Where is the ACLU, howling in protest? Evidently prayer in public schools is just fine, as long as it isn’t Christian prayer. “Muslim parents seek cooperation from schools,” from CNN, with thanks to all who sent this in:
CLIFFSIDE PARK, New Jersey (AP) — Yasmeen Elsamra had a simple request: While her classmates were eating lunch, she wanted to go off by herself for a few moments to pray.
The 14-year-old was told she couldn’t, and went home distraught that afternoon in October 2003. Praying five times a day is a cornerstone of her Muslim faith.
“If I wasn’t allowed to pray my second prayer at school, I couldn’t do it at home,” she said. “When school finishes, the third prayer begins.”
Her family contacted a Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which asked the school district to reconsider. Eventually, the district acknowledged it had no policy preventing a student from praying on his or her own during free time, and allowed Yasmeen to use an empty classroom to unfurl her prayer rug, face Mecca and touch her head to the floor in a few moments of worship.
Her case was part of a nationwide grassroots effort by Muslim parents to make public schools more friendly and accommodating to Muslim students. The movement has gained strength since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“The reality for many Muslim students in public schools is very difficult,” said Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America. “It’s highly stressful.”
She said her children were sometimes taunted in their Connecticut school district.
“The kids will say ‘Hey Osama, do you have a bomb? Are you going to blow us up?”‘ she said. “My daughter has had people try to pull her head scarf off, or say ‘What are you doing with that rag on your head?’ But they have also had friends who defended them.”
Noor Ennab, a fifth-grader who attends the private Muslim Al-Noor School in New York City, said she was driven out of her public school by post-September 11 harassment.
“Before that (the 2001 terror attacks) happened, we were treated so kind,” she said. “Now it’s like, ‘You’re a terrorist; get out of this country.”‘
Older students also have had problems. Debra Mason of Jersey City dropped out of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s nursing program after she said she was told to remove her head covering during patient rounds. The New Jersey civil rights division recently found probable cause to proceed with an investigation into whether the school violated her rights. The school declined to comment.
Some school districts are starting to take notice. A zero-tolerance policy on harassment of Muslim students was adopted by Florida’s Broward County school board in March 2003, just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
In February, Muslim community leaders led the Pledge of Allegiance at a San Antonio high school as part of a daylong conference on Islam.
Paterson, New Jersey, home of the state’s largest Arab-American community, lets some students out of class early Fridays to attend prayers with their parents’ permission, and is one of a handful of New Jersey districts that closes schools for Eid-al-Fitr, a Muslim religious holiday.
“You’re seeing a lot of schools becoming more sensitive this way,” said Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
Bassima Mustafa, a civics teacher in Paterson, said it is crucial that students feel comfortable and welcome in the classroom.
“A majority of our students are immigrants or the children of immigrants,” she said. “It’s going to spread as the population increases.”