There is no problem with this as long as non-Muslim students are accorded the same privileges. However, the involvement of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas funding case and an organization that has had several of its officials convicted of terrorism-related offenses, is a red flag, and suggests that this effort is part of the larger effort by Muslim Brotherhood-linked groups to assert a more visible presence for Islam in American public life, and pushing for accommodation of Islamic law wherever Islamic law and American law conflict.
WAYNE — Four students knelt on a classroom floor during lunch at the Albert Payson Terhune Elementary School today and performed the afternoon Muslim prayer ritual.
It was the first time the students had prayed in the school during school hours. And it may end a controversy over what arrangement the district should make to ensure the children’s constitutionally protected right to exercise their religion during school hours.
School parent Rola Awwad has been seeking a private place for her 10-year-old son, Adam, to pray in school since the fall. The district offered to let him pray at recess — either outside or in classroom while his classmates are there. At first, Awwad called the offer “unacceptable,” and the situation attracted attention from Muslim advocates who suggested bringing the issue to the state for resolution.
But Adam decided on his own to pray at lunch, Awwad said. He joined three friends today in a classroom with other students present. They performed the ritual in the back of a room.
“If it continues like this, it will be very nice,” Awwad said.
She said her 7-year-old daughter, Amana, also prayed in her second grade class, and she thanked the teacher for the arrangement.
Her son had worried other students would make fun of him if they watched him pray, but schools Superintendent John Sico Jr. assured her the district wouldn’t let that happen. As the students prayed, classmates played games, he said.
Sico said he consulted the Imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and felt he received support for his position.
Imam Mohammad Qatanani told The Record he had had a good talk with Sico and will meet with Mrs. Awwad today “to understand the issue from her side more.”
“As far as I am concerned the issue is resolved,” Sico said. “We did the right thing. The kids did the right thing. No one was making fun.”
Afsheen Shamsi, spokeswoman for the Council on American Islamic Relations, which has intervened with the district on Awwad’s behalf said the accommodation was a correct step.
“It’s a question of finding the right balance and making sure the student is comfortable and the district is comfortable,– she said.
She said CAIR had considered bringing the issue before the state Board of Education. But Awwad said she wants to wait and see if the accommodation continues to work for her children.
All students are constitutionally guaranteed the right to pray during the school day as long as it doesn’t interfere with learning. Muslims pray five times a day to reaffirm their faith and submit to follow divine commandments. The prayer is said during prescribed times; in the fall, when clocks roll back at the end of daylight savings time, the afternoon prayer must be said during the school day, Awwad explained.
Federal guidelines say schools can’t prevent students from praying during school, but they can’t sponsor religious activities or lead students in prayer. For instance, those guidelines specifically mention a student’s right to quietly read the Bible during lunch. But they are not clear on what action to take when the religious expression is more demonstrative, as it is in Adam’s case….