Recently, the students in Middle Eastern History and Voices in Literature traveled to Sharon, MA to visit the Islamic Center of New England (ICNE). Spirituality is one of our six core areas of study. We seek to create an understanding and respect of one another’s faiths as we educate global citizens, and we weave this intention into the fabric of our school.
A story on National Public Radio that mosques across Massachusetts would be opening their doors to the public on Sunday, April 2nd as a way to build understanding served a catalyst for the trip. After hearing the story, Ali Souris, our Middle Eastern History teacher, and Jenn Billings, our Voices in Literature teacher, brainstormed the idea of visiting the Islamic Center of New England as a way to deepen understanding of what they have been exposed to in class. Ms. Souris’ students had recently researched countries in the Middle East through particular lenses, and Mrs. Billings’ students had begun reading the award-winning Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi which details the life of a girl living in Iran during the revolution. To further prepare for the visit, students read “Understanding Islam” from The Washington Post and listened to a TED talk by former Middle East reporter, Lesley Hazelton, entitled “On Reading the Qu’ran.”
Once the APH students contacted the ICNE, the center responded right away, inviting them to visit their sacred space and school. They were welcome from the moment they arrived by Imam Abdul Rahman Ahmad, the spiritual leader of the mosque, who greeted them, and our group felt like his honored guests. The Imam spent nearly two hours with our students–taking the time to explain what it means to be a Muslim. “When he explained the attributes of God that adorned the walls in Arabic, he spoke with such love and faith that it was contagious,” APH student Rachele D. reflected. “For most of us, this was our first visit to a mosque and we were grateful for have the chance to educate ourselves about the Muslim faith.”
Following the talk with the Imam, our students visited the on-site school. “When we visited the school, we saw all of the artwork that the young kids had done and it was so sweet and inspiring to see that some of the kids dream of having peace throughout the world in the future,” said APH student Erin M. “One of the girls we met before the prayer service, Rayah, talked with us about what it was like to be in school, praying throughout the day, and the experience of the prayer service.”
Our students were fortunate to observe one of the daily prayers, the Salat Al Jumyah, at 1:00pm. “We enjoyed being able to see their prayer service in person, as it was really beneficial in their pursuit of learning more about Middle Eastern cultures,” said APH student Brooke Boucher. “In addition to their kindness towards our group, we also noticed a friendliness and deep respect that each of them had for each other.”
While the students had learned much about Islam and Middle Eastern cultures in their classes, their visit to the ICNE provided them with a personal and relational encounter. “I was able to see Islam from a new perspective,” said APH student Kathryn W. “There were so many touching moments that let me see similarities between Islam and my own religion, Catholicism. It was humbling to see prayer in a mosque. This was an experience that no textbook could provide.”
“This experience has not taught me about differences, but reminded me of our similarities and the importance of love and acceptance,” said APH student Veronica S. “I wish that every person in the world could have an experience like I had at the Islamic Center of New England, because if they did then the world would be a better place.”