Last week we visited the Muslim Community Center Fulltime School in Chicago, Illinois. It was truly an “American Madrassa”, as Madrassa simply means “school” in Arabic. It was a fascinating glimpse into a side of Muslim life in Chicago I hadn’t seen before. The school was kindergarten through eighth grade and included students from all around the Muslim world.
We saw girls playing basketball in the gym with their scarfs on, and praying in the school mosque. We also visited a class room where an American history teacher was discussing the civil war. These students were conscious of their identities as both Muslims and Americans studying the Quran and reciting the Pledge of Allegence. Habeeb Quadri, the school’s principal, showed us around and told us of his discussions with students attempting to reconcile some of the religious tenants of Islam with American teenage culture. Habeeb gave us a copy of his book on the subject: The War Within our Hearts.
Relations with neighbors in the community could be stressful at times, repeating a pattern we witnessed elsewhere on our journey. But along with the problems—which in this case including people periodically throwing bricks through school windows—there were also touching stories of community members who welcomed the Muslims into their neighborhoods and attempted to forge better relations between ethnic and religious groups.
I was touched by the school’s students and the trials that these young Muslims often have to go through from questions of dating to the image of Islam in the media which puts them on the defensive. The goal of the school, Habeeb explained, was have a school community that would eventually be welcomed as Jewish or Catholic schools are while staying true to its Islamic roots. This, he believed, was the promise of America.