Middle East studies in the News
Faith Plus Knowledge [on Al-Amal School in Fridley, MN; Arabic language studies]
by Lora Pabst
For years, students at Al-Amal School in Fridley had to use science labs at a school across the street. Some teachers had to teach out of carts instead of classrooms. Parents worried that the quality of high school education would suffer under such circumstances.
This year, all of that will be different. A 21,000-square-foot expansion at the state's only full-time, preschool-to-12th-grade Islamic school will give middle and high school students a new computer lab, chemistry and physics labs, brand new laptops and footbaths in the bathrooms.
"Parents want the best for their kids," said school board member and parent Zafar Siddiqui. "We don't just focus on the religious aspect. We want them to excel in everything."
Teachers, parents and staff were worried that without an updated building, Al-Amal would have a hard time retaining students as they entered higher grades. Students had to use labs at Totino-Grace High School, and 11th and 12th graders had to enroll in some college classes, such as chemistry, that Al-Amal couldn't offer. For the time being, 11th and 12th graders will still take some of their credits through colleges, but school officials are hoping the expansion will eventually allow them to keep all their students in the building.
Nestled up against a pond and wetlands, Al-Amal's expansion glistens with the shine of new floors and lockers. The addition consists of a wide hallway with a central office, meeting rooms, nine classrooms and three labs.
Large windows in the classrooms face the wetlands and overhanging trees behind the school. The building includes details that are a reflection of Muslim values, such as the footbaths, which are used to wash before prayers.
Since the school opened in 1994 with 35 students in preschool to 4th grades, it has experienced rapid growth, with a grade being added each year. Now the school has 390 students and will have a new principal this year from Pennsylvania. Nadia Mohamed will replace the former principal, who left to take a job out of state.
Persuading the neighbors
The school hasn't always had an easy time convincing some of its neighbors that the expansion will be positive for the community. Some residents nearby said the addition was too big and would bring in too much traffic, but the city approved the project in 2005.
Brother Milton Barker, president of Totino-Grace High School, said the school has enjoyed a cooperative relationship with Al-Amal over the years and was supportive of their expansion.
"We spoke publicly at City Council meetings about the kind of relationship that we enjoy and our experience of them as neighbors and co-educators," he said.
Students at the schools shared labs, athletic fields and views on religion and world issues, Barker said.
Values and education
Even with the expansion, the school is looking to limit growth over the next few years because it has grown so quickly. But for Muslim parents who want their children to have the best education combined with shared religious values, the school is ideal.
"I don't just want my son to be the greatest scientist," said Kais Guiga, the school's business manager. "I want to give him a meaning to why he does that."
Abdisalam Adam, of Fridley, has two children at Al-Amal. He chose the school because of its role in his children's religious and educational lives. But with his children entering the 6th and 8th grades, he wanted to make sure they would have an education that would make them competitive in mainstream society.
"The faith component is important to me as a parent but it's not just the faith," he said. "I want well-rounded Muslim students who have religious and moral values tied to their academics."
The goal of developing a Muslim identity and an American identity in the children is echoed by teachers, administrators and parents. School board member Siddiqui said parents want a safe and nurturing environment where children are aware of their religion and can focus on their studies.
"I see them growing up proud of their Islamic identity and their American identity," he said. "I don't see a dichotomy between the two."
Fatina Shaheen, the school's middle- and high-school math teacher, also sends her children to Al-Amal and said parents want their children to be in an environment where their values are reinforced.
While the building looks just like a public school building, the curriculum includes Arabic language, Qur'an and Islamic studies. Classes are taught in English but a large number of students are bilingual, with about 30 languages spoken at students' homes.
The focus on academics drove the expansion and has proved successful for the school. On basic skills tests in 2006-07, 80 percent of the school's students scored above the national average in math, 60 percent scored above the national average in language, and 63 percent scored above the national average in reading.
"Between the religious learning and the academics, I didn't want just one or the other," Adam said of his children's education. "For the future of Muslim students in America, they need that comprehensiveness."Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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