conference ended with words that would help empower and motivate participants to become active threads in the fabric of the ummah. “People look to people of faith and wonder how we are going to act. Stop being victims. Become leaders,” Magid said, then asking, “Are you awake?” As people exited the hall and the lights were turned off, the mirrors and reflections told a different story, for they had seen—with the hundreds of people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, the wisdom of the scholars, and the legacy of our beloved reignited—the coming of a new Medina. One of the conference’s most practical sessions was “Opening our Mosques, Opening our Minds,” led by Freda Shamma—director of curriculum, F.A.D.E.L. Foundation in Cincinnati—about expanding our mosques into communities so everyone feels welcome and secure. “Our mosques have to be more than a place of prayer in America,” Shamma said. “It has to be a place of community.” Dr. Abdullahi Mubarak, director of the Pain Management and Evaluation Center of Ohio, highlighted the convert perspective when building a vibrant community; Ameena Jandali, co-founder of Islamic Networks Group, offered the women’s perspective. The speakers and the audience offered some suggestions on expanding borders and building a vibrant community:
A welcoming environment Start a welcoming committee to help assimilate new members. Have weekly get-togethers to develop close bonds. 12
Invite new members to your homes, especially converts. Converts need to see family interaction to learn adab, family structure, and other aspects of daily Muslim life, such as family members reminding each other of prayer time. This is very helpful for children of converts who will have to deal with peer pressure in school. Introduce an Islam 101 class to impart the basic understandings to converts, as well as develop a bond with community members.
Women’s Voice Have a women’s committee in the mosque to give women a voice in mosque activities. Women need to be active and become a part of the mosque’s board. Historically, women had a say in the mosque. They shouldn’t be made to feel excluded. Remove physical separations between men and women in the mosque, like walls.
Represent the Youth Endeavors that benefit the youth carry onto the next generation; having a youth group is absolutely imperative. Have young adults on the mosque board to create a healthy, balanced and representative environment in the mosque. Establish a youth leader/youth committee to organize activities. Give youth the opportunity to do small chores around the mosque, followed by a periodic celebration; invite the community and let youth share their experiences. Find a way to make graduating Sunday school students feel connected to the community. College students home on break can make presentations to their mosques. Have events for college students home on break. These could include college application panels, college/grad student board for suggestions, forums to tell the community what they have learned from MSA, etc. Hold visual presentations on youth accomplishments.
Promote Diversity It is natural for people to congregate by ethnicity and social class. We need to make every effort to move away from cliques. Everyone must feel welcome, especially unmarried converts. Start programs to adopt a convert, adopt a single Muslim, and adopt a newcomer. Set up a welcoming committee for new people attending the mosque. Speak English in multi-ethnic settings to minimize clique formation.
Opening Mosques Invite neighbors to events and offer tours of the mosque. Go green. Establish a recycling program and maintain the mosque’s gardens. Have a seminar on communication to encourage bridging gaps. Organize volunteers into groups with similar talents. Do not hide your Islamic identity.
Mariam Siddiqui is currently a junior at the University of Cincinnati, studying Middle Childhood Education.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Community Matters Alma Mater Honors Pakistani American
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain
The Peshawar, Pakistan-based Khyber Medical College (KMC) has named a new training center for Dr. S. Amjad Hussain, a University of Toledo professor emeritus of surgery and a member of UT’s board of trustees.
Hussain said that the announcement by his alma mater was “a total surprise to me.” This is the first time in its history that KMC has named a facility after anyone. The $1.5-million facility on the college campus will serve students, physicians-in-training, and faculty to hone their clinical skills. It was built with the collaboration of the provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Khyber Medical College, and Khyber Medical College Alumni in North America. A 1962 KMC graduate, Hussain completed his medical training in the U.S. from 1963 to 1970 before returning to Khyber for four years. After moving back to the U.S. in 1976, he made annual visits to Khyber, spending a month teaching courses in thoracic and
Dream Film Honor
The Kashmiri/English film “Pir Vaer” (Valley of Saints), directed by 27-year-old Musa Syeed, a New York-based Muslim American filmmaker, won the World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It also shared the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize with “Robot & Frank” directed by Jake Schreier and will split the $20,000 cash award. Even getting a film screened at the festival is every film maker’s dream. The film was shown Jan. 23 in Park City, Utah to more than 800 journalists and other participants. The thought that one cannot get back what is lost, but can always nurture what remains, inspired Syeed to produce a film that narrates the story of a young boatman who develops an unlikely relationship with a beautiful environmentalist during a violent summer in the Kashmir Valley. He is torn between leaving the politically unstable area to pursue his dreams and staying on to rebuild his life. Although Syeed filmed “Valley of Saints” at the height of the 2010 unrest in Indianoccupied Kashmir, the film is not about contemporary politics as much as it is about poetry, hope, love and the environment of the Valley, where Indian deploys more than 700,000 troops—mirrored by the state of Dal Lake. Syeed’s film was inspired by his experience with Dal Lake. “I had heard a lot about Dal but when I saw it for the first time, it was clearly past its glory days. […] It struck me that the lake was a plain allegory for Kashmir as a whole: 14
cardiovascular surgery and also performing surgeries. Hussain said he still returns each year to deliver lectures to medical students and faculty, but, after his retirement in 2004, decided not to operate during his visits. Hussain has established an endowed visiting professorship at UT that enables young faculty members from Khyber to visit UT’s college of medicine and life sciences to learn research methodology and teaching techniques. Nine Khyber faculty members have participated so far. Khyber’s new center was named for Hussain, they said, in recognition of his accomplishments as a surgeon, writer, explorer and philanthropist. Hussain is the author of more than 50 scientific papers and 10 books and is a columnist to Toledo newsaper “The Blade.”
New York City Mosque Doubles as Synagogue
Musa Syeed (left) at the Sundance Film Festival.
great beauty surviving in the face of death. Immediately, I began to think about how to make a film about the lake,” Syeed says. Syeed says that he wanted the movie to focus on what the Kashmiris have lost, the film concentrates on what they’ve been able to hold on to. Afzal Ahmed, a journalist, originally hired for translation and brought in as an actor, lost his father in 1993 when an Indian Border Security Force unit killed 55 Kashmiri civilians in Sopore. Kashmir rarely makes news in the U.S., but Syeed hopes his film will be the first introduction of Americans to the Valley’s reality. “It’s not often that the words ‘hope’ and ‘Kashmir’ are repeated in the same breath,” says Syeed. He says he wishes to change that. Earlier, “Bronx Princess,” a documentary produced by Syeed, won an award at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The Parkchester, N.Y., Masjid AlIman also serves as part-time synagogue, reports “Tablet Magazine.” Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the AlIman mosque. In effect, the synagogue is housed inside a mosque. The mosque’s founder, Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, 49, an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the U.S. in 1986, has maintained good ties with other faith groups, especially the Young Israel congregation. In 2003, when declining membership obliged Young Israel to sell its building, before the closing, non-religious items were given away, and the mosque was among the beneficiaries. Upon learning of the congregation’s difficulties, Drammeh returned the favor and offered the accommodation for free. Bronx was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. The area’s Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Photo Courtesy of Shenandoah University
Shenandoah University New Dean of Business School
First Muslim Chaplain at Michigan University
management at Shenandoah, is founding director of the Harry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business Institute for Entrepreneurship. Davis has over 15 years of university teaching experience and served as the inaugural chair of the Management Science department at Shenandoah from 2003 to 2005. Davis, also currently a managing partner at The Prosperity Fund, LLC, and a principal at Davis, Adolphe and Gibson, LLC, has worked as a managing consultant and principal for EDS Corporation and has consulted for Boeing Corporation and The United States Mint. Miles K. Davis, the new dean of Shenandoah University’s Davis is the author of numerHarry F. Byrd, Jr. School of Business ous journal articles, and published a book, “OD and Change ManageMiles K. Davis, an internationally ment Consultants,” in 2009. He serves on recognized educator and proven business the executive committee of the Strategic leader, has been named the new dean of Research Council of Amana Mutual Funds Shenandoah University’s Harry F. Byrd, Jr. Trust. Davis earned a bachelor’s degree from School of Business. His appointment is effec- Duquesne University, a master’s degree from tive July 1, 2012. Bowie State University and a doctorate from Davis, currently associate professor of George Washington University.
Canadian Islamic Congress Installs New Head Sikandar Khan started his term as president of Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) on Jan. 1. Khan, who was a member of the CIC board of directors, has years of leadership experience in dynamic and collaborative Muslim groups and mosques working under the umbrella organization British Columbia Muslim Association (BCMA), of which he had been president from 1987 to December 2011. BCMA, the province’s largest Muslim Sikandar Khan organization, represents more than 80,000 Canadian Muslims. Khan brings to his new responsibilities division) 1978-2000, as well as being presia lifelong interest in social justice, interfaith dent of the BC Muslim Sports Association, issues and a strong commitment to building 1982-1995. partnerships and collaborations with other Khan succeeds Wahida Valiante, CIC’s Muslim and non-Muslim organizations. longest-serving board officer and one of He is equally passionate about youth the organization’s founding members. She issues and deusvelopment, having served will continue to be part of the CIC board in his home province as president of the as national chair of IHMC and its public Fiji Soccer Association (Youth and Sports relations spokesperson.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor had appointed alum and city native Mohammed Tayssir Safi as its first Muslim chaplain in January. Safi, 27, becomes one of the first paid Muslim chaplains at any public university. The part-time position is supported by about $30,000 raised by the Michigan Muslim Alumni Association. Safi, a graduate student in U-M’s Teaching Arabic as a Foreign Language program, is a graduate student instructor of Arabic. MSA, the largest Muslim organization on campus, holds regular highly-attended events and weekly Friday prayer services, during which a student or invited guest will speak. However, the group, unlike many of its Jewish and Christian counterparts, is led solely by students. Before Safi’s recent hire, the MSA was one of the only groups represented by a student and not a religious professional. The Muslim population is transient, mostly students, and the city has only one mosque. In 2008 and 2009, about 4 percent of incoming students reported their religious affiliation as Muslim, according to U-M figures. Four percent of the 2011-2012 student body is about 1,700 students. Safi received bachelors’ degrees in political science and Middle Eastern and North African studies from U-M in 2006, after transferring from U-MDearborn during his sophomore year. After graduating college, Safi spent two years studying Arabic and Islam in Egypt and Yemen. He worked as a youth director at a Canton mosque for two years.
Mohammed Tayssir Safi
First Muslim Spelling Bee Competition Chicago-based entrepreneur Tausif Malik and his wife, Asma Rizvi, perceiving a need for a platform of competition in which children could engage from around the world, launched the world’s first Muslim Spelling Bee competition in December 2011. TMA Worldwide, the group organising the inter-school, interstate, inter-region competition, would also launch other educational competitions such as Muslim Science Bee, Muslim Math Bee, Muslim Geography Bee and Muslim Science Projects, they said. The purpose of the program is “to get Muslim children into the mainstream,” says Tausif. The competition will be held in each city at a Muslim private school; however, it will be open to students from private schools, public schools, or home schools, for children up to 14 years of age. Tausif and Rizvi expect over 500 children participating from each city, leading to several rounds of judgement before the finalists are selected.The competition is scheduled to begin in March 2012 and conclude in May at Chicago, Los Angeles, Tampa, New York, New Jersey,
NEWS BRIEFS Whiz Kid Develops App
Phoenix, Houston and Washington. It will be a weekend affair in each city and the finals will be held in Chicago. The entry fee will be $50 per student. For more information, go to: Muslimspellingbee.com.
Essential Social Services Training nect and learn from each other and to train leaders, imams and community workers so that they may help and serve their communities in a professional, productive and proactive manner. This particular training program, which will accommodate only about 30 participants, is a result of Shahina Siddiqui, president/executive director, ISSA. the demand and need idenThe family and social issues and tified by communities to ISSA as the major challenges facing Muslim communities and most critical need for Muslim families. across North America require concrete and Trainers include Sameera Ahmed, consistent services. The Winnipeg, Canada- Aneesah Nadir, Salma Elkadi Abugideiri, based Islamic Social Services Association of LPC, Iman Elkadi MSW, Imam Ali, and Canada (ISSA) is offering training work- Shahina Siddiqui. shops, during April 27-30, that can help build capacity within centers, mosques and For information, contact Shahina Siddiqui, schools. president/executive director, ISSA, Suite # 201, ISSA strives to train and share knowledge 72 Princess St., Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and skills with communities. They work to R3B1K2. Tel.: (204) 944-1560; 1-866-239provide venue for both Muslim and non- ISSA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Muslim social service providers to con- email@example.com.
Among the more than 500,000 iPhone apps, one of them is the creation of Rumi Khan, a 12-yearold student at a Newark, Del. Charter School. Khan’s efforts to create and distribute “Dare to be Square: The Adventure of the Red Square” was recently recognized by the Delaware Department of Education. Khan designed the game, wrote the code and drew the graphics for the game, which has 10 levels where the main character, the square, fights enemies to ultimately recapture his lost memory. He created everything but the music. A snippet of the game is at grabbyarmgames.com, the website for Grabby Arm Games, which he founded. More than 1,100 people around the world have downloaded the game that he is giving away free — a highly competitive field in itself.
The Muslim community in Edison, N.J. is striving to purchase the Korean Baptist Church and transform it into Masjid Al-Wali. The church is a steel structure, where the owners have invested a considerable amount of money to convert the area for religious worship. The land was originally owned by the Jewish community center; it was later bought and the church was built. And now, a mosque will stand there. Donations may be sent to Masjid A-Wali, 3 Cedarwood Drive, Edison, N.J. 08820.
On Dec. 8, 2011, Kansas City, Mo., city councilwoman Melba Curls presented firefighter Jabir Hazziez Jr. with a resolution in the council chambers. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Hazziez is a local Muslim community leader, a Kansas City firefighter and a Jackson County Sheriff ’s deputy. Hazziez assisted in a medical emergency
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
on board a plane flying from Atlanta to Kansas City. During the emergency, he had to subdue an individual who was trying to open the cabin door to get off the plane mid-flight. “Jabir Hazziez Jr. is an all-American, ‘inflight’ hero. We are proud of him and salute him,” said Zulfiqar Malik, a representative of the Muslim Council of America.
Standing at No. 2 on the Huffington Post’s Top 11 Religion Books for 2011 list is “I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim,” edited by Maria M. Ebrahimji and Zahra T. Suratwala.
Detroit’s Central United Methodist Church recognized Imam Dawud Walid, the executive director of the CAIR Michigan, at its seventh annual Peace and Justice Banquet held on Dec. 4, 2011. Founded more than 200 years ago, Central UMC is a reconciling congregation with a long and rich history of crusading for the rights of those often ignored or overlooked by society. The church is recognized for fighting racism, promoting peace, feeding the homeless and providing access to healthcare for those in need. The church welcomes all people regardless of socio-economic status, race, religion, gender identification or sexuality.
Linda Sarsour, a staff member of the National Network for Arab American Communities, was among 10 community leaders honored at the White House on Dec. 15, 2011 as Champions of Change. “The honorees, including nonprofit leaders, community activists and mentors, are being celebrated for their work to improve the lives of others through charitable work, faith and advocacy,” the White House said. Sarsour conducts trainings nationally on the importance of civic engagement in the Arab and Muslim American community. She also serves as director of the Arab American Association of New York, a social services agency. The Champions of Change program was created as a part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative. Each week, a different issue is highlighted and groups of “champions,” ranging from educators to entrepreneurs to community leaders, are recognized for the work they are doing to improve their communities.
“Hundreds of religion books come across the HuffPost Religion desk each year,” Huffington Post religion editors said. “Stacked in mountains next to our computers, they remind us of the sacred wisdom, religious leadership and academic rigor that so many women and men have shared with us. This year was especially rich, and we were impressed by the titles that came from across the religious spectrum.” The second volume in the series, “AllAmerican: 45 American Men on Being
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Muslim,” co-edited by Suratwala and playwright and cultural commentator Wajahat Ali, will be released this spring. In the fall, Vol. 3 will bring out young voices from the Arab Awakening movement that is transforming the Middle East.
Jackson State University professor Mohammed Ali of the department of technology has been awarded the 2012 Association of Technology, Management and Applied Engineering (ATMAE) Faculty Excellence Award. ATMAE sets standards for academic program accreditation, personal certification, and professional development for educators and industry professionals involved in integrating technology, leadership and design. This rigorous peerreviewed award is only given to faculty at four-year engineering and technology programs to those who have demonstrated excellence in teaching, research and service in an academic career. Ali, who joined JSU in 2007, has been serving on the ATMAE Certified Manufacturing Specialist Exam Commission. Ali received a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Chittagong University of Engineering & Technology in Bangladesh, an M.B.A. in management of technology from the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand, an M.S. in computer science from Oklahoma City University and a Ph.D. in manufacturing of biomedical instruments from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
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Islamic Horizonsâ€ƒ March/April 2012
Modern Muslims Moral Lives
Islamic school alumni and their struggle to live morally By Sohad Murrar
slamic schools, many parents believe, help to control and minimize their childrenâ€™s exposure to negative societal norms. The controlled environment of Islamic schools, like other parochial schools, is meant to help children learn certain virtues and adopt a set of values that develop strong Islamic character.
Graduates of Islamic schools exhibit the kind of Islamic character many parents hope their children develop in Islamic institutions, for they are committed to upholding Islamic values in their daily lives. Islamic Horizonsâ€ƒ March/April 2012
In debates on education, the communitarian model of education—where Islamic schools are categorized—offers students a community-based environment that is continuous with the home. Liberals argue that such education does not offer enough discontinuity from the student’s home to create the diversity in beliefs, lifestyles and viewpoints in the classroom that allow students to realize personal autonomy, or the capacity to develop their own conceptions of what is good and make independent choices. Autonomy is considered essential for an engaged citizen in a liberal democracy like the U.S. Islamic schools aim to provide an Islamic environment to impart a strong character with which students can become morallygrounded agents in the world. The question that inevitably arises is whether this educational framework inhibits the development of one’s moral autonomy. Rather than attempting to unpack the complexities of Muslim identity at large, 20
the research that this article is based on takes a much more modest, but still difficult approach of studying American-born Muslims with immigrant parents—Middle Eastern, in this case. As a generation brought
up with the influence of both their parents’ and mainstream American culture, studying this group of Muslims is important to understand the future of Muslim Americans. Rather than considering who these individuals are within the broader context of Muslims throughout the world, this article takes a simpler approach of trying to understand how they go about their daily lives. More specifically, the project asks Muslim American college students in a metropolitan area—all of whom are alumni of an Islamic high school—about the moral struggles they face and the decisions they make when dealing with those struggles. Their moral challenges range from differing with their parents on career choices or who they should marry, to praying in public or interacting with members of the opposite gender. Despite the similarities, each had encountered unique moral dilemmas. The moral reasoning behind their choices and how they deal with their dilemmas is both fascinating and encouraging. One topic most expressed as morally challenging was determining the proper boundaries in cross-gender relations. “The No. 1 thing is gender relations, which, in this society, isn’t a moral dilemma,” said Malik, a college senior studying history. “[When I started college] I was like, ‘I’m not going to change from the way I was in high school. I’m going to always be [how I was there],’ but obviously we grow up. And so I guess the moral dilemma is how to deal with the opposite gender. It’s uncomfortable at times.”
Marriage and th
“His job isn’t good enough.” “Her family is not religious enough.” “He never finished college.” These are some of the reasons many Muslim parents present their children when explaining why they do not support them getting married or their marriage to a specific person. While these concerns are sometimes legitimate and reasonable, they can be excuses for a close-minded approach to marriage. Many parents try to impose their cultural normative practices onto their secondgeneration children, which creates a wealth of problems. Meet Adam, an activist and medical student in his mid-20s. Adam, like many other young American Muslims, is struggling to gain his parents’ approval of the woman he wants to marry. “So if there is a scenario where I feel like I’m right—when I feel like there is absolutely no way or no reason, no logical reason why, for example, my mother is disagreeing with me on a specific scenario simply because she wants to impose her will as a mother—I refuse to give in,” Adam says.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
In the university setting and broader society, the questioning of friendships or romantic relationships with the opposite gender is unheard of. Having attended Islamic schools that enforce strict gender segregation, many of those interviewed faced initial difficulty when interacting with the opposite sex in college. Despite the awkwardness and discomfort they experienced when dealing with issues in daily student life—like how to appropriately develop bonds with college comrades of the opposite sex—these adults illustrated high levels of autonomous thinking as they adapted to their environment. “My sister [...] works at an Islamic school; she teaches Islamic Studies. [It’s] completely fine for her not to talk to men, to not want to go to lunch with them or have like a coworker come to your house,” engineering student Hiba says. “There are moral guidelines that God has set and that’s why He set them, because people will have variations and then various interpretations of those guidelines. And for me, like my future, no matter what I do with engineering, it’s going to have a lot of men. Just studying engineering to begin with involves you with men.” Being a student in the male-dominated field of engineering, Hiba often finds herself in dilemmas of how to appropriately interact with men. By her fifth year, she had changed her views to suit her individual circumstances, still remaining within the Islamic framework of moral beliefs. In the beginning, she spoke to men only when “necessary,” which was usually schoolwork
he Culture Clash
centered. Five years later, she maintains respectful, friendly relations with men she had worked closely with in her program. “If you’re in an environment where guys are a part of life, you need to accept that as
Adam says he believes that, at least with his parents, there is a lot of focus on matters of cultural importance. “For example, the girl that I’m interested in, her father has a really bad reputation in the community, Adam says. “My mom refers to them as ‘filthy.’” However, Adam says, a parent’s actions or past do not deter him, as long as the daughter doesn’t support her father’s actions. “For them (his parents), it’s like, ‘If he has a bad reputation, the story is going to be ‘so-and-so family married so-and-so family,’ and they don’t want that to happen because people will talk,” he says. “For me, she is an amazing girl; everything else doesn’t really matter.” As Adam shows us, many second-generation Muslim Americans struggle to overcome some of the cultural norms of their parents, which they cannot justify for themselves. Thus, they resist. While both parents and children need to remain respectful of each other, parents have an added responsibility to understand the cultural context from which their children are approaching marriage.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
normal,” Hiba says. “I’m not saying that you compromise your beliefs based on what is asked of you; I’m just saying you adjust to whatever it is you need to do. [...] You don’t sacrifice your beliefs; you just tweak them and adjust them within the bounds of what is acceptable, because there is an extreme of what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable.” Hiba’s situation is similar to that of many Islamic school graduates who have to learn how to interact with the opposite gender in college. They often express the need to do what is morally correct for their own self based on their understanding of Islamic doctrine. Moreover, as they adapt to their environment with a commitment to uphold Islamic values, they express their autonomy—a characteristic supposedly inhibited by their communitarian education, according to popular belief—by diverting from their Islamic school practice of complete gender separation and from the normative practice in their colleges of having no barriers 21
between genders. They individually arrive at a kind of middle ground for how they interact with members of the opposite sex. Another morally challenging dilemma is how to appropriately deal with parents. These young adults want to be respectful of their parents, but inevitably disagree with them on many matters because they hold different cultural values. As they traverse the world around them, they come to form a sense of self that can feel stifled by their parents’ wishes. The moral dilemma arises when they make a decision at odds with their parents’ wishes. Sana, a Yemeni American college senior, disagrees with her father’s preference for her to meet only Yemeni male suitors. When Ayman, a young Palestinian American, who Sana was introduced to by a mutual friend, called her father to formally ask for her hand in marriage, he refused to grant his blessings. While she takes no issue with crosscultural relationships, her father differs. “I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong, but it’s, to me, that’s wrong, just because he thinks it to be morally fine, doesn’t make it moral,” Sana says. “I see it as immoral, but it’s just hard because I have to respect my dad [and] what he considers moral or immoral. Just because I see it as moral, I don’t think it makes it universally moral. [...] The most moral thing, I think, is to maintain a level of respect.” Her father’s goal, she says, is to preserve the Yemeni culture. But, to her, refusing Ayman because of his Palestinian background is discrimination and morally incorrect. The different beliefs as to what is considered moral, as Sana expresses, is a way 22
through which many young Muslims facing such generational and cultural disputes realize their autonomy and individuality. They find themselves in situations where they must derive a personal understanding of what is best for them, apart from their parents’ beliefs and community’s expectations. The students interviewed expressed their commitment to God within Islamic tradition as a means through which they could disagree and diverge from their family or community. “If Allah is okay with it, why can’t the [Muslim] community [I come from] be okay with it too?” asks Sana. Interestingly, many of these students use the education they received at Islamic
school as a groundwork to further educate themselves on matters of Islamic jurisprudence, which they then use to defend their own practices against their community’s cultural norms. The moral reasoning demonstrated by the interviewees when coping with the moral dilemmas they face is specific to them and is perhaps not what we would see if we interviewed individuals who attended other Islamic schools, public schools, or even a home school. However, there are several points we can draw from the problems these students face and how they deal with them. First, they do exhibit the kind of Islamic character many parents hope they develop in Islamic institutions, for they are committed to upholding Islamic values in their daily lives. In the examples, we see how they are concerned with being chaste and respectful, and, perhaps most importantly, committed to obeying and pleasing God. This cannot be conclusively attributed to Islamic schooling, but we can reasonably say that it did have some influence on their development. Secondly, despite liberal critiques of communitarian institutions for stifling the individual’s autonomy, all of the interviewees exhibited a strong sense of individuality and autonomy as they coped with their respective moral dilemmas. The Divine served as their moral anchor, and deciding what was best for them and their personal relationship with God was at the forefront of their concern, despite what others thought. Finally, the examples in this study represent the challenges a small group of young Muslim Americans face today; there are many more challenges young Muslims are facing that must be recognized by the community, ranging from drug abuse to domestic violence. In a world where young people are caught up in the latest “Who’s Who” list and obsessed with acquiring the latest technological gizmo to minimize physical and mental effort, it is encouraging to see a group of young people committed to upholding a set of values in their lives. Young Muslims committed to upholding their faith in today’s world face a wealth of challenges. And as they go about their daily lives and struggle to uphold the Islamic tradition, they are inadvertently constructing the modern Muslim identity.
Sohad Murrar, a Chicago native, received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and Asian & Middle East Studies from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in the social sciences from the University of Chicago.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
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Moving Beyond “the Mosqueteria” The struggle of Muslim students to maintain religious accommodation in a public school. By Aruba Mahmud
ast June, the 1,200 students at Valley Park Middle School (VPMS), Canada’s largest middle school, were eagerly awaiting their summer vacation, set to begin in just two days. They, and the school’s administration, were not anticipating becoming the subject of sudden and intense nationwide media coverage, multiple protests at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) head office, and impassioned media and public debate over religious accommodation, women’s rights and equality, the separation of church and state, and the perceived attack on Western norms and values. For four years now, Valley Park has allowed its Muslim students (who make up at least 80 percent of the student population) to participate in Friday prayer. The prayers, held from November until April in
As public schools become increasingly diverse, many schools and boards are challenged on how to deal with religion and religious celebrations.
objection or concern expressed by students, teachers, parents, or any other members of the school community. The media attention was triggered by a popular right-wing blogger who objected to the fact that these prayers were taking place in a public school, and was then bolstered by lobby groups who organized the Toronto protests. The issue has had extensive media coverage. The issue has become known and reported as “the Mosqueteria” by Canada’s Sun Media’s Sun TV network, as well as other right-wing leaning news outlets and blogs. While some media personalities and columnists have been supportive, the majority of opinions expressed have been hostile, mostly objecting to the use of a public school and also the fact that the girls pray behind their male peers. Many of these opponents were particularly upset that the menstruating female students who chose to attend the prayers sat in the last row, behind both the males and the females who were praying. Thus the seeming innocuous prayers had suddenly unleashed a debate on religious accommodation, gender equity and perceived oppression, and the seeming threat that Islam and its religious practices impose on Western norms and values. Due to the controversy and the protests held at their offices, the TDSB has now had to publicly defend its decision to allow these prayers. The depiction of Muslims and Islam in some media outlets has long been an issue of concern, particularly after 9/11. However, the debate and scrutiny surrounding the “mosqueteria” has been particularly intense, despite the fact that no one in the school community objected to it, or ever expressed any concern.
the school’s cafeteria, are organized and set up by parent volunteers, and led by students from the neighboring high school. Approximately 400 students attend the prayers. Since the program’s inception, there has never any
The religious accommodation of students is not a recent phenomenon, although it is becoming more commonplace due to increasing religious diversity in North America’s public schools. Whether at VPMS in Toronto or at Keller Elementary School in Green Bay, Wis., Muslims, as well as students from other religious backgrounds in publicly-funded schools, have long held the right to pray during school hours, based on school and board religious accommodation policies and laws protecting religious freedom, as long as the accommodations are deemed reasonable and participation is voluntary. It is common for Muslim students to
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
pray at school, particularly during the winter months when the timings and duration of prayers tend to fall during school hours. They may pray alone, or in small groups, in an empty classroom or any designated area. The intense media coverage and strong public opposition to the prayers at Valley Park is a matter of concern. Interestingly, however, most responses to the Jan.1, 2011 article in “The Green Bay Press-Gazette” about Muslim students praying at Keller Elementary were overwhelmingly positive, which is a far cry from the majority of the public reaction to the prayers at Valley Park.
Support and protect religious accommodation
Photo credit John Goddard Toronto Star
Negotiating both their North American and Muslim identities, and many times their cultural backgrounds and traditions, can be a challenge. These students face various pressures, particularly after 9/11, the War on Terror, the Anti-Shariah campaign in
Friday prayer at Valley Park Middle School.
the U.S., and other current social and political realities. With the rise in Islamophobia, the religious accommodation of Muslim students in public schools has come to be seen as a threat. Many perceive that Muslims are imposing their beliefs and practices, or receiving preferential treatment in an arena that claims to separate church and state. Although the Lord’s Prayer and other overtly religious prayers and practices may have been removed from instruction time in public schools, most, if not all, schools still celebrate Christmas, Easter and other Christian holidays. Additionally, as public schools are based on the Judeo-Christian calendar, students who wish to worship on their holy holidays, such as Christmas, have the day off to observe their religious traditions. As public schools become increasingly diverse, many schools and boards are challenged on how to deal with religion and religious celebrations. In an effort to be politically correct, Christmas trees have been labeled Holiday trees and many schools are banishing
the celebration of all religious holidays. This is an unfortunate approach, as it removes the mention of any religious holidays from schools, negating the important traditions and practices that are an integral part of many students’ lives, and also increases animosity toward the celebration and implementation of multiculturalism in schools.
What can Muslims do? All students of all religious backgrounds have the right to accommodation, protected by the law and, if in place, school board policies. Muslims, like any others, must ensure that their requests are reasonable, well thought out, and take into account the schedules and needs of not only their own children, but also of the school, its staff, and other students. The commonly requested accommodations made by, or on behalf of Muslim students is for time and prayer space. Based on research, most public school boards and administration are able and willing to find a suitable arrangement. According to Rachel Olivero, diversity officer for a large and ethnically and religiously diverse school board in Southwestern Ontario, religious accommodation is often made out to be more complicated than it is, and almost all cases can be quickly and easily resolved with proper communication and mutual respect and understanding between all parties involved. This is evident at Valley Park, where the principal, parents, staff, students, and community organizations all worked together to allow students to pray at the school. And, even after the media and the public became involved, the school community has been positive toward both the prayers and the Muslim students. It is a matter of concern when there are objections and even protests against the accommodation of religious minorities in Toronto, one of North America’s most diverse cities. Muslims must work to dispel myths, stereotypes and misinformation. While some based their opposition on the perceived concern about the blurring lines between the church and state in public schools, it is glaringly obvious that, at least in the case of the prayers at Valley Park, most complaints are based upon common misconceptions of Islam, Muslims, the role and treatment of Muslim women, and the perceived threat that Muslims and Islam pose to Western traditions and norms. The media, when covering these events as exten-
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
sively as they have been in the case of Valley Park, further fuels animosity and distrust of Muslims. Muslims can ensure that the resources (movies, textbooks, handouts) used in their children’s classrooms are unbiased and balanced, particularly when it comes to current events and social studies. Mosque open houses and speaking engagements held for visiting middle and high school students are also an excellent initiative which has worked successfully for many communities. The book “Muslim Voices in School,” by Ozlem Sensoy and Christopher Darius Stonebanks, contains some excellent readings and suggestions for the issues facing Muslim students in the classroom. Another effective action is to simply reach out to the school and clear up any questionable or incorrect information. For example, by simply requesting and holding an interview with the school’s principal, I was able to refute several “facts” reported by
the media, such as claims that non-Muslim students were not permitted to enter the cafeteria or attend the prayers. Muslims need to let their views be known. Fortunately, the accommodation of nondominant religious groups in public schools continues to be implemented in public schools across North America. Despite what some may believe or attempt to convince others of, school and educational administrators have been overwhelmingly positive and willing to not only accommodate, but celebrate the needs and traditions of all of their students. While the media and public misconceptions can complicate matters when it comes to the religious accommodation of Muslim students, through media engagement and positive and active citizenship, we can rise to the challenge of advocating for and empowering our youth both in schools, and beyond.
Aruba Mahmud is an M.Ed Candidate at the University of Western Ontario whose research is focused on religious accommodation, multiculturalism and anti-racism education.
A participant at MIST Chicago 2011 reads over essay topics.
From MIST to Mentorship
Can Muslim Americans develop engaging after-school programs to steer the youth away from negative activities? By Shaza Khan
common source of parent and educator angst is the youth’s lack of adherence to religious practices like prayer, appropriate gender segregation and proper adab. In some circles, people voice concerns over the increasing number of Muslim youth dating Muslim and non-Muslim peers, engaging in premarital sex, and experimenting with alcohol and drugs. Other Muslim adults are simply concerned with ensuring that there are adequate opportunities for the youth to become the best individuals and Muslims that they can be. Concerns over positive youth development are not specific to Muslims; worries about the youth’s potential to become involved in idle or risky behaviors, or their disenfranchisement from society, have led to organized action. Several youth and community organizations were established to 26
mediate young people’s transition from childhood to adulthood and to prepare them for adult roles and responsibilities during this era. This included the establishment of parks and summer camps in the late 1800s and the Boys Club Federation of America (now known as the Boys and Girls Clubs of America), which was formed in 1906. Thus, for more than 100 years, youth programs have been identified as an ideal
space where they can be engaged in positive, productive activities that lead to their overall well being, while simultaneously preventing their engagement in at-risk behaviors—most of which occur in the after-school hours when parents are not yet home from work. One youth program in particular holds much promise in addressing the problems alluded to above, in particular as it strives to reach out to Muslim youth who attend public schools. Since its start in Houston a decade ago, the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament (MIST) has experienced steady growth in terms of the host regions and attendees. Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, New York and Toronto are among the more than dozen host cities. Research has shown that children who do not engage in after-school programs are approximately three times more likely to engage in at-risk behaviors, such as drug use, alcohol consumption and sexual activity. Thus, research studies on successful youth programs have been vigorously supported by nonprofit and government institutions, which have recognized the potential they hold. What makes MIST so unique is that it caters to interests and skills that span far beyond the religious domain, while maintaining an Islamic theme that makes the entire program cohesive. Comprised of more than 30 competitions that span from Math Olympics to Quranic Memorization to Short Film, MIST allows youth to reflect on their emerging Muslim American identities in a manner that is unique from other youth programs. “You have so many ways you can participate, and so many ways you can portray Islam,” one 2007 participant in the Atlanta competition said. “They have an art competition where you can use your art skills to portray something Islamic or you can use photography to get rid of stereotypes.” In the past 10 years, MIST has consisted primarily of parallel weekend-long regional
By taking the focus off of Islam, while giving them a place to belong and be themselves, the youth may be more willing to share their personal concerns with the program supervisors. Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
tournaments held at various colleges and universities throughout North America in the spring semester. Regional winners have then convened in select cities each summer to compete in national-level tournaments. Winners of the regional and national competitions leave with trophies, awards, scholarships, and often a sense of unity, brotherhood, sisterhood and renewed purpose. The best part about MIST, for an 11th grade participant in the areas of basketball, prepared essay, math bowl and digital art, was “just seeing so many Muslims come together and be on an equal level. I literally felt like we were all blood related.” However, MIST has thus far been limited in its ability to actively engage participants in a set curriculum that supports holistic, positive youth development on a consistent basis throughout the year. Ideally, MIST is meant to provide purpose and direction to high school Muslim Student Associations by encouraging them to use their weekly meetings as a space to prepare for their competitions. Yet, more often than not, the MIST experience is limited to the month immediately preceding the tournament, and the weekend tournament itself. MIST regional tournaments have, however, been successful in attracting youth who might otherwise not attend mosque events, thereby forging a bridge with Muslim youth who may lack other avenues for cultivating their religious identity development. By hosting its tournaments in a college or university setting, MIST is able to have this impact. In addition, MIST has gained a reputation for being a space where topics that are otherwise taboo to discuss in other settings, particularly within the mosque, are acceptable and encouraged to discuss. At the 2011 MIST Chicago regional tournament, volunteers and organizers were able to connect with youth who were struggling with boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that they recognized were Islamically unacceptable. They sought the advice of the young professionals who were organizers, judges, or volunteers and simultaneously role models. Many maintained contact with MIST leaders long after they met, establishing the foundation for potentially long-term mentoring relationships. In addition, several young males resonated with a talk given by a former gang member who discussed the perils of loyalty in relation to gang life, and how Islam provides a better alternative to belonging than
A student competes at MIST D.C.
The MIST New York team.
what can be offered in gang or other youthbased cliques. These youth, many of whom were struggling with bullying in their own schools, felt that the speaker gave them practical tips on how to effectively deal with the concerns that were part of their daily lives. MIST is only one example of how the community can begin to address some of the problems faced in assisting youth develop a positive Muslim American identity, while also reaching out to youth who otherwise feel disenfranchised from the mosque community. Yet, in order to be more successful in having a lasting impact toward this end,
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
the community must begin to think outside of the box. Muslim tweens, teens, and young adults are inundated with several challenges, which in addition to those described above also include pornography addiction, alcohol consumption and substance abuse. These are challenges that face youth who outwardly identify as Muslim, attend full-time Islamic schools and religious events, to those who are less likely to display their religious identity to non-Muslim peers and shun the mosque. In addition to youth programs that focus specifically on Islam and Muslim American identity development, it may also be necessary for the Muslim community to develop programs that remove the outward focus from Islam to focus more on cultivating positive, holistic development with Muslim youth at a generic, developmental level. Specifically, these programs can be focused on sports activities, book clubs, or the arts. By taking the focus off of Islam, while giving them a place to belong and be themselves, the youth may be more willing to share their personal concerns with the program supervisors. After establishing positive rapport with the youth, adults can discern how and when to introduce Islamic concepts, practices and teachings that can help them cope with and transform their present situation. Even simple mentorship programs, requiring few human and capital resources, can begin to tackle these concerns. The key to success, based on research on effective youth programs, is that these programs meet consistently and regularly, have a focus that is specifically of interest to the youth they are targeting, and have adults that are trusting and respected by the youth themselves.
Shaza Khan, a curriculum developer at Noorart, served as regional director of MIST Chicago.
In Focus: Islamic Schools
Examining Islamic Schools
of Islamic schools are less than 10 years old; 55 percent are less than five years old. On average, these schools have less than 100 students and are independently governed; 66 percent of these schools have plans to expand or are already in the process of doing so. The typical Islamic school is professionally oriented; the majority have about 80 percent teacher certification. By Jonathan Hayden Keyworth, who offers key recommendations for the community to help schools uslim Americans are sub- Schools League of America, was the first continue to grow and thrive, notes that “the ject to congressional com- primary research survey of the 235 Islamic Muslim community in America is well situmittee hearings investigating schools in the U.S. in more than 20 years. ated to advocate its own blend of intellect, “radicalization” and politiThe report, “Islamic Schools of the United modernity and Islam as reflective of the cians and talking heads continue to make States: Data-based Profiles,” provides the reality in which Muslims live in the United outrageous claims about the community. major findings of research related to full-time States; moreover, Islamic schools are the It would not be surprising to see Islamic K-12 Islamic schools in the U.S., helping to ideal place to promote that model and elimischools scrutinized by those who wish to create a more accurate data-based profile of nate negative, self-nullifying stereotypes.” negatively portray Muslims. But what do them. The report offers a broad overview of The recommendations include aggresK-12 schools and a glimpse inside. Muslims know about Islamic schools? sive public relations efforts toward the Because of Islam’s unique emphasis on Islamic schools’ enrollment is rising. community, highlighting the positive and knowledge, Islamic education is often at the These schools are very young: 85 percent recent changes, and introductory courses forefront of communities’ discusfor non-Muslim teachers on basic sions on how to create a better information about Islam from a future. While Islamic education teacher’s perspective. The report Islamic schools need aggressive also recommends addressing is an important topic to discuss, there have been few studies on the the issue of the disproportionate public relations efforts toward subject. A recent study published number of uncertified Arabic lanthe community to show the by the Institute for Social Policy guage and Islamic studies teachers and Understanding (ISPU) and that are used in nearly half of all positive and recent changes. co-authored by Karen Keyworth, American Islamic schools. This, director of education at Islamic she says, may be due to the some-
Study: Schools have sky-high teacher turnover rate, ‘crisis’ imminent
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
times serious shortage of available certified Muslim teachers, among other explanations. Hiring and holding on to teachers is creating a challenge for administrators, as ISPU fellow Omar Ezzeldine discovered in an upcoming ISPU research report. Retaining teachers, he finds, is a major crisis in education. The expense of training new teachers and the academic setbacks when experienced teachers leave a school are extremely costly for administrators seeking to minimize expenses when resources are already limited. “Although most people would think that teachers in religious schools are primarily motivated by their religious commitment, the findings show that these teachers are highly committed to teaching and less committed to teaching in faith-based schools,” writes Ezzeldine, who interviewed about 200 teachers to determine their motivation for working in a religious school. The interviews suggested that teachers did not leave religious schools for reasons one might assume—low pay, burnout, etc.— but because they desired “more respect from administrators, a greater connection to the schools’ missions to develop meaning, and stronger collegial relations.” Teachers placed high value on working as a team for a greater good with strong leadership from administrators. He warns that the next decade will have some of the largest teacher turnover rates in history due to retirement and poor management by administrators, a trend he deems an “imminent crisis.” The report suggests recommendations for improving teacher retention rates and alleviating the financial and academic strains caused by high turnover rates. In general, administrators must reexamine the dimensions of the school’s culture and its impact on teacher retention by keeping those teachers who love teaching, making sure teachers are connected to the school’s mission and values, respecting and appreciating teachers by providing mentors and professional development, and by nurturing teachers’ collegial relationships. The schools’ long term sustainability will require community support and information from academics and administrators. Focused reports and research will help guide the community as it seeks to expand Islamic schools and improve teacher retention.
Jonathan Hayden is communications manager for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Challenges in the Field
From the desk of an Islamic school teacher By Shireen Khadra
n my AP U.S. Government and Politics course, I have an engaging time discussing and debating critical social issues and current events as they apply to young Muslim American students in my classroom. I love hearing the typical, “Where is the justice?” or “Aren’t we all human beings?” Ironically, these are the same questions I often want to ask the students when I see certain behaviors that contradict their Islamic beliefs. However, there is a paradox of sorts. They are struggling not only with their Muslim American identities, but also with their knowledge of Islam and practicing of it. Sure, they pray their five daily prayers, but do they act kindly? They talk on and on about the rights of prisoners, yet angrily snap at their Muslim sister for asking an honest question. Even better, students take the knowledge of democracy to a whole new level. Rather than approaching their teacher to discuss a qualm or concern over an issue, students will make a meeting with the imam to complain about their matter to him. There are complaints about uniforms, recess and lunch routines, assembly routines, graduation practices, field trips and more. I try to remind them that rules are necessary in any institution. I remember when I was in high school, we had to sign in and out of class to get a hall pass to use the restroom. There were teachers on duty for lunch and you couldn’t walk out of the cafeteria into the building until it was time to do so. McDonald’s employees have to wear uniforms; so do you. Period. I struggled through my first years of teaching at an Islamic school due to this same dilemma: how could the teenagers speak so hypothetically about an idealistic world governed according to Islam, yet be disrespectful toward each other and their elders, whether they be parents, teachers or school administrators? Why weren’t they implementing all of the Quran and Hadith they had learned so well? Time and experience have given me an answer that may not be so difficult to understand and accept.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
A recent professional development seminar at an Islamic school focused on how to motivate unmotivated teenagers. Now, what does motivation have to do with what I’m examining? Well, at first I thought not much. But as the session advanced, it emerged that quite a few issues highlighted were the same as what I’ve been struggling with. Teens have an amazing ability to learn and speak in terms of hypotheticals, which is due to the fact that they’re not actually in the situation at the time. However, when it comes to dealing with challenging situations in the moment, they tend to act impulsively and forget some of the teachings they have learned. This is natural, but not an excuse for bad behavior. How can we aid their development? Learning is the formation of a new connection. Teachers and schools need to understand that the critical years for learning are during these teenage years. The common gripes of, “I’ll never need to use this!” or “Why do I have to learn that?” should not be entertained. If the mind is not trained early, it will be too late for any real learning and behavioral shifting to occur. Coming to the realization that there is more at work than the eye can see is imperative for developing an understanding of teenage students’ irrationality. To us, it seems that they have forgotten that life is a test. We are not in control of how we are tested, but we are judged for how we react. Let’s keep teaching them how to react.
Shireen Khadra is an AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher at Al-Huda School in College Park, MD. She holds a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Purdue University.
In Focus: Islamic Schools
Eighty and Still Strong Clara Muhammad laid the foundation of imparting education that instilled Islamic morality, ethics, history and teachings. By Leen Jaber
uslim Americans have built institutions from square one: creating mosques, universities, hospitals, businesses and schools. As a community, Muslims have made an in indelible footprint on the American landscape. Providing not only for other Muslims but for society in general, Muslims have established an infrastructure and network of philanthropy and education. Of these accomplishments, the establishment of Islamic schools for our children is one of the most essential. Among the nation’s many Islamic schools, the Sister Clara Muhammad School (SCMS) system is perhaps the oldest. This year, the SCMS celebrates its 80th anniversary. In 1930s Detroit, Sister Clara Muhammad, wife of the Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad, made a fateful decision to homeschool her children. Fearful that the Detroit public school system would corrupt her children and other Muslim children, she created a small school in her home. There she began teaching not only writing and arithmetic but lessons that instilled Islamic ethics as well as Islamic history and teachings. However, the absence of her children from public school raised a few red flags; eventually, a truant officer knocked on her door. Upon being ordered to put her children back into school, according to her granddaughter, Laila Muhammad, she replied that she would have “to die as dead as a door knob” before she subjected them to the amoral environment of the Detroit Public Schools system. This began the initiative then called University of Islam School System. With the support of area Muslims, Clara and Elijah Muhammad began building mosques (called temples at the time) where they led the community in prayer and Islamic instruction. Slowly, the community began to grow into numerous mosques, schools, restaurants and other businesses. The University of Islam grew
to not only provide classes and instruction for children, but also education for adult learners. The School System grew to include other cities such as Chicago, Atlanta, New York City and Philadelphia. In 1975, Clara’s son Imam W.D. Mohammed — who was leading the Nation of Islam toward Islam — changed the name of the schools to the Sister Clara Muhammad Schools, as it is known today.
The state-certified Sister Clara Muhammad School system has expanded to include preschool, grammar school, high school, and even weekend schools. Now state-certified, the school system has expanded to include preschool, grammar school, high school, and even weekend schools. “There are so many benefits to attending the school,” says Laila Muhammad, Clara’s granddaughter and a graduate of the school system. “The main benefit is that parents have the opportunity to put their children in a dignified environment.” The required uniforms and strict honor code of behavior is a part of the dignified
environment Muhammad describes. Providing intensive courses in Quran, Islamic history and Arabic enforces this type of environment. “There is a physical preparedness that parallels a mental preparedness,” Laila says. This preparedness is evident by looking at the numerous accomplishments of the schools in the last 80 years. Winning championships in various sports and a college acceptance rate of 99 percent, the schools are gaining momentum throughout the country. The diversity of the student population is also a mark of the popularity it has acquired throughout the years. Although the schools are predominantly African American, many of the schools have come to be known as ethnically and even religiously diverse, such as their school in Queens, N.Y. The commitment to excellence and growth has been a primary concern for the community over the last 80 years. The Sister Clara Muhammad Memorial Education Foundation was established in 1976 to help secure endowments for the school. The foundation ran book and clothing stores in order to provide scholarships for struggling parents as well as the funds needed to begin college preparatory programs. The foundation had to close its doors 13 years later; however, it is now planning to reopen with the help and commitment of a new generation of supporters. Since the Schools’ inception 80 yeras ago, other initiatives have formed. The Sister Clara Muhammad National Education Committee has been charged with unifying the curriculum for the system’s schools nationwide. The new curriculum is designed using the original vision of Imam Mohammed’s, which is a curriculum based on the Prophet’s ascension to heaven. (Although the committee is still working on this endeavor, the new curriculum has been successfully implemented in the Atlanta school.) Other initiatives include a consortium working to gain a national charter for all of the schools; the charter will assist in gaining funding and recognition. While no nationwide celebrations are planned to commemorate the 80th anniversary, a smaller celebration is bring planned in Philadelphia this summer, which will take place across from the school, in a public park also named after Clara Muhammad.
Leen Jaber is a freelance reporter from Chicago.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
49th Annual ISNA Convention August 31 – September 3, 2012 One Nation Under God: Striving for the Common Good Washington DC Convention Center 801 Mount Vernon Place NW • Washington, DC 20001
Ev ents Include: • Main Sessions (ISNA, MSA, MYNA) • Break-Out Sessions • Bazaar with more than 550 booths • Islamic Entertainment • Qira’at Competition • Meet the Author • Community Service Recognition Luncheon (CSRL) • Matrimonial Banquets • Art Exhibit • Islamic Film Festival • Basketball Tournament • Children’s Program • Babysitting • and much more… Early Registration Deadline July 10, 2012 We encourage you to register now as the hotel rooms are being booked quickly For R e gis t r at ion & Hot e l R e se rvat ions : visit: WWW.ISNA.NET or call: (317) 838-8129 or email email@example.com For B a z aa r B oot hs & Sp ons or sh i ps : visit: WWW.ISNA.NET or call: (317) 838-8131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org Con v e n t ion Pro gr a m: email: email@example.com or call: (317) 839-8157 ext 231
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In Focus: Islamic Schools
The Ghazis of Education Can today’s Muslim Americans add to the legacy set by Islamic education trailblazers? By Leena Saleh
hen doctoral students Abidullah Ghazi and his wife, Tasneema Ghazi, walked around Harvard University’s campus in the fall of 1968, they had never dreamed it would be the birthplace of the foundation that would transform Western Islamic education forever. He, an Islamic scholar and she, a professional educator, the Ghazis had the makings of an extraordinary and dynamic duo. Their fields of study and their passion for Islamic education created a recipe for innovation unmatched by any Islamic educational organization. As the ambitious students embarked on helping establish the first Islamic Sunday school, they realized how difficult it was to locate any instructional material for Islamic educators. Not only was there a lack of literature for teachers, but a growing gap between traditional madrassah syllabus and contemporary education models.
“Even Al-Azhar’s curriculum was driven by textbooks that had nothing to do with the modern world,” Tasneema says.
Standardizing Islamic Studies Educators stress the need for Islamic schools to come under the same umbrella. By Samana Khan
arly immigrants to the U.S. and Canada quickly recognized the need to teach children the basics of Islam. Across the nation, many dedicated their time to establishing schools, curricula and books to educate a new generation growing in the West. Islamic education has graduated from makeshift classrooms in basements to more than 600 weekend and 230 full-time schools nationwide. Many parents and educators alike have asked, “Where do we go from here? And how do we continue to raise the bar of Islamic education?” Tasneema Ghazi offers a glimpse into the next steps. Q: You were among the first to establish Islamic schools in North America, develop an Islamic studies curriculum, and research and write approved Islamic textbooks. What direction does Islamic education need to take as we move forward?
A revelation dawned on the Ghazis when Tasneema’s Christian friend John, a fellow doctoral student studying Islam and religion, asked her, “How can you teach Islam without teaching the life of the Prophet?” The only Islamic educational materials available at the time were devoid of any teaching of interpretation and Sirah (teachings of the life of the Prophet and his companions). This propelled the Ghazis to create a more integrated and thorough scope into standardized Islamic education. “Previously, textbooks had only five pages on the life of the Prophet,” says Tasneema. “We had close ties with members of different communities. Our fellow Christian and Jewish scholars had established Sunday schools to teach students about their faith.” Following their friends’ examples, the Ghazis studied the literature and curriculum they had developed. They turned to Western education models based in the Christian, Catholic and Jewish faiths as a template for creating the first-ever comprehensive, systematic and integrated system of Islamic religious knowledge. Their first classroom had 15 students. Equipped with a typewriter with “primary
A: Now that schools and resources have been established, we realized that, going forward, we needed to create learning benchmarks in order to progress. For example, when teaching subjects like math, science, language arts, etc., teachers follow state and national standards in curriculum development. Having an approved set of standards ensures that all students statewide and even nationwide are learning relatively the same content based on their cognitive ability within each grade. Q: Have efforts been made to apply a similar approach in establishing curriculum standards for Islamic studies? A: Yes. I have personally worked with a team of educators, researchers and scholars to help develop national standards for Islamic curriculum. We started by first finding the commonalities within Islamic textbooks from various publishers. Then we looked for commonalities among Islamic curriculum from several schools in North America. With guidance from scholars we created a curriculum map based on the data collected. Eventually, sets of standards and competencies have been created for Islamic studies subjects: Quranic Studies, Sirah (Life of the Prophet), Aqidah, Fiqh, Akhlaq and Islamic social studies. Q: How can parents assure that their child’s school is utilizing this resource?
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
IQRA’ has pioneered a one-of-a-kind education system that is used worldwide, from the U.S., Singapore, England and South Africa to Malaysia and New Zealand. font” or a large font, Tasneema handmade books for them. They would use them to make their own copies. After colleagues from local MSA chapters got wind of these handmade rarities, they urged the Ghazis to publish proper textbooks. The Ghazis set their sights on Chicago and began the ambitious endeavor to write Islamic textbooks for the Muslim Community Center (MCC). In 1976, the first textbooks were published: “Our Prophet: Life in Madinah” and “Our Prophet: Life in Mecca.” In 1981, they completed a curriculum for Islamic supplementary schools, as well as nearly 20 titles from the popular Sirah series—including “Our Prophet: Muhammad Rasulullah,” “Mercy to Mankind, Messenger of Allah” and “Stories from the Sirah.”
With a vision ahead and opportunity in their midst, the Ghazis coupled with a group of Islamic scholars, scientists, lawyers and educators and founded IQRA’ International Education Foundation in 1983, which was registered as an official nonprofit in Illinois. The Ghazis bear the fruit of their labors, which began almost half a century ago, as they continue to witness the positive impact they’ve had in education. “I can’t believe my eyes when I see the thousands of Sunday schools now all over North America and globally, too,” Tasneema says. With curricula written for each grade level (and subjects including Sirah, Quranic studies, Islamic social studies and geography), the publishing of 150 textbooks, workbooks, teacher’s guides, curriculum manuals and other educational materials, IQRA’ has pioneered a one-of-a-kind education system that is used worldwide, from the U.S., Singapore, England and South Africa
to Malaysia and New Zealand. Currently IQRA’ is working on normalizing standardized testing in Islamic full-time and weekend schools, which has already begun in six Chicagoland-area schools, including: Islamic Foundation School, Universal School, MCC Full Time School, Aqsa School, Furqaan Academy, and the College Preparatory School of America. The work, however, is far from over. “Out of 500 top universities in North America, Muslims don’t have one,” Tasneema says. “We need to establish scholarship that should help prepare our children for leadership. We are old, we need to find a new generation to take it over.” The next generation will, Tasneema hopes, be more in touch with the society they live in—an asset she considers very valuable. “We have to work with others; they are our neighbors. This is why we also have sensitivity training programs,” Tasneema says. But the largest foreseen obstacle that threatens progress, according to Tasneema, is management. “I think the school management should be completely separate from the masjids. They should have professional educators running the boards of education. […] We need better administrators of Islamic schools.”
Leena Saleh is a freelance journalist from Chicago.
A: The best way to monitor whether or not students are learning is by implementing an assessment instrument like the Islamic Studies Standardized Tests (ISST). Q: What is the ISST? A: The ISST is a standardized test developed by the same team of experts who created the national standards and competencies. Test questions are derived from these standards and assess a student’s mastery of concepts. Prior to implementing, the test went through a rigorous data and item analysis by John Wick, a Northwestern University professor, published extensively in areas of psychometric, measurements, statistics and school improvement. Currently, tests are distributed and scored by Strategic Measurement and Evaluation, Inc. (SME), headed by Denis Jarvinen, an award-winning educator with over 20 years of experience managing the development of assessment material and analyzing data. Q: What can ISST reports tell you? A: Schools use data collected from standardized testing in a number of ways. The primary use of data is to track student achievement over time across different subject areas in relation to school curriculum. In addition, test scores give insight into program and instructional needs. Based on overall data, schools
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
may choose to change educational material, redesign course curriculum, and update program planning. For example, if scores are high in one subject area over another, schools may opt to temporarily reduce funding for one subject in order to pay for new textbooks for the low-scoring subjects. Standardized test score results also aid in petitioning for new resources such as updated computer labs, after school enrichment programs, training sessions for current staff, additional support staff (teacher assistants), or bringing on board educational consultants. Q: Do you have any concerns about the tests? A: Initially, I had a few concerns. Though a standardized test is an important instrument, I wanted to clarify with my staff that it should not be the only tool used to assess student performance. Teaching the deen is also heavily based on tarbia and experience. Also, prior to taking the tests, I wanted to ensure that the ISST was not based on any one specific textbook series. I was pleased to find out that, even though several members at IQRA’ aided in the research and development of the tests, they took extreme precautions to ensure the test is non-biased and can be used by users of virtually any textbook series.
In Focus: Islamic Schools
Teaching Like the Prophet A Positive Approach to Islamic Studies By Habeeb Quadri
hen the companions of the Prophet Muhammad asked Aisha which supplication the Prophet recited most often, she replied, “Our Lord, give us good in this world and good in the hereafter and save us from the punishment of the Hellfire.” This dua, found in verse 21 of Surah Baqarah, contains many lessons for both educators and parents alike.
Positive Thinking When reciting this supplication, there are three things being requested from God; however, the component that has been defined as success in the Quran is mentioned last: “So whoever has escaped the Hellfire and entered Paradise, he has verily succeeded” (3:185). This dua teaches us the power of positive thinking and the need to accentuate the positive. Thus, the one supplicating is asking God for the tools to save himself from Hell by asking for good in this world and in the hereafter. In fact, this principle is found in many supplications. Believers are constantly encouraged to ask for good and then complete their request by seeking protection and emancipation from the fire. Yet, within our schools we often see the approach of our teachers contradict this wisdom. Many classes are taught in such a way where fear is the primary method through which submission is encouraged. Thus, students often leave their Islamic school experience feeling that fear is the underlying characteristic and emotion that governs how we submit.
An Abundance of Material In the field of education today, there is no dearth of materials or resources. The amount of curricula, books, videos, multimedia 38
presentations, programs on DVD, lectures on YouTube and phone applications provide multiple avenues for enrichment. To understand why our students may feel that full-time and part-time Islamic schools are burdensome, it is necessary to examine how students learn. According to psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser, the developer of choice and reality therapy, student learning can be categorized as the following: 10 percent results from reading 30 percent results from sight 50 percent results from what is seen and heard 70 percent results from discussion 80 percent results from experience 95 percent results from what you teach others
The Approach of the Prophet When examining the life of the Prophet, it becomes readily apparent that he implemented every effective style of teaching. Many hadith begin with the companions saying, “I heard the Prophet say” or “I saw the Prophet do.” Furthermore, everything the Prophet said, he also did, acting out his commands to establish clarity for future generations. Subsequently, the companions discussed what he taught. On many occasions the Prophet would ask his companions questions or reply to their inquiries with a question of his own. Although the Prophet was already aware of the answer—and on most occasions the companions would respond by saying that God and His Messenger knew best—he displayed the importance of the topic by having the companions mull over what he was asking. Finally, the Prophet asked the companions to relate and teach what they learned from him, even if it was only one verse. Thus, when examining Glasser’s statements, it appears to be a formalized version of the approach of the Prophet. Such an approach to learning could be adopted in Islamic Studies classes, rather than the traditional choice of lecture-style learning.
Practical Application in the Classroom How we teach children to make wudu provides an example as to how we can teach the Deen thorough positive means. We can tell our children that, if they leave any of the required parts dry while making wudu, their prayer will not count and those parts can potentially burn in the hellfire. Alternatively, we can take the positive approach and tell our children that every part of the body that has water poured over it will have sins wash away with that water and attain a glow in the hereafter. In both scenarios, the goal is to encourage our children to perform wudu properly, but in the former fear is used as a tactic, whereas in the latter approach positive reinforcement is used. The same can also be applied when teaching children the benefit of sleeping, according to the sunnah. One approach is to inform our students and children that if they sleep without reciting the
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
When they do not know an answer to a question, teachers might utilize that moment as an opportunity to show their humanity and explain that they may not know the answer, but would appreciate it if the student could do research and return back to class the next day with an answer. surahs Ikhlas, Falaq and Naas, sleep on their stomach or left side, and if they face their feet toward the Qiblah, then they may be susceptible to bad dreams, God’s displeasure, and be vulnerable to evil throughout the night. By using positive reinforcement, we can explain the rewards and protection granted through reading the prescribed supplication before going to sleep, the benefits of sleeping on the right side, the power and aide provided by making wudu prior to sleeping and explain how all of these help make every moment of sleep an act of worship, allowing perpetual reward to be showered on them throughout the night. The same idea can be applied to any and all acts, be it using the restroom, changing clothing, or even eating. For most children, there is a practical disconnect that needs to be alleviated. Children will attest to the fact that their food tasted just as good and their bodies felt just as nourished without saying “Bismillah” before eating. They also notice that they did not get hurt by walking into the mosque with their left foot first. Thus, if we are always scarring them about what can potentially go wrong, and they do not see any harm or detriment by not doing what they were taught, eventually they will begin to only see these supplications and practices as superstitions. But if we instill in them the fact that there is an unending reward for doing actions consciously and in a manner that is pleasing to their Lord, they will be more likely to be open to new ways to improve themselves.
class-wide assignment. This also is a great opportunity to encourage our students to seek out scholars and open the door of communication between them. Teachers can even initiate the process by asking a scholar to come into the class as guest and answer some difficult yet pressing issues. There may even be times when the question seems completely preposterous. The Prophet handled all questions with great sensitivity. Even in the case of a young man seeking permission to commit fornication, the Prophet turned the question back to him and asked him if he would accept it if someone committed fornication with the female relatives in his family. When he immediately said no, the Prophet then reminded him that, indeed, the person whom he wanted to commit fornication with was someone’s sister, mother, wife or daughter. This interac-
Teaching and Practicing Teachers are not all-knowing beings. When they do not know an answer to a question, teachers might utilize that moment as an opportunity to show their humanity and explain that they may not know the answer, but would appreciate it if the student could do research and return back to class the next day with an answer. It can even become a Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
tion, followed by the Prophet supplicating for the young man, helped remove this illicit desire from him. Our schools should also take the time to implement the spirit behind the faith. Islamic Studies classes could regularly schedule field trips to soup kitchens, retirement homes, and any other form of community service that can help them practically implement the spirit of what they are learning. It is important that students learn the fact that the character and benevolent nature of the Prophet did not exist in a bubble. He was described as the walking Quran, because he implemented the rulings and principles of the Quran. By engaging such activities we can demonstrate to our students and communities the practicality and beauty of Islam.
Moving Forward It is not easy to try to teach religion in today’s time. However, much of our fears can be quelled if we merely look back at the approach of the Prophet and begin to act positively within our classrooms and homes. Although this list is not all-inclusive, it is a start for how we can begin to reshape our Islamic Studies programs and our future generations.
Habeeb Quadri is the principal of MCC Full Time School and an educational consultant. He has co-authored three books: “War Within our Hearts: Struggles of the Muslim Youth,” “Parenting: Who Said it Was Easy,” and “Wisdom of the Wise: Luqman’s Advice to His Son.”
In the name of Allah the most Beneficent, the most Merciful
THE ISLAMIC RESEARCH FOUNDATION INTERNATIONAL (IRFI),
Is soliciting individuals and Organizations to become joint sponsors or Cosponsors of The Second International Conference On
Islamic Renaissance The Objectives of the Conference are to find practical solutions to the problems facing the Muslim Community in the 21st Century. The areas of interest are: 1. Education 2. Economics and Finance 3. Science and Technology 4. Religion 5. Medicine and Health 1. Submit Abstracts (300 words Max – Microsoft Word). Deadline: June 30, 2012 2. Notification of acceptance and invitation to submit full paper – in Microsoft Word – July 15, 2012 3. Full Paper due: December 15, 2012 Lecture presentation will be only in PowerPoint Format. If your paper is selected for presentation, IRFI will provide the boarding, lodging, and Return Travel Expenses to Louisville, KY, USA.
Date: May 24 – 26, 2013 For complete details visit our Website: http://www.irfi.org • E- Mail: IRFI.1988@YAHOO.COM
The Price of Reaching for the American Dream
stable employment are limited if not for a college degree. The statistics support her assumption. Despite the cost of attending college, college graduates have a greater likelihood of finding employment. However, in years past, a respectable living wage was a reasonable expectation. Today, mere employment is a godsend even if the wages handcuff the employee. For some, like Khan, the value of employBy Feras Abelrahman ment supersedes the compensation of employment or even the cost of attending. Despite the concerns that graduates like college education—usu- decline from $19.38 to $18.43. EPI estimated ally the first step toward suc- there will not be any significant wage growth Basrawi have on the value of their educacess—means money. The route until 2014 if unemployment decreases. tion, no one seems to reject the notion coltoward such an education often For recent University of Illinois-Chicago lege degrees, with loans and interest, are an entails parental planning and largess, schol- graduate Yusuf Basrawi, the reality of loans undesirable means to success. Unlike most arships and interest-bearing loans. and underemployment are troubling. He who graduate college pessimistic, some “I was told my degree was going to help admits to being concerned about the worth Muslim graduates don’t advise students to me get a good-paying job,” says Nafia Khan, of his education. reject traditional education because of loans, a communications graduate from Bradley “While nothing is free in this country, unemployment and underemployment. University. “Being the first female “I think before a student enters in my family to attend college in the college, he/she really needs to sit down and have a serious converU.S., I was excited about leaving a legacy for my siblings and cousins.” sation with their parents about the costs of school,” says Aatifa Khan’s hope is a sentiment widely shared among collegians— Sadiq, a graduate student at the to leave her university as a profesUniversity of Chicago. “If the sional in her field and a model for parents decide that the onus for her family. For a young student paying for school falls on the child, questioning the implications of then the child should start working and saving.” attending classes or doing their Sadiq had the same advice for school work, Khan’s success could be viewed as a covenant between incoming freshmen: students must the system and the student. The be introspective and responsibly commitment to work can, and seek out help from family, which will, pay future dividends. some would claim is antithetical Underemployment coupled with The on-going economic downto the acculturation of adulthood. loans produce a bleak outlook turn has cast doubt on the credibilHelp can range from material ity of the covenant between educato immaterial support, and should for students in debt repayment. tion and success. As of November include involving parents in the 2011, more than two million colprocess of choosing a school and lege graduates were unemployed, which is costs tend to be outrageous considering weighing the advantages and disadvantages lowest among educational demographics, the school one chooses. For the education of attending certain universities. The decision according to the U.S. Department of Labor. I received, I shouldn’t have to pay that much will affect a student for the rest of his or her life and should not rest on the shoulders of Although the employment prospects for for a degree,” Basrawi says. college graduates are relatively higher than Concerns over loan repayment, low a hopeful prospective college student alone. other demographics, underemployment wages, and the worth of a modern education For students enrolling in college, the coupled with loans produce a bleak outlook have all been, for many students, elements need exists to confront debt pre-emptively with the support of family and careful conin driving the Occupy Movement. for students in debt repayment. An August 2011 analysis by the think“I contemplate whether a communica- sideration for their future. Those who have tank, Economic Policy Institute (EPI), tions degree truly makes me competitive,” accrued debt, should consult with financharted the average wage for graduates since Khan says. “But I know for myself, finan- cial aid officers and family on overcoming 1979 using the 2010 dollar. The data indi- cially, I couldn’t afford not to go to college. the burden while living with the American cated the hourly wage for entry-level male [...] That would be the only way I could truly dream in reachable sight. college graduates dropped from $22.75 to have a competitive edge.” Feras Abdelrahman is the communications coordinator at $21.77, while female graduates witnessed a Her prospects, she admits, of finding Zakat Foundation.
Despite the costs, a college education offers a doorway to hope.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Studying with the Scholars Zaytuna College offers a collegiate experience unlike any other in the U.S. By Zahra Cheema
aatimah Knight made the trip from her hometown of Brooklyn, N.Y., to Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., eager to learn from Islamic scholars Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir—whom she had admired since her early teens—and to be a part of the college’s first class. “I was looking for an education that would not only stimulate my mind, but also my spirit and my heart and I was confident that I would find that at Zaytuna,” says Knight, a sophomore studying Islamic law and theology at Zaytuna. “I definitely feel like I’ve gotten more than what I could’ve anticipated in terms of how nurturing the experience is and about how holistic it is.” Zaytuna, which opened its doors in 2009, is a liberal arts college that offers bachelor’s
degrees in Islamic law and theology, and Arabic language. Founded by current fulltime faculty members Shakir, Yusuf and Hatem Bazian, the college is on the path to becoming the first accredited Muslim college in the U.S. It offers its students a
Zaytuna requires that incoming students have the equivalent of at least one year of college-level Arabic.
curriculum in Islamic studies and Arabic, as well as in the humanities and social sciences. “It’s a great blend of your classical Islamic traditions and today’s modern liberal arts education,” says Sumaira Akhtar, the college’s academics program manager. “The classes are taught in a really unique way; it’s kind of bringing the best of both worlds together.” Akhtar says that there is a growing interest in the college; in fact, admission applications have doubled since the first year. Zaytuna’s admission process is a competitive one and similar to other colleges, and includes an application, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores. The college requires that incoming students have the equivalent of at least one-year of college-level Arabic, which can also be attained at Zaytuna’s eight-
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Co-founder of Zaytuna College, Imam Zaid Shakir with students
week Summer Arabic Intensive program. Zaytuna offers the choice of fully furnished apartments within walking distance from the college. Akhtar says that there are activities for students outside of the classroom. The student life coordinator works with students
to organize events and programs that range from team-building activities to sessions on time management. Students have also started groups, including a running club and a chapter of Muslims Without Borders. “It’s really great to see them when they
talk to us about initiatives that they want to have, [about] what drives them [and] gets them excited,” Akhtar says. Zaytuna is seeking accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, a process which generally takes four to seven years. Knight was unconcerned about accreditation when considering the college. “It really didn’t matter to me,” Knight says. “At the time I felt like I was going there for the education, for the experience, and I just kind of felt like everything would, God willing, fall into place. I think I’d be more worried if I didn’t know who’d be teaching.” What Knight likes most about attending Zaytuna is the relationship between students and teachers. “Our success is really seen as the success of the school and the teachers really make us feel like they are rooting for us,” Knight says. “You can just tell that they’re sincere and they really care. I don’t think you can get that sort of attention and sincerity […] at any university. That’s something that’s particular and very special and something that we have at Zaytuna.”
Zahra Cheema, a freelance writer, resides in Maryland.
Islamic School Principal and Vice Principal Needed Arizona Cultural Academy and College Prep is an NCA (Advanced) accredited Islamic school, preK-12, founded in 2001, located in Phoenix, largest in Arizona, now seeking A qualified Principal and Vice Principal with a minimum requirement of Master’s degree in education, and a State Teacher’s or Principal’s certificate to lead our 40 faculty members, 230 plus college bound students, and build on our academic achievements Students earn An Associate’s Degree with commencement of high school ○ Five-acre state of the art facility ○ Generous salary and benefits (commensurate with qualifications) ○ Long staff-retention record ○ Vibrant and supportive Muslim community
Co-founder and Chairman of Zaytuna College, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Send resumes and (downloaded) applications to ACA PO Box 40374 Phoenix AZ 85067-0374 www.azacademy.org
School and Family
The Shame and Denial of Mental Disabilities Are parents in the Muslim community accepting of special education children? By Meha Ahmad
ost parents think their child is perfect. But when that child may have an intellectual or learning disability, that kind of thinking can do more harm than good. When Ramia Ali was assigned to a student with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), she said the boy’s condition wasn’t what slowed down his progress the most—it was his parents. Ali’s fifth-grade charge, Jameel, was kicked out of a private school in South Carolina due to his low scores and often disruptive behavior issues. That was when he was diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication. When the medicine improved his behavior and focus, the school board said he could come back to class, but on one condition: he needed an aide with him throughout the day.
“The parents were really against having an aide tutoring him and helping him stay focused in his classes. They thought it was drawing too much attention to the fact he needed assistance,” Ali says. “They weren’t even convinced he had ADHD and went to a lot of different doctors to get different opinions, but they all gave the same diagnoses.” Special education programs assist about 1 out of every 7 children in public school, according to the U.S. Department of Education—a more than 60-percent increase from 40 years ago. This is largely because of the rise in the percentage of students identified
as having learning disabilities—varying disorders that negatively affect an individual’s learning, and may affect their ability to speak, think, read or write, comprehend, or pay attention. Legislation, like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), has helped bring the needs of special education students to the forefront and provided more funding and tools to help identify students who need assistance. However, for special needs students to get the education they need, it takes more than just legislation and programs: it takes the collaboration of parents, too, according to Ali. But when Jameel’s parents eventually relented and allowed Ali to aid their son, she said the problems didn’t stop. “To compensate for his ADHD, they let him skip his homework and would tell him how perfect he is,” Ali
Some parents who hear the word ‘disability’ quickly turn to a favorite crutch: denial.”
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
says. “They were so focused on giving him a high sense of self-esteem, that they didn’t make his actual learning a priority.” Because of Jameel’s missing assignments and lack of academic discipline at home, according to Ali, he was failing multiple classes despite having academic support available to him at school. “The faculty tried to help Jameel in every way we could,” Ali says. “But his parents really got in the way of his progress and development, because they never seemed to accept that he was different than the other students.” Learning disabilities, largely invisible, are not only misunderstood, but also underestimated. In the Muslim community, where a huge emphasis is placed on education, getting parents to accept that their child has academic struggles can be particularly difficult, often for social and cultural reasons, according to education psychologist Haneen Abbasi. “With the Muslim communities, the biggest issue [for parents] is that, ‘Everyone is going to know my daughter or son is in special education,’” Abbasi, who works with special education students, a majority of whom are Arab Muslims, in southwest Illinois. Family pride and the fear of society are often the primary reasons parents, particularly in the Muslim community, deny that their child has a learning disability, according to Abbasi. “In their mind, they only see how special education is seen by the greater community,” Abbasi says. She says cases like Ali and Jameel’s is, unfortunately, far from uncommon. Abbasi says she often sees Muslim parents—more common in, but not limited to, the immigrant community—argue against the diagnoses of professionals and make up their own excuses. “I had a case where a student transferred to my school and his record showed a history of diagnosed learning difficulties, but his parents kept insisting, ‘he’s smart and can do [the regular curriculum],’” Abbasi says. “They think because the child is socially aware that he must be academically okay. And that’s not the case.” It is not a quick or easy process to be diagnosed with an intellectual or learning disability. According to Abbasi, many school districts try several alternate routes first—applying different teaching methods, for example—before testing a student for a learning disability. But once they come to that conclusion, they still generally have one more obstacle to get past: the parents.
As a school psychologist, Abbasi sets up meetings with parents to discuss their findings and explain their child’s situation. And her job is not an easy one. “There is a lot of talking and convincing involved,” Abbasi says, adding that she has learned that certain words soften the blow in the minds of Muslim parents. “I’ve found it’s easier for parents to accept that their child has a learning ‘difficulty’ before they accept that he or she has a learning ‘disability,’ even though by definition they’re the same thing. It’s hard for them to hear ‘disability.’” Some parents who hear the word “disability” quickly turn to a favorite crutch: denial. Nasim Mirza, a learning and development specialist in Detroit, remembers a severely autistic, nonverbal student he worked with. But as apparent as the child’s disability was, there was no fighting the parent’s refusal to face facts. “His mother denied anything was wrong with him, and insisted it was jinx, or the ‘evil eye,’ that others had caused when he was a baby,” Mirza says, adding that the mother saw no reason for tutoring or assistance. “She said he just needed to be disciplined. In the end I had to stop working with that family because I’m not able to do anything when one parent becomes such a big obstacle.” Some parents find it most difficult to understand why their child cannot “be like everyone else,” so they put hopes on the idea that their mental, learning or behavioral issues may just “be a phase,” according to Abbasi. Another concern for parents may not even be their child’s academic future, but their social future as well. “It’s even worse when it’s a female student, because what it really boils down to is this big fear that she won’t get married [if she’s in a special education program],” Abbasi says. “But when it’s a male child, some parents chalk it up to ‘boys just being boys.’ So along with
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
A Parent’s Guide to Special Education Trust the experts. Teachers and faculty just want to see your child get the education they need and deserve. Trust the data the experts present you with. They’re not making it up. “As much as a parent might know their child at home, in the classroom we see a different child. Trust our expertise,” Abbasi says. “We wouldn’t bring families to the table without a valid reason.” Don’t be in denial. Time is of the essence; don’t waste another minute denying the evidence. The earlier on children get the help they need, the better. Acceptance is extremely important. “The time you spend being in denial, that’s time your child is losing out on,” Abbasi says. Educate yourself. Learn what an Individual Education Program (IEP) is. Read up on the specific disability your child has, and that will help you get a firmer grasp on the situation and not feel so lost. To be forewarned is forearmed. Know your rights. As a parent of a special education student, you have rights and so does your child. You have the right to choose alternative therapies for your child, the right to disagree with your child’s teachers or therapists, and even the right to due process. Learn all of your rights at your state’s department of education. Never be scared to ask questions. The special education process can be an intimidating. It can also be confusing for a parent with almost zero knowledge of it. Ask experts, your child’s teachers and principal, a lawyer, and other parents of children in an IEP for advice and answers. Find support. “Many Muslim communities don’t like to discuss their problems to strangers, but support groups let you meet people who are going through the same thing as you and understand you,” Mirza says. Support groups allow you to talk to other parents who are in similar situations, which takes a lot of stress and pressure off parents and makes for a healthier environment for both parents and children. You can also learn from each other. Find a group that fits your needs at www. childrensdisabilities.info/speclists.html. Don’t worry about “the public.” Many parents fear their family, friends and neighbors will “find out” their child needs help. While it’s nothing to be ashamed of, parents should know that special education programs are extremely confidential; this information is not exposed to the community. It’s not even on the student’s diploma. Recognize the benefits of a special education for your child. Oftentimes, parents think that being in a special education program will negatively impact their child’s future. But what it really means is they are getting the assistance needed to ensure the best future for themselves. The student will have the tools, the additional support, time and resources they need to guarantee success in school and in the future. 45
School and Family the fear of a stigma, you also have a double standard.” That’s a hard lesson Summar Ghouleh, of Bridgeview, Ill., had to learn. Ghouleh’s daughter has spina bifida, which, along with causing various physical limitations including weakness in the legs, can also cause learning disabilities in patients. Though her daughter Shahid, 14, faces both physical and academic struggles, she is also exposed to the sharp tongue of the community. “People told me, you’re hurting your other daughter—she won’t be able to get married, a sick sister will hurt her chances,” Ghouleh says. “It is the biggest stigma in this community for your kid to have a disability.” But, Ghouleh says, unlike parents she knows who “hide” or “protect” their children from the public eye by severely limiting their social interactions or homeschooling them, she encourages a healthy social life for her daughter, and sends her to a nearby Muslim private school. “I’m proud of her, and I let Shahid and other people always know I’m proud of her and the effort she puts forth,” Ghouleh says. “All that has to come from the parents—that confidence, that pride in oneself. When you hide your child from life, what are you doing?”
Keeping her daughter in a regular education program, however, does present its own struggles. Shahid’s comprehension capacity is extremely limited. She is an excellent reader— in fact, she’s thrives in her English classes—but has difficulty comprehending the stories. “She asks me, ‘Why can’t I understand, Mama?” Ghouleh says. “‘I read the whole book. Why can’t I understand?’” She also has difficulty in mathematics, a notorious sore spot for those with spina bifida. “Sometimes I like to learn it—other times it all gets jumbled up in my head,” Shahid, who is finishing up ninth grade this year. “I mix up the equations [and formulas].” Ghouleh says the school has been very accommodating and helpful in regards to her daughter’s academic needs. And she keeps herself informed on ways she can help, and has even hired tutors in the past. Not all Muslim parents of special education children deny or reject the diagnoses. According to Mirza, he has worked with some who are just like Ghouleh—proactive and eager to be informed of their and their child’s options and needs. “Some parents jump on board and ask,
‘What do I need to do to help my son or daughter?’ and that’s the best thing I could hear,” Mirza says. He says more parents would have that kind of attitude if an effort to raise awareness regarding special education and disabilities in the community were put forth. “I think we are very, very slowly moving toward wanting to educate our community because of the stigma, but still, people are becoming more accepting,” Mirza says. “I think our mosques need to be more accommodating to people with learning and behavioral disabilities and can take the lead in raising awareness.” Ghouleh agrees, and hopes her local mosque will be more willing to make mental difficulties the topic of an upcoming lecture. As for her daughter, despite the challenges life has given her, Shahid hopes to become an elementary school teacher in the future. How she will master teaching when her comprehension capacity is limited is still a yet to be determined. “I take every day as it comes,” Ghouleh says. “I pray that she becomes successful, but the reality is she has huge struggles to overcome.
Meha Ahmad is the copyeditor of Islamic Horizons.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
President Obama greets Hashim Yonis.
For Former Refugee, Hard Work and Faith Brings Results
Obama honors Minneapolis Muslim for outstanding achievements. By Maggie Siddiqi
resident Barack Obama walked straight toward 23-yearold Hashim Yonis, gave him a hug, and said, “It’s good to see you, my East African brother.” On Jan. 5, 2012, Obama announced his Summer Jobs Plus program to help 250,000 low-income youth find paid internships and jobs this summer. As part of the event, he recognized students who benefited from the jobs program’s first effort under the Recovery Act—Yonis among them. From infanthood to about 11 years old, Yonis lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, having fled war-torn Somalia. “I remember my relatives going to get water from one village to another,” Yonis says, “and by the time they’d get back, about half of the water would have evaporated.” A lot has changed in the 12 years since. Yonis, who lives Minnesota, manages two high schools and was recently recognized by Obama at a White House ceremony. If you ask him how he got there, his answer is simple: growing up in refugee camps served as a humbling learning experience. “I took advantage of every opportunity that was given to me,” he says.
Yonis, who worked hard and excelled in high school, sought opportunities. When Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak introduced the STEP-UP Achieve program to help the city’s youth find prestigious paid internships, he immediately applied and was among the first 50 to be accepted. STEP-UP assigned him to a law firm, where he interned under attorney Pamela Stein. “One of the greatest things that happened to me was meeting Pamela Stein,” Yonis says. “She took me as I was, mentored me, talked to me about college and wrote me a letter of recommendation.” That letter, he later learned, was so impressive that it was the primary reason for
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
his acceptance into St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. In his second year of STEP-UP, Yonis got a chance to meet Mayor Rybak himself, who immediately saw something in him. He worked in the city’s public works department and soon directors from many departments were vying for his attention. For four summers in a row, he worked for the City of Minneapolis, gaining a wide variety of experiences surrounded by people who believed in him. In college, Yonis took part in the Minnesota TRiO Association’s Student Support Services, which help students overcome class social, and cultural barriers to complete their college education. And when Obama first introduced the summer jobs program, there Yonis was, ready to seize another opportunity to excel. After graduating with a B.A. in education, Yonis, who started his master’s degree, began working as administrative manager at Roosevelt and Wellstone International high schools—the latter teaching international students, predominantly from East Africa. He is the first Muslim and the first Somali to serve as an administrative manager in Minnesota. The fairly unique position focuses on managerial tasks, including supervising staff and providing support for teachers, students and faculty, allowing the principal to focus on academic tasks, such as visiting classrooms and assisting with curriculum development. As a Muslim, Yonis says faith is the “backbone” to everything he does. “You have to be faithful to be successful,” Yonis says. “My faith drives me. Without it, I have no guidance.” In college, he was vice president of his Muslim Students Association, a tightly knit and active group, despite having fewer than 10 members. Now he prays with his students—about 200 Muslims in all.
Maggie Siddiqi is the program coordinator for the ISNA Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances in D.C.
Hashim Yonis is the first Muslim and the first Somali to serve as an administrative manager in Minnesota.
School and Family
Can Reading Go Wrong? Finding age-appropriate, wholesome literature for your child. By Samana Siddiqui
aima Nasim couldn’t put her finger on why her son Abdullah’s behavior began to change. When she did eventually figure it out, it wasn’t a friend, television program, or video game that was the culprit. It was a book. “In grade three, he started reading ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid,’ and I noticed that he was acting different towards his little brother,” says the San Diego mother of three. “So I read some of his book and realized that the kid in the book is rude to his parents and siblings.” The realistic fiction novel, written by Jeff Kinney, is a “New York Times” bestseller about a boy named Greg Heffley and his struggles in middle school. Abdullah’s example speaks to the power of literature in influencing the behavior of young children, including Muslims. It’s something Freda Shamma, director of curriculum for the
F.A.D.E.L. Foundation in Cincinnati, says mothers and fathers don’t always realize. “We Muslim parents are not aware of what’s in the literature that our children are exposed to,” Shamma says.
Muslims have to recognize we are looking for the moral dimension of a story, not just the good writing or an interesting (plot).” — Freda Shamma
She recalls meeting one mother who was donating a set of books to a local Islamic school. She asked Shamma to review them. When she did, Shamma notes that the themes of “love at first sight” and contemporary romance found in the books were inappropriate. The woman said that was nonsense and it did not affect kids. Upon further discussion, she revealed to Shamma that she had met her own husband in a similar manner. “She said, ‘I knew at first sight that he was the one for me,’” Shamma says. Islamically inappropriate ideas about love and romance are just one issue in literature. Family relations, as reflected in Nasim’s experience with “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” are another. “You can hardly find any good book that features a good relationship between the main character and his or her parents,” Shamma says. “Usually, the father is stupid and easily tricked or the parents are very abusive or absent. And this starts with preschool books and is consistent all the way.” The growing influence of the occult in young adult literature is also a problem, as reflected by the Harry Potter and Twilight series. A key issue is that magic is no longer considered part of another, faraway world. Rather, it is found in normal, everyday life.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
For example, Shamma contrasted “The Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum, written over 100 years ago, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series from the 1990s. In the former, Dorothy, the main character, is transported to another world where magic is practiced. In the latter, magic is part of a world very similar to what most children are familiar with: a school, friends, classmates, teachers, etc., thus making the occult more realistic to readers. Establishing a standard for what is Islamically acceptable reading material can be tricky. “The criteria that we like to follow for books is that, if we were to watch a movie of that book with our child, would he or she be comfortable with it?” Nasim says, describing the rule she and her family implement. “If the overall answer is yes, then we’re fine with the book.”
development of alternatives like Islamic fiction is complicated by a number of factors. Primary among these is the lack of demand, thus leading to a lower quantity of this kind of material. “Muslims have to buy books for their kids with Muslim themes. That is the heart of demand, which leads to supply,” says Yahiya Emerick, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Islam,” as well as Islamic fiction novels like “Ahmed Deen and the Jinn at Shaolin.” “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had book tables over the years at Muslim functions, and when the kid wants to buy a Muslim-themed storybook, the parent steers them away to some candies or some useless trinket made of plastic. One parent’s statement to her child has stuck in my mind for all these years: ‘Why do you want to buy a book when you only read it once and put it away?’”
Suggested Books for Muslim Tweens and Teens While most stories with Islamic themes written by Muslims are focused on children ages seven and under, there is still fiction available for tweens and teens. Perhaps this list can encourage Muslim youth to not only read Islamic fiction, but write their own stories as well. ➲ “The Memory of Hands” by Reshma Baig ➲ “Burning Boats” by Zaynab Dawood ➲ “Saying Goodbye” by Linda Delgado ➲ “The Visitors” by Linda Delgado ➲ “Cinderella: An Islamic Tale” by Fawzia Gilani-Williams ➲ “The Lost Ring: An Eid Story” by Fawzia Gilani-Williams ➲ “Neither This Nor That” by Aliya Husain ➲ “Burhaan Khan: Six Tales About Growing Up” by Qasim Najar ➲ “The Seafaring Beggar and Other Stories” by Yahya Emerick ➲ “Ahmad Deen and the Curse of the Aztec Warrior” (with Qasim Najar) by Yahya Emerick ➲ “Ahmad Deen and the Jinn at Shaolin” by Yahya Emerick ➲ “Layla Deen and the Case of the Ramadan Rogue” by Yahya Emerick Booklists
But even this isn’t as easy as it sounds. “Finding Islamically appropriate literature is very much like finding Islamically appropriate movies,” says children’s book author Fawzia Gilani-Williams, whose titles include “Cinderella: An Islamic Tale” and “A Khimar for Nadia,” among others. “The reasons are self-explanatory when we consider content.” Whether it’s questionable ideas about romance, family relationships, or magic, the essence of the issue, according to Shamma, is that, “Muslims have to recognize we are looking for the moral dimension of a story, not just the good writing or an interesting (plot).” But finding that dimension through the
Mamoon Syed, Nasim’s husband, agrees that not just parents but the entire Muslim community must support the development of Halal literary alternatives for youth. “We compete with popular culture in raising our children,” Syed says. “Creating ‘cultural’ alternatives for our children is critical.” And to see the rise of Islamically appropriate literature, Gilani-Williams calls for the financial support of the community. “To cultivate more and better Islamic fiction, [we have] to have the assistance of people and organizations with deep pockets who fully understand God when He says, ‘Let there arise out of you a group of people
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
❶ Compiled by The Islamic Schools League of America http://www.theisla.org/staticpages/ index.php/ReadingList ❷ Compiled by Islamic Fiction Books website http://www.islamicfictionbooks.com/ ifbauthors.html ❸ Compiled by the American Library Association (teen books may be on the liberal side) http://www.ala.org/alsc/compubs/ booklists/islambooks ❹ Clean Teen Reads http://cleanteenreads.com/Z_B_ Books_Teen.php
School and Family inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong’ (Quran 3:104),” Gilani-Williams says. Syed stresses the importance of not only having these materials available, but for a greater number of children to be exposed to them. “It will not be sufficient for our three children to just read these books and not have a community to engage with regarding the ideas found within,” Syed says. “Also, if we are to develop alternatives to the broader culture, our products have to be competitive with popular culture.” This competitiveness has become an issue, as Islamic books, particularly fiction, have developed a reputation of being boring and preachy, even as the quantity and quality of the material has improved over time. Shamma recalls how, when she began collecting Islamic books in English for children after her conversion to the faith in 1969, they were unappealing and aimed at children growing up overseas. “Now we’re getting some well-written books, but the kids are already turned off and they are not interested in trying them again,” Shamma says. However, that may only serve to feed the dearth of good literature. “Until masjids and community organizations decide to promote Muslim-themed books in the community, we will have only limited authors and no explosion of quality,” Emerick says. “Go to any bookstore in America—they’re brimming with new and exciting titles on every subject. Demand is there, and supply follows.” Emerick says he hopes masjids will contribute to the development of Islamically appropriate literature by holding book clubs, and dedicating Friday khutbas to the topic. “I would like to see Muslim book stores actually running publicity campaigns and inviting authors to readings and signing events,” Emerick says. “I would like to see parents made aware through Khutbas and such that they need to provide Muslim-themed entertainment for their kids to help form their identities. We need a sense of urgency about that.” In terms of mainstream fiction, parents, educators and librarians stress that it is important to expose Muslim youth to this material, in a proper and limited context. 50
“We need young people to understand the world and culture they live in, know what and how it relates to them, as well as know what content does not fit within our belief system,” says Sameera Ahmed, director of the Family and Youth Institute in Michigan. It is counter-productive for people to read only “Islamic” material, according to Ahmed. “You also want to have young people be part and parcel of this society, and therefore they should be exposed to the classic literature,” Ahmed says. This is why it is critical that parents become familiar with what kind of books their children are reading. “If at all possible, the adult responsible for the child should read the book themselves first,” says Saida Steele, a teacher, reading specialist, and librarian at Aqsa School, a fulltime Islamic school in Bridgeview, Ill. “This is not always feasible, as children now have access to thousands of books at any one time. The solution I found was to keep involved with what your child is reading as much as you can. If your child is reading a book that contains themes that you feel contradict Islam, ask yourself if there is a way you can use the book to teach something positive.” Good communication between parents and children is also crucial, as it is with the many other issues young Muslims face. “Having a strong, very open relationship with our children is key,” Nasim says. “They
will be faced with many challenges in life and they need to know that we are there to talk to them about anything and everything.” Aqsa Mudassir, a mother from Glendale Heights, Ill. suggests consulting existing reviews and booklists for a better idea of what kinds of books to choose. It’s a tactic she’s used in selecting material for her daughter’s BookQuest Bookclub, which she started this past year. “I usually try to recommend books which I have already read and I feel that the children will either find interesting or will learn something new from them,” Mudassir says. “My daughter selects some books, I check their reviews online usually from Amazon. com/commonsensemedia.org, and make it a point to read the one- or two-star reviews. If I agree with the objections of the reviewers, then that book is not read.” But the challenge of finding the halal in today’s and even yesterday’s young adult literature remains. “I find that I manage to find inappropriate stuff in even the books I have always loved now that I’m reading them with my daughter,” Mudassir says, adding that she points out the right and wrong of whatever is being read so her daughter “can think critically for herself, because there is only so much you can avoid when your child is a bookworm who loves to read everything and anything.”
Samana Siddiqui is the content manager of Sound Vision Foundation’s website (www.soundvision.com).
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Overscheduled Families: When Is It Enough? Though extracurriculars are great, parents must be realistic about what their children can handle. By Kiran Ansari
amreen Amjad of Bartlett, Ill., works from 3–8 p.m.—not in an office or at a store, but as the personal driver for her kids. From the time they get off from school, Amjad and her minivan log in close to 40 miles each day shuttling her kids from soccer and piano to Kumon Learning Center, Quran and gymnastics. She admits that keeping track of all the activities is stressful for the whole family. However, she feels it is worth it because she wants to raise well-rounded individuals. She feels her kids will not realize their full potential and will end up like couch potatoes if they are not enrolled in many activities.
Aamina Masood is on the other side of the fence. Mom of two young girls in Frisco, Tex., she believes it is often parents who want
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
their kids enrolled in activities more than the kids themselves. She chooses just one activity at a time at a pace that suits her family. Experts believe that overscheduled kids can be at as much risk as obese children. Just like overweight children may not know when to refuse the next cookie, overscheduled children can be sucked into one activity after the other and end up overly competitive, frazzled and deprived of a carefree childhood. Instead of multiple activities, Masood makes sure her kids play with siblings, ride their scooter and help her bake for her home-based dessert catering business, Brilliant Cakes. Both parents have the best intentions and are representatives of large groups. To figure out which parenting style is in the best long-
The educational approach of the Prophet Muhammad is evident from this Hadith: “Play with him for seven (years), and teach him for seven (years) and befriend him for seven (years).”
School and Family
Five things you can do to help your children blossom into well-rounded adults Encourage a love for reading. Reading opens doors to a love for learning. Make your children active readers by asking them questions and reading with them. Sabra is an advocate for quality reading time as a family as well as quiet reading time on your own. Empower them with a home library and regular visits to the public library. Supplement with educational videos, audiobooks and hands-on projects. During quiet reading time, the Sabra girls learned how to sit by themselves, extend their attention span, and learned how to remember their questions until quiet time was over. They had to draw their questions, bookmark their pages with questions, and ultimately write their questions. They would “report” back to their mother who found it interesting to watch the girls differentiate that Arabic picture books were held right to left, while English books went left to right. Over the years, the Sabra household has increased (not decreased) the amount of quiet time. Your Turn: Do you prefer quality reading time as a family, quiet reading time individually or both? Which areas would you like to improve for your family? Emphasize the beauty of Islam When families go camping together and listen to talks by inspiring scholars, they can show their children, from a very young age, that practicing the Deen can be a fun family activity, too. “We need to inculcate a love for Islam in our children and not portray it as something restrictive,” Quadri said. “If a child has not done a proper wudu, don’t say ‘Allah will not be happy with you.’ Rather say, ‘Every part of your body that gets wet during wudu will be a shining light for you on the Day of Judgment.’ Just swapping some words around can teach the same lesson, but in a positive light.” Focus on loving the halal so much that they stay away from the haram. Your Turn: Your child doesn’t finish all the food on your plate. You might say, “Do you know what a big sin it is to throw away your food?” But instead, you can respond from a more positive angle. What do you think is a more productive way to respond? Give them the opportunity to blossom in whatever talent they choose Just like parents, who are attorneys, should not be disappointed if their children do not opt for law school, talented chefs or artists should also not lose heart if their child shows no interest in areas where they excel. “We just need to encourage our children to strive to do the best they can in whatever field they choose,” Quadri says. Your turn: What really excites your child? How can you help him or her take it to the next level? Encourage volunteerism from a young age “Monkey see, monkey do” can work to your advantage when children want to emulate their parents volunteering at the mosque, a local nursing home or orphanage. They need to understand that a monetary reward is not necessary for hard work. Striving for a higher purpose is also an important life lesson. Your Turn: List three local places that you can call and find out if they have any tasks suitable for mini-volunteers. Travel as a family Your travel destination need not be exotic or expensive, but just venturing out as a family can be a unique learning experience. Try new foods, learn words from a new languages and appreciate how God has “made us into different nations and tribes so that we may recognize one another.” (Quran, 49:13). “Gaining hands-on experience and interactive education is much more impressionable on a child’s life and increases one’s academic comprehension more than textbooks and ‘educational apps,’” Sabra said. Look for free or low-cost family day trips to museums, factories, and parks on AmericanMuslimMom.com Your Turn: Google family-friendly places in your town and list where can you go as a family to learn and just have fun together.
term interest of the children, several experts shed light on the pros and cons of kids with calendars as busy as Donald Trump. “In a community that emphasizes academics, extracurricular activities are very important,” says Habeeb Quadri, principal of MCC Full Time School in Morton Grove, Ill., and co-author of “The War Within Our Hearts and Parenting: Who Said It Was Easy?” “We need to provide our children with halal outlets for entertainment, physical exercise and to build social and teambuilding skills.”
Share their activities Quadri cites research that shows girls who are involved in sports have higher selfesteem and children in after-school activities are less likely to get into trouble. However, he points out that parents need to make a concerted effort to strike a balance. One of the best ways to do that is to make it a family event: parents can watch their child play the sport, cheer them from the stands, be a volunteer coach, or bring healthy snacks for the team rather than just serve as a pickup-and-drop-off taxi. “Parents need to stop viewing these activities as babysitting services and actually show up for the games,” Quadri says. “I understand how many parents in our community may be running their own businesses or have draining schedules as physicians, but involvement from both parents is crucial.” In addition to sports, Muslim parents also want their children to learn about Islam, read the Quran and attend weekend school if they do not go to a full-time Islamic school. That is commendable—provided the parents also take an active role in this education. They could volunteer at the weekend school, sit in on the Quran lessons via Skype or read stories of the prophets as a family so the kids don’t feel that extra work has been thrust upon them.
Find the passion Suzanne Akhras, a mom of three from Burr Ridge, Ill., also believes that parents should choose one activity at a time and help their child find the instrument, sport or activity that he or she is passionate about and let him master that. That way, going for piano lessons or basketball practice is no longer a chore. It is something they enjoy and can excel in. “Otherwise, a myriad of activities at different times and locations can burn out the whole family,” Akhras says. “Little siblings Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
The Trouble with Technology
Parenting is a delayed gratification activity. We should consider whatever rewards we get along the way as bonuses. However, the payoff does come — when our kids turn out to be the kind of adults we can be proud of.” — David Walsh, and author of Smart Parenting, Smarter Kids have to tag along with super anxious older kids for hours on end and you might end up grabbing something unhealthy from the drive-through and miss out on having dinner together as a family.” Children that are involved in multiple activities may lose focus and become jobhoppers as they grow older. They may fall in the Jack-of-all-master-of-none trap and not have a few core strengths. Parents have to regularly assess whether their child is enjoying the activity or if it’s just an added pressure. Parents can avoid making the situation worse by telling their child something like, “Toughen up, Khadijah is doing more than you and doesn’t have a problem.”
Don’t outsource parenting While it may not be possible for parents to be skilled in every aspect of life, they should not outsource everything their child learns. Dad may be able to help with extra math tutoring instead of taking after-school classes and Mom may be able to bake with the kids instead of enrolling them in a Little Chefs Academy. They might not be experts in the field, but they can use these opportunities to bond with their children and develop as a family. Perhaps they can watch a few instructional videos together, go to the library as a team and enjoy learning together. Ponn Sabra of Meriden, Conn., and her family are a perfect example of how by “working wisely and playing hard” their three girls are excelling in academics, sports, creativity – and spirituality. Sabra is also the founder of the popular site AmericanMuslimMom.com and Famigo.com blogs. Her homeschooled daughters were accepted to community college at 10 and 11 years old. All three girls were accepted to Stanford University’s Educational Pro-
gram for Gifted Youth at 6, 8 & 9 years old. Their main physical activities are based on the Sunnah (horseback riding, archery and swimming.)
Let them get bored Akhras firmly believes in having down-time for her children. “They need to get a chance to reflect on their day, read in their room or organize a drawer. They have to learn how to entertain themselves.” This need becomes even more pronounced during vacations when kids who cannot find entertainment at home need to be shuttled to play dates, activities and events. When the kids find fun stuff to do at home, they don’t always need external sources of entertainment. Masood’s daughters host their own tea parties and even run a make-believe restaurant. The Sabra sisters have been taught to “Play with Purpose” and have learned how to build a simple motor from old electronics and a canopy for their passion fruit vines. Sometimes kids just need to learn how to sit still, according to the Sabras. They figured that one out by sitting down for about 10-20 minutes after each prayer as a family. Working on a child’s social skills is also a major concern for many parents today. Children can often not carry a conversation with adults or even kids their own age as they play video games in the basement during parties. Discussing your day as a family after dinnertime can be the ideal place to impart these important skills to children. “Enjoy your kids while you have them at home,” says Akhras, whose oldest son just started college. “You’ll be glad you did.”
Our parents used chalkboards to practice writing the alphabet; we used dry-erase markers. Meanwhile, our children are swooshing a finger on an iPad. There is nothing wrong with keeping up with the latest technology, but many parents think they are doing their kids a favor by handing over gizmos and gadgets and then exiting from the picture. When kids are not in an afterschool activity, they are often glued to a screen. One out of two American kids has access to a smartphone, tablet or digital music player, according to the child-advocacy group Common Sense Media. Yes, children do learn from educational software and apps, but it is critical to remember that they are not interacting with humans in a real world. “You are missing from the equation,” Quadri said. “Children might be reading an e-book fluently, but they may have no idea what they are reading. Parents need to read with the child, ask questions and discuss the story. Tablets can supplement the parent—not substitute them.” When parents brush aside questions and ask the children to look for the answer online, they need to be aware that they are giving them the keys to a resourceful but dangerous place. “I believe that ‘www’ stands for whenever, wherever and whoever,” Quadri said. “Remember that, any time your child is online, he or she can interact with just about anyone. Therefore, parents need to use the web with their children and make sure they understand the pitfalls.” And downloading just any parental control software won’t get the job done, according to Sabra. “The Internet is an interactive and ever-changing medium, so it’s very important that as a parent, you are actively one-step (if not 1,000) ahead of your children at all times,” Sabra said. Her blog recommends K9 Web Protection as one of the good parental control software programs.
Kiran Ansari is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
School and Family
A Halal & Healthy Response Are Muslim Americans geared to benefit from the new nutrition and health standards? By Susan Labadi
ore than 30 percent of children and adolescents are obese, according to a Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2008 study. And in 2011, two-thirds of adults were reported to be overweight or obese. By contrast, in children 6 – 11 years old, 7 percent were considered obese in 1980, but the proportion increased to 20 percent by 2008. The most dramatic increase in childhood obesity has been in the past five years. This is alarming because we are seeing a
products that have been certified are more stringently screened for purity from Haram contaminants. Halal poultry and livestock, for instance, have been drained of potential blood-carrying properties like antibiotics, pesticide residues and stress hormones than non-Halal processed animals. To help consumers, the MyPlate campaign (choosemyplate.gov), credited to Michelle Obama, has been warmly received and promoted with support for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals, pregnant women
sharp rise in childhood risks of cardiovascular diseases, like high cholesterol and blood pressure. Obese children and adolescents are more likely to have pre-diabetes, joint problems, strokes, several types of cancers and osteoarthritis. There are associated selfesteem and psychological costs to this as well. As a nation, we really need a wake-up call. To ignore the evidence is negligent. First Lady Michelle Obama has taken an initiative to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), citing the nation’s need for a new way of thinking. The First Lady recruited White House chefs to join her in recreating palatable, healthy recipes, which substituted some less healthy ingredients for more nutritious ones. The goal was to keep calories minimized, while providing nutrition and good flavor. The recognition that fresh, local produce also usually taste better has reawakened a generation to become advocates for organic community farming. The reality is that many Americans cannot afford to go with completely organic choices. Such considerations also make the case to choose Halal, because
and children. It features recipes, menus, daily tips, helpful apps, and even winning video entries to help spread the word. The longstanding food pyramid has been replaced with a plate graphic that simply reminds that half of one’s plate should be fruits and vegetables. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, commissioned by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), made several recommendations after citing the critical need for corrective action and public health education. Among the guidelines is to replace sugary drinks with more water, and to reduce dietary sodium while increasing potassium intake. Foods rich in potassium help offset the effects on blood pressure instigated by excessive sodium. A new understanding of serving sizes is in order for many Americans. As our supersized thinking is being recast to learn that bigger is not always better, we also find that often smaller chickens, and other livestock are more flavorful. Likewise, smaller produce items, organically grown, and smaller desserts can be more nutritious and better satisfying than larger fare.
Kid-friendly Foods from Choosemyplate.gov ✔ S moothies using fat-free or low-fat yogurt or milk, with fruit and some ice, or frozen fruit. ✔ Vegetables and fruits can be used with savory yogurt or vanilla yogurt with some cinnamon. ✔ Kabobs on skewers featuring assorted fruits or vegetables ✔ Personalized pizzas kids can design with their own toppings on whole-wheat English muffins, pita bread, or bagels. ✔ Craft decorative shapes with fruit and vegetable pieces. ✔ Make frosty treats by freezing fruit chunks or making popsicles from bananas or fruit puree. ✔ “Bugs on a Log” are created by topping celery, cucumber, or carrot sticks with peanut butter. If desired, then add dried fruits like raisins, cherries, or cranberries. ✔ Designer trail mix is created by a hodgepodge of nuts, seeds and dried fruits. Whole grain cereals can be added as well. ✔ “Potato Person” is made by cutting a baked potato in half to top off with highly nutritious and low-fat vegetables like broccoli, sliced cherry tomatoes, peas, and some low-fat shredded cheese. ✔ “ Kid Creations” provide the healthy resources, and have kids create their own recipes. This mentors their way to enjoy their role in making healthy food choices.
IFANCA, a leading Halal certifier, has a Halal and Nutrition Workshop Series presented by Yvonne Maffei, of the popular My Halal Kitchen blog, and IFANCA’s Asma Ahad, who has more than 13 years of experience in food science research and development at Kraft Foods. This interactive workshop helps in understanding nutritional information, portion sizing and includes a live recipe demonstration by Maffei. IFANCA also has a free Halal Foodservice Kit to help meet the dietary needs for Muslim Americans. The kit is a collaborative effort between IFANCA, Med-Diet, and other professional groups. Med-Diet Laboratories’ Halal Healthy website features products for purchase online, including gluten-free, gluten-free Halal, reduced sodium, and diabetic/ sugar-free. For the past few years, the company has also provided Halal “care packages.” The tools are within our reach, and healthcare professionals and concerned parents should take the lead in promoting a healthy Halal lifestyle.
Susan Labadi is project coordinator of the American Halal Association and editor of HalalConnect Magazine.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Education Forum Focus
Examining Data for Tailored Results
Reap the benefits of nurturing a data-driven culture in Islamic schools. By Hamed Ghazali
growing number of fulltime and weekend Islamic schools are realizing the centrality of data collection to the success of their students and their schools. Consider the following scenario. Data collected at the beginning of the year for improving a weekend school’s performance revealed that several students were unable to read from the Quran even after five years of schooling. It is unheard of for a student who has received five years of schooling in the English language to remain unable to read English, yet this problem is pervasive with Arabic in weekend schools. To improve the school’s effectiveness, it was decided to teach the students Arabic vocabulary and grammar, using a textbook that included both elements. In discussing the first page of the vocabulary list taken from part 30 of the Quran, the class of about 32 middle-school students was asked the meaning of the word qul (say)—a word found abundantly in the Quran. Every Muslim should be familiar with it since it is the beginning word of the final three surahs of the Quran. Surprisingly, only eight students knew the meaning. The same eight correctly responded to the next word on the list: aoothoo (I seek protection). To make it easier for them, it was reminded that it is the same word that is in the statement ‘aoothoo bil-
Lahi minAsh-Shaitan ir-Rajim (I seek God’s protection from the cursed Satan). It was assumed that everyone knew the meaning, since Muslims say it almost every time they read the Quran. However, only the same eight students responded; the other 75 percent said they say it, but don’t know the meaning. This indicated to teachers and administrators the necessity of collecting and assessing data in order to readjust the school’s teaching methodology and curriculum. Another problem arising from the lack of collecting and analyzing data is that we see students studying the same material in the
Data-based curricular decisions sharply increase students’ productivity. A fifth grader memorized six pages in the five years she spent at a well-reputed Islamic school. Upon moving to a data-driven Islamic school, she memorized six pages in one month. Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Quran every year with little improvement. Data-based curricular decisions sharply increases students’ productivity. A student might focus on part 30 of the Quran for his entire career as an elementary student, yet move to middle school without having understood or memorized these chapters. In one school, a fifth grader memorized six pages in the five years she spent at a wellreputed Islamic school. Upon moving to a much more data-driven Islamic school, where curriculum and instruction were constantly assessed and modified based on the students’ performance, she memorized six pages in one month. The problem is common to both weekend and full-time Islamic schools, especially in the areas of Arabic, Quran and Islamic Studies. Fifth graders at a well-established, full-time Islamic school failed even to read a few lines from randomly selected pages of the Quran. Almost the entire class failed to read with acceptable fluency. But they had no hesitancy in reading from a book in English. However, in Arabic, they failed to tell the meaning of some of familiar words they were reading. Some translated the word kafireen as “bad people;” none knew what the word taqwa meant. Most of them were enrolled in the school since preschool, which means they had been learning Arabic and Quran for seven years. This school saw a dramatic change upon altering its teaching methodology for Arabic and Quran through data collection and modifying expectations. By the end of 2nd grade, every child could read from anywhere in the Quran and the standard of Arabic improved significantly. How does one categorize an Islamic school as effective? What data supports such a claim? Do schools follow a “one size fits all” approach to teaching and learning? Or, do they utilize data to differentiate instruction? Such questions must be asked when quantifying the progress of our students and schools, be they weekend or full-time schools. By continuing to use the same methods without scrutinizing the results with measurable benchmarks, especially in areas where no state-mandated benchmarks exist, schools risk stagnation and students who may graduate without the very skills they were sent to a weekend or Islamic school to acquire.
Hamed Ghazali, a professor and director of Al-Huda University, is chairman of the Houston Quran Academy and MAS Council of Islamic Schools.
Education Forum Focus
Endowments Foster Strength Can Muslim Americans revive and enliven the institution of waqf? By K. Rizwan Kadir
onquerors have a way of banishing even the best of works of the conquered. The British, after establishing themselves in the South Asian subcontinent in the 19th century, made two major changes to the educational system with long-lasting implications for Muslims. First, Arabic and Farsi were eliminated from the public curriculum in favor of English—causing an educated class to become illiterate overnight. Then, equally devastating was the takeover of the waqfs—lands endowed to Muslim educational institutions—starving them of their revenue streams. Meanwhile, the U.S. adopted the Land Grant Act of 1862 that endowed land grants to small colleges or established them with the grants. Today, some of our best public universities owe their existence and success to this piece of legislation. For example, the University of Texas system—with one of the largest endowments—was given tracts of land on which oil was later discovered, changing the system’s fortune. So, while one civilization floundered, another flourished, with endowments playing a critical role in each instance. The history of waqf (plural: awqaf) relates to the time of the Prophet Muhammad. The first waqf, the Quba Mosque in Madinah, built upon Prophet Muhammad’s arrival in 622 CE, stands on the same lot with a new and enlarged structure. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has noted that the 10 Companions who were promised Paradise are all said to have given endowments from their property. Within the first three centuries of Islam (6th – 9th centuries CE), Muslim jurists developed the legal institution of the waqf as an unincorporated charitable trust. In classical Muslim societies, awqaf typically provided public goods, such as education, healthcare, water supply and highway facilities, and were considered a voluntary-based religious and charitable provision. For centuries, awqaf provided the only regular financial support for the madrasas— providers of higher education, mosques and bridges. There is growing academic evidence
that the trust law developed in England at the time of the Crusades during the 12th and 13th centuries CE was introduced by Crusaders who may have been influenced by the waqf institutions they witnessed in the Middle East. For example, Oxford’s Merton College (est. 1274 CE) was influenced by awqaf in Muslim societies. Imam Zaid Shakir famously noted: “Money has always underwritten intellectual power.” An endowment, a fund kept in perpetuity, provides income (from its investments) for the benefit of a cause (Islamic education, for example) and/or an institution. Such funds are permanent assets which are invested to support an organization’s activities. These can exist in different forms, such as cash, securities, or property. Typically, only a small portion of income is utilized annually to
fund authorized projects. This payout ratio, which is less than the investment gain, helps preserve the capital.
Distinction between Endowments and Awqaf Traditionally, awqaf were meant to support both public interests (waqf khairi) and a donor’s family interests (waqf ahli). The family interests were besides Islamic inheritance rules. However, in the U.S., trusts typically manage family interests, while endowments and foundations support public institutions.
Regulation In the U.S., endowments are independent of any firm or governmental group. Like pension funds, qualified endowments are exempt from taxation. The Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act (UPMIFA), promulgated in 2006, provides a comprehensive set of guidelines. It requires that endowment funds be prudently managed to preserve the purchasing power of the corpus. Faith-based and religious endowments may follow UPMIFA, but are not required. Endowment assets are listed on Form 990 filings with the IRS.
Rationale for Endowments An endowment is a key element of longterm planning of an organization. In terms of sustainability, once an endowment has been established, it builds support for longrange maintenance of infrastructure and other programs. Existing endowments can be basis for acquiring new ones, leveraging an organization’s support within its community. Financially, a viable endowment provides protection from the unpredictable fundraising trends. An endowment is ideally suited for creating legacy programs for donors within a community. Endowment Charter (Waqfiyya) of Haseki Hürrem Sultan Mosque, Madrasa and Imaret (soup-kitchen) in Jerusalem. From the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, Istanbul, Turkey. While this first page shows a prayer, the deed contains a detailed explanation of the endowment’s expenditures, operations, and the sources of income for the waqf.
How to start an endowment An endowment includes funds given to an organization by its donors, with the stipulation that the principal will remain untouched, and the use of income restricted to intended purposes. A quasi-endowment allows the use of principal, but with the trust-
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
A viable endowment provides protection from fundraising trends that are beyond anyone’s control. ees’ prudence. An endowment document covers a donor’s intentions and objectives— Kitab ul Waqf in classical terms. Similarly, an Investment Policy Statement (IPS) covers the endowment’s investment policies. The starting point of an endowment campaign should be to set up an Endowment Management Account (EMA) with the philanthropy advisory group of an investment firm. When does it make sense to start an endowment? Generally the tipping point at which it makes sense to start an endowment, versus focusing on growing the organization, is when 75 – 80 percent of its expenses are met with current revenue streams, and if it has a solid base of repeat donors. In fact, think of an endowment as a retirement plan for an organization that has the operating budget’s current expenses to pay and faces increasing operating costs. The critical factor is to determine how
much of the expenses can be met through regular revenues and general fundraising.
Endowments Caveats Endowments are not a panacea for all of an organization’s financial needs. Most endowments stipulate restrictions on the use of its principal and, in some cases, even the investment income may be restricted initially for awhile. For example, in 2003, out of the University of Chicago’s $3.5-billion endowment, almost $593 million could never be spent. A typical rate of expenditure (Spending Policy) for many endowments is barely 5 percent of the average total assets over the last 12 quarters. Endowments do not necessarily improve a nonprofit’s financial stability. Its balance sheet may improve, but it has little impact on the income statement. Finally, an endowment is distinct from a project fundraising,
such as raising funds for a new building, which consumes all monies raised, whereas an endowment preserves the capital raised.
Sources of Funding for Endowments Conventional sources have been wealthy individuals, public and private sectors, general public, and of course, income earnings from the endowment’s investments. Among Muslim communities, the best sources of endowment money are zakat and sadaqa contributions. However, there are varying opinions among our scholars and communities on both donation eligibility and usage of funds. One common myth is that the donors will fund the endowment and discontinue annual giving. In reality, annual giving is typically from the donors’ income, whereas endowment donations, typically part of a donor’s planned giving, are from their assets, not income.
(For futher information, see www.theisla.org/ staticpages/index.php/FinanceFundraising) K. Rizwan Kadir, chairman of the MCC Full Time School board in Morton Grove, Ill., is a director of the Islamic Schools League of America (ISLA).
Save a Life Give a Kidney to Ahmad Alsardary! I have been on dialysis for a year and a half since my kidney has failed. So, I would kindly ask if anyone would step up and allow me to live a healthier life. You must be 21 or over and have the blood types B or O If you are unable to do so, a simple prayer or letting others know would be appreciated. Contact Ahmad on Facebook or email@example.com Call (215) 667-9395 Living Donor Coordinator: (215) 662-6200
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
‘Kinyarwanda’ Originally Forgiven: The Bumpy Road from Christianity to Islam & Everything in Between By Christen Amer Publisher: Lulu.com (2011) Paperback, 123 pages $12.95
mer, a child of Christian parents, grew up being told that if one did not accept Jesus Christ, they were doomed. But from a young age, she had her doubts. Thus began a lifelong mission to discover something more. In this memoir, Amer relates a story that spans three continents, and challenges a life’s worth of teachings and stereotypes as she experiences a spiritual awakening. In her journey to find peace, Amer finds Islam. As she learns, she teaches others. And though some would challenge her newfound spirituality, Amer learns how to face the world with a conviction in faith she didn’t know she had.
Ode to My Architect, G_d Written and Illustrated by Uzma Mirza Publisher: CreateSpace (2011) Paperback, 116 pages $37.00
irza—a poet, artist and professional architect—compiles both her calligraphy and writings in a rare collection of Islamic art that reflects within the reader a certain sense of melodic peace and belonging one only finds when gazing upon beauty. In this compilation of the author’s written and illustrated art, Mirza weaves together verse and image, drawing from the natural and manmade worlds to honor God, the true Architect, through her own creations.
Duration: 90 minutes Visigoth Pictures www.kinyarwandamovie.com
Review by Umar Farooq
inyarwanda” tells the story behind why Rwandans, a historically Catholic people, are turning to other faiths. Bitter memories of how many Catholic clergy aided the Hutus people against the Tutsis people during the 1994 genocide have made Islam the dominant alternative for Rwandans re-evaluating their faith. Writer Ishmael Ntihbose and filmmaker Alrick Brown set out to tell the part Rwandans’ faith played in those months. They shot the film with a largely Rwandan cast and $250,000 in just 16 days. “Kinyarwanda” depicts six interwoven stories through a series of flashbacks and the viewpoints of multiple characters, a technique that could have used more polishing. Emmanuel (played by Edouard Bamporiki), a former Hutu militiaman, reconciles his role in the genocide and the fact that he was in love with a Tutsi girl, Jean (Zaninka Hadidja). Much of the story is told through Hadidja’s character, but the novice actor is unable to convincingly present the necessary range of emotions. As the prospects of mass violence grew in 1994, Rwanda’s Muslim leadership took a leading role in protecting the lives of civilians. The film shows how the Grand Mufti of Rwanda (Mutsari Jean) consulted other imams and issued a fatwa denouncing the genocide, ordering that mosques be opened as safe havens. Rwandans, many of them Catholic Tutsis, flocked to the mosques in large numbers. In the film, a Tutsi priest, Father Pierre (Kennedy Mpazimpaka), on the run since being put on a hit list by Hutu militiamen, is taken in along with thousands of Tutsis by an imam (Abdallah Uwimana) in Kigali’s mosque. The imam and the priest tend to their respective congregations as armed Hutu militiamen besiege the mosque. The film’s cinematic flaws and occasional weak acting can easily be overlooked, as its powerful story is sure to resonate with audiences in today’s political climate. With today’s increasingly virulent attacks against Islam and religion in general, it is refreshing to be reminded that people of faith have often fulfilled their obligation to show compassion and mercy, even in the most troubling of times.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
A Giving Soul
Mary Ali 1939 – 2011
nown to thousands as “Mary Auntie,” Mary Ali (née Gosch) carved a place for herself in the hearts of many, particularly in the Chicagoland area, through her devotion to her community and the youth. She died of complications from leukemia on Dec. 6, 2011. Ali, originally from a small town in Iowa, moved to Chicago in 1967, where she selflessly devoted her life to the Muslim community. She was a long-time participant and speaker at ISNA conventions and programs. For at least four decades, Mary Ali was a cornerstone for the Muslim Community Center and overall Chicago community as a leader, mentor, teacher and activist. In 1986, she founded the Institute of Islamic Information & Education with her late husband, Mir Amir Ali (d. 2005)—a bio-
chemist from [what is now Indian-occupied] Hyderabad. The Alis married on Aug. 25, 1967 at the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. Mary Ali started going to the then recently formed mosque known today as the MCC. Initially, she found it was an exercise in frustration, but decided to venture forth and learn. She started small by serving food at events and arranging babysitting at the mosque so that women could attend lectures. Eventually, she became a member of several MCC committees and helped run a successful well-rounded Muslim youth program. In fact, she opened the exciting world of swimming and canoeing to a large number of Muslim girls. For many Muslim girls in Chicago, Mary Ali was the human bridge between two cultures.
“She was our mother, our teacher, our mentor, and as we became women and men, she was our friend,” a graduate of her youth program recalled. Dilara Alim Sayeed, a friend of Ali’s, wrote a tribute on Chicago’s Muslim talk radio site, RadioIslam.com. “She was a role model to every girl raised in the Chicagoland Muslim community in the last four decade,” the tribute said. In an interview with the “Chicago Crescent,” Ali said, “I’ve done practically every job there [MCC], except as president or executive committee member.” Ali was elected eight times to the board of the Muslim Community Center and was awarded its first Distinguished Community Service Award in 2002. Ali received her M.S. in radiation biology in July 1968 from University of Iowa. In October 2011, she was given the IQRA Education Leadership Award instituted to honor the memory of Dr. MAW Fakhri, its founding chairman. Ali is survived by daughters Aamina Ali-Ahmed and Nilofer Ali-Rodgers; sons Dawood and Umar; a sister, Helen GoschCabezas; and 11 grandchildren.
Seeking Vice Principal Huda School, Franklin, MI, has over 20 years experience in academic excellence in an Islamic environment. Huda School is NCA accredited and is IB certified, catering to students in Toddler Care through 8th Grade. Huda School is currently looking for a qualified Vice Principal with qualifications and experience as follows: o o o o o o o o
Bachelor’s Degree in Education or relevant discipline Master’s Degree in Education Administration or relevant discipline Strong background in curriculum and staff development Minimum of 5 years U.S. teaching and/or administration experience Experience with IB and NCA preferred Proficiency in Arabic, Quran and Islamic Studies preferred Team player with excellent written and verbal communication Only U.S. citizens or individuals with legal U.S. residency may apply
Salary and Benefits: o Open and commensurate with experience and qualifications o Health insurance, professional development opportunities and tuition discount provided
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Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
Food for the Spirit
The Unity of the Spiritual Path By Imam Mohamed Magid and Sam Ross
t’s hard to believe, but some eight years have passed since the first Food for the Spirit column appeared in “Islamic Horizons.” This 50th column marks a transition point. God willing, we hope to expand the column’s contributors to include a wider and richer range of voices from the Muslim community. Many of them will be familiar to you, while some will be new. All of them have dedicated their lives to calling us to the beautiful way and character of the Messenger of God (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). Over the past eight years, this column has explored numerous topics, from gratitude to patience, charity to prayer. If there is one lesson that has emerged from trying to put pen to paper so many times, it is the unity and interdependence of the spiritual path. To be grateful, one needs reflection; to reflect, one needs knowledge. To be knowledgeable, one needs patience; to be patient, one needs faith. To have faith, one needs gratitude, and in this way, one is back to where one started. The spiritual path is full of such spirals and interconnections. Strengthening one strengthens them all, and weakening one weakens them all. Indeed, it was often challenging to write a column on just one aspect of the spiritual path, because each topic inevitably flowed into every other. Such a unity is to not surprising, for the beautiful character traits that we yearn for as
humans are ultimately Earthly reflections of God’s beautiful attributes, and God Himself is One without division. He is at once the Most Loving, the Most Forgiving, and the Most Wise, among many many others. As all such traits are unified in His being, so too must they be in ours. Because good character comprises a unity, our spiritual lives can only be sound if all aspects of our spiritual lives are sound. If we find ourselves struggling to reach one goal on the spiritual path, stymied from progress, it may very well be that our problem lies someplace else. If we struggle with trusting in God, for example, it may be that we really have a problem with certainty. Our physical existence, like our spiritual existence, provides a ready analogy: one suffering from
knee pain, for example, may really have a problem with the arches in his feet. Achieving this balance is not always easy. Some virtues like gratitude are absolute, but many are situation-specific. There is a time for demanding justice and a time for tender forgiveness, a time for boldness and a time for reserve. Unfortunately, our societies often do not provide good guidance. We rightly celebrate tolerance, for example, but often go too far, tolerating practices that are harmful to society. We seek determination from our political leaders, but undervalue humility, such that determination often devolves into foolish stubbornness. Where can such integration be found? It can be found first and foremost in the Quran, and perhaps herein lies a secret in the Quranic method. The Quran never permits isolation of a single virtue; the virtues are invariably linked together. The word for the obligatory charity, zakat, almost always appears rhymed with the word for prayer, salat. Those who believe (alladhina amanu) are almost always mentioned alongside those
Integration even seems to be written by God into the very fabric of the universe, as a sign to remind us. He made our body’s health depend upon the collective health of all its organs. He made our society’s health depend upon the health of all its members. He made our planet’s health depend upon the health of all the members of the ecosystem. Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
who perform good deeds (amilu salihat). Indeed, it is nearly impossible to find a single page of the Quranic text that doesn’t include a call to multiple interconnected virtues. These connections are often unstated, but there for those who reflect. In this regard, the message of every page is a microcosm of the message of the whole, a mercy for those of us who have memorized but little, and a sign for the wholeness to which we can aspire. Such integration can also be found in the example of the Prophet Muhammad, about whom Aisha said, “His character was the Quran.” But here, an essential point must be made: a cursory familiarity with his teachings will only provide one with general principles isolated from their context. It is only a deep familiarity with his life, community, circumstances and choices that reveals how these principles are to be applied. The Prophet sometimes called for leniency and sometimes for strictness. When was he lenient and when was he strict? There is much that happens today in the name of Islam, but where it is ugly, it is inevitably the act of those with only a superficial understanding of the religion. Indeed, study after study has found that the more someone
WHAT SPIRITUAL TOPICS MATTER MOST TO YOU? Please help “Food for the Spirit” better meet your needs by completing a two-minute survey at: www.isna.net/foodforthespiritsurvey is steeped in the Islamic learning, the less likely they are to be an extremist. Integration even seems to be written by God into the very fabric of the universe, as a sign to remind us. He made our body’s health depend upon the collective health of all its organs. He made our society’s health depend upon the health of all its members. He made our planet’s health depend upon the health of all the members of the ecosystem. This column was created in hopes of becoming a source of spiritual support, and we hope that whatever has appeared within its pages has proved beneficial. Wherever the light of truth shone through, the light with which God expands breasts and transforms lives, it was from Him, for He is the Source of all light, the Bestower of all good, and the Changer of hearts. Wherever
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
it was dim, or absent, it was from our own shortcomings. For what one does not have, one cannot share. It has been a great blessing to have this opportunity to approach the innumerable great minds and hearts, male and female, of Islamic history, seeking their wisdom and sharing their words. Above all, it has been an opportunity to experience the love, mercy and guidance of Prophet Muhammad shining through them after more than 14 centuries. We thank all of you who shared your feedback, whether by email or through the online survey. Your suggestions were invaluable in helping us to improve the column, and your encouragement helped us to persevere. We look forward to continuing to serve you by coordinating the future contributors to this column. May God bless you and your families. Please make dua for ours.
We look forward to incorporating your feedback and questions into future columns. Please send all correspondence to: email@example.com. Please also visit our website where you can download this and previous columns at: http://www.isna.net.
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