As part of Shaker Road School’s accreditation through New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEAS&C), we are required to serve on committees to help others through the accreditation process. Recently, I was the chair of a team of educators that helped the first accredited Islamic school in New England become re-accredited and also become the first Islamic school in the U.S. to receive joint accreditation through NEAS&C and the Council of Islamic Schools in North America (CISNA). Most school visits are rewarding, but this one was truly special.
Principal Kahn (Sr. Sadia) of Al-Hamra Academy and I have been friends for years. We worked together on accreditation teams and served together as commissioners on the Commission on Independent Schools (CIS). Though we come from different backgrounds, generations, and schools, our common beliefs in strong education binds us together. When asked to chair the team to assist Al-Hamra, I couldn’t refuse. The rest of the team consisted of CISNA representatives, an education consultant, a private school dean, a first-grade teacher, and our own Becky Carter.
SRS belongs to NEAS&C’s Commission on Independent Schools. A glance at the list of CIS member schools reveals its diversity and strength. From centuries-old New England Boarding schools to progressive start-ups, CIS’s mission is to foster educational excellence. Previously, I have chaired visiting teams to a Montessori school, a Waldorf school, two Islamic schools, and a few Catholic schools. We learn from each other in a quickly changing education landscape. SRS is one of the most active schools in the CIS. We routinely send three or four teachers on visits each year. We always return with a new perspective on education and validation that SRS is an amazing place to learn.
I recently invited Principal Khan and Sr. Eman from Al-Hamra to visit SRS. Below is an interview conducted by one of our sixth grade students, Anna Kozikowski, with these two amazing educators. I encourage you to read this interview, discuss it with your children, and have ongoing conversations about how important it is to truly understand and connect with people of all cultures, ages, faiths, backgrounds, and beliefs – despite the fact that the differences may initially seem tremendous, there are always more similarities than we recognize.
AN INTERVIEW WITH PRINCIPAL KHAN AND SR. EMAN
By Anna Kozikowski
Q: I’m very interested in Islam, but most of us at SRS don’t know much about it. Can you explain what Islam is?
A: Islam is one of the three major religions in the world. In fact, the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) all follow the same basic foundations of religion. But, Islam is more than a religion – it’s a way of life. Many of the historic teachings prescribed to us centuries ago are still relevant in our daily, modern lives. We believe that God prescribed us to be good citizens and good family members.
The Islamic Faith is based on five key pillars:
- Shahada – Faith – We believe there is only one God and that the Prophet Mohammed is his messenger.
- Salat – Prayer – We pray five times each day to connect with God. We ask God to help make us better people. And it is very meditative – no matter how busy you are, stop what you are doing and reflect.
- Zakat – Charity – Muslims are required to pay 2 ½ percent of their savings for the year to the poor and needy. Other forms of charity are doing good deeds…even actions such as smiling.
- Sawm – Fasting – Every year during the holy month of Ramadan, we fast from sunrise to sunset. This helps us to understand how other people live without food in the world. Muslims also give charity in this month. Fasting helps us to understand the purpose of life and strengthens our connection to God.
- Hajj – Pilgrimage to Mecca – At least once in everyone’s lifetime, we strive to visit Mecca to strengthen our connection to God
Q: Unfortunately, many of us know about Islam from the media and 9/11. How did life change for you after 9/11?
A: I’m sorry that most of what you have learned about Islam has been through the media coverage of these events. But it is important to remember that we can’t let one or two people’s actions represent an entire religion. ISIS represents Islam just as much as the Ku Klux Klan represents Christianity.
Personally, I have had both good and bad experiences following 9/11. At the time, I was studying in a Master’s program and one of my fellow classmates said extremely unkind things to me. He frightened me and I asked to be escorted to my car after class regularly to protect myself. But other people went out of their way to be nice to me. Many reached out after the event to express their support. And, we have had wonderful support for our school following 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombings from local police officers, fire fighters, and government officials because they recognize that our students and families are part of the larger community.
Q: At your school, does everyone pray together?
A: We pray together once a day at noon. We pray in two separate groups (grades 1-3) and (grades 4-8) because the younger children like to play and fool around a lot, so they often distract the older students. Everyone dresses modestly during prayer. When girls reach adolescence they typically wear a hijab (head scarf), it is required, but many people choose not to wear it. For Muslim women it is a personal choice.
Q: How is your school similar and different to SRS?
A: Some of the differences are that SRS has a big, beautiful campus with an amazing school store – we only have one building – but we do have a lot of nice outdoor space like you. We only have one class for each grade, whereas you typically have two. We are closer to a very large city (Boston). We educate Pre-K students through 8th grade, but we do not have an infant program. We have school buses pick up and drop off students and this is because we get some support from the local school district. Our school is also very diverse with students from all over the world — Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, and many other countries. But we have many similarities. For example, we focus a lot on character education and citizenship issues like you. Our students lead meetings with a daily message and prayer to the entire school, similar to your community-wide meetings. Like you, all of our students bring their own lunches. Our students love to play outside like you. And just like SRS, our students love to learn, be with their friends and teachers, and have fun.
Thank you to Principal Khan and Sr. Eman for spending time with me and sharing their thoughts with the entire SRS community.