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These young people have taught me a valuable lesson: when we accommodate the religious rights of one group, by default we open the door for other religious group’s rights to be respected. It’s a win-win situation.

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It’s one o’clock at the charter school where I work in Nashville. Students raise their hands, asking to go to prayer. Although this isn’t a Muslim school, the young Muslim middle school students know that a special room has been reserved for them to observe their Asr prayer.

I nod my head in acknowledgment as five or six students quietly leave the classroom to make wudu. This is the second year in which this school has accommodated Muslim prayer and the option has become very popular.

At first, I was unsure how to handle the increase in demand for prayer. I was instructed by my superiors to ask students if they needed to pray. “Raise your hand if you need to pray,” I announced in the first few days of school, as we tried to get an estimation of praying students. A few students snickered. “Pray?” one snorted sarcastically, then paused after seeing so many hands shoot up.

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I was surprised to see that students who were not Muslims raised their hands. I swallowed, unsure of how to respond.  Wasn’t this supposed to be a Muslim prayer, I thought to myself. “Umm,” I stammered, completely caught off guard, “make sure that you are raising your hand if your parents gave you permission to pray.”

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A few hands went down. I suddenly realized that I had excluded the non-Muslim students by assuming that they couldn’t pray in the same space. I cleared my throat, “Actually, anyone can go.” I smiled, embarrassed by my mistake.

In other rooms around the school, more Muslim and non-Muslim students requested to pray. This interfaith scenario was new to this school and word of a multi-faith prayer room spread fast. Parents began emailing the principal requesting that their child receive the same accommodations as the Muslim students. It was only fair, they claimed, for students of other faiths to observe prayer at the same time.

Our director of family engagement got to work, picking a specific place where Christian students could kneel and pray while Muslim students gathered in the room nearby. Our copy room became an instant interfaith “chapel”.

But not unlike many adults, these young students hadn’t been completely immersed in interfaith relations. Trouble started to brew. “Muslims over there and Christians over there!” a Muslim girl shouted during prayer one day. The room was particularly loud and crowded and the faith groups were colliding.

I cringed after hearing her boss the other students around. It felt divisive and intolerant. The troops had to be called in.

Our family engagement director instructed the students on the etiquette of polite, interfaith behavior. Non-Muslim students were asked not to walk in front of praying Muslims, and Muslims were asked to be quiet when around the kneeling Christians.

This “cultural sensitivity” training helped a great deal.  I sat in the teacher lounge adjacent to the prayer room, and watched them through the glass window. “Our school is going to be so blessed because we have so many praying students,” a teacher remarked. I observed as a few students waited until two Muslim boys finished, then quietly passed in front of them to head to pray.

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Tolerance and respect had been achieved.

I sat back in my chair and imagined these same kids as adults. If they encounter people of different faiths as they grow older, will they be more accepting?

My gut says yes. Then one day, my hunch is affirmed. “Happy Eid!” a Jewish girl chirps in the hallway. I look up and see a bouncing 5th grader congratulating a Muslim girl on her way to the bathroom. The Muslim student jumps and looks surprised as she continues down the hall. It’s almost 1 p.m., and I’m sure she’s on her way to make wudu.

I smile, making a commitment to myself to personally thank the girl for her appreciation of others. It’s a small but powerful demonstration of the effects of learning about different beliefs.

These young people have taught me a valuable lesson: when we accommodate the religious rights of one group, by default we open the door for other religious group’s rights to be respected. It’s a win-win situation.

Alana Raybon, a Tennessee educator, is the co-author of “Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.”

 

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Alana Raybon is a seasoned elementary school teacher and new author. During the past ten years, she has served as a 3rd-7th grade lead teacher to a diverse population of students. She has been a mentor to new and student teachers, an adviser to a school's accreditation process, a tutor, and a member of various school-related committees. Alana found her calling to education while working with troubled youth at a youth home, and later as a paraprofessional in a 2nd grade classroom. Alana entered into the elementary education program at the University of Northern Colorado and converted to Islam during her sophomore year. After graduating with a B.A. in Education, she married and began teaching as an elementary grade teacher. Alana is now a mother to three young children and a teenage step son. She was featured with her mother on unique mother/daughter interfaith relationships in the Houston Chronicle, Glamour Magazine, and also in a faith week segment on the Today show. Now living in Tennessee, she has been teaching middle school has just finished her first book, Undivided-A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace, which will be coming out on April 28th, 2015.

21 Comments

21 Comments

  1. Saad

    October 12, 2015 at 2:36 AM

    The attitudes of everyone involved in this involved is commendable. Hope more good comes your way.

    • Alana

      October 17, 2015 at 7:30 AM

      Thanks for your well wishes Saad!

  2. Joseph

    October 12, 2015 at 3:46 AM

    Thanks for sharing. I think religion (in Australia at least) is getting a bad name and my promoting tolerance, respect and appreciation (and understanding too) we set the scene for other groups (religious or not) to be respected.

    • Alana

      October 17, 2015 at 7:34 AM

      I agree Joseph. Here in TN, a new bill is on the floor which would restrict history class from teaching about world religions until 10th grade. It’s amazing how some law makers can’t see the benefit of education our youth about diversity. Thanks for reading!

  3. Umm Hadi

    October 12, 2015 at 1:02 PM

    Masha Allah…May Allah accept all our efforts

    • Alana

      October 17, 2015 at 7:34 AM

      Thank you for your support Umm Hadi!

  4. Kariman

    October 12, 2015 at 1:06 PM

    This is great Mashaa Allah.

    • Alana

      October 17, 2015 at 7:35 AM

      Thank’s for reading Kariman!

  5. salis.

    October 12, 2015 at 3:31 PM

    Masha ALLAH.Great.

    • Alana

      October 17, 2015 at 7:36 AM

      Alhumdolillah Salis, thank you for your feedback!

  6. Waqar

    October 13, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    Mash Allah this is beautiful. I would want my kids to attend your school.

  7. Alana

    October 17, 2015 at 7:37 AM

    Alhumdolillah Waqar, it is truly a magical place!

  8. Ibn Islam

    October 24, 2015 at 2:45 PM

    This is great to see the school accommodate students to pray. However; I completely disagree with in the way it’s being coordinated. In Islam Muslims pray in a specific way, specific time frames and specific rules. The children should be allowed to pray but in separate intervals. I don’t mean to be the grouch, so please don’t misunderstand me. I am saying this because in Islam we are commended to distinguish ourselves from other faiths. Although it sounds nice that the kids are congratulating each other on their holidays, this is not permitted in Islam because congratulating someone on something they are doing contrary to Islamic principles can lead to disbelief.

    • Mustafa

      December 19, 2015 at 1:16 AM

      If someone tells me Merry Christmas the way I respond is a smile and “Have a good day”. I don’t even say Happy Holidays. I don’t expect them to greet me for Eid and neither should anyone expect me to greet them for Christmas.

    • Kristy

      January 12, 2016 at 8:56 PM

      Christians are to pray “continually” (1 Thessalonians 5). This means any time, all the time. So if Christians demanded your plan of intervals for themselves, muslims would never be permitted to pray since “continually” means all the time, any time and this distinguishes us from muslims.
      Also, to be honest, I really could care less about your children being lead into disbelief. Have them pray at home and do not take advantage of the school’s plan if their faith is that weak.

      • M.Mahmud

        February 2, 2016 at 11:38 PM

        “I really could care less”

        Which means you care somewhat, good. Please now be concerned for yourself and your children and enter Islam. 2 Thessalonians is a forgery anyways. So are a number of letters attributed to Paul. And the Gospels weren’t even written by eyewitnesses but by men decades after the events.

  9. Sadia Afrin

    October 28, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Salam sis :),
    This article is so beautiful and what you guys are doing is so amazing,i almost cried.THANK YOU!
    May our Creator’s guidance and mercy be upon us all.

  10. iis

    February 26, 2016 at 9:04 PM

    Thanks for sharing this nice short story

  11. Omar

    June 16, 2016 at 7:40 AM

    Sister Alana,
    Thank you for your encouraging spirit and generous demeanor.

    The saying, “The family that prays together, stays together” is true, and our human family shares in the benefit.

    The Lord loves us, and created us to worship. Worshipping together and understanding each other through our unique ways of prayer and connecting with the Lord is beautiful.

    When we Glorify God in our unique ways, we can appreciate others ways. Not become identical, but to gain appreciation.

    In giving God Glory, we can grow and treat fellow members of the human family with honor, love, dignity,and respect. Truly, the love for God inspires the love for His creation, our fellow family first and foremost.

    Peace and blessings be on you, always.

    – Omar
    http://www.rashedlightsways.com/for-the-love-of-god

  12. British Muslimah

    July 9, 2017 at 12:24 PM

    It’s really nice to see prayer work out so well for your students. This is the kind of tolerance we could only dream of when I was in a sixth form which banned prayer. (I am at school in England and unfortunately, the Prevent Program has created the false assumption that praying equals terrorist) If anything, the lack of praying space created and increased the divide in the school community due to the staff’s suspicion of students and weak excuses regarding why a prayer space could not be established (for example, students were not allowed to pray in the empty assembly hall because of ‘health and safety’ concerns, so staff let them leave the building which was in police lockdown at that point because of a bomb scare in the area. In fact, staff were so insistent that students not pray in the building lest they be held liable if those same students turned out to be terrorits, that students would pray on the concrete floor just outside the school, which was fine as long as praying didn’t happen in the building) The double standards of the school were transparent to students of all faith and meant as a direct result of senior leadership’s ignorance, the peaceful act of prayer turned into a political act (as every time a student hid from patrolling staff to pray, they were resisting the school) creating the very alienation of Muslim students which they, and the Prevent Program, so feared.

  13. James

    August 1, 2017 at 2:08 PM

    So let’s look at what the official Sharia Law Book says about “Interfaith” relations or Interfaith Dialog. This is from Book W of Reliance of the Traveller. “Reliance of the Traveller” is the official, certified book of Sharia Law. All Muslims are obligated to follow Sharia and it is the mission of Islam to impose Sharia on all people – Muslim AND non-Muslim.
    —————–
    w4.0 THE FINALITY OF THE PROPHET’S MESSAGE (from al.S)

    w4.1 (n:) This section has been translated to clarify some possible confusions among Muslims as to Islam’s place among world religions. The discussion centers on three points:
    (1) Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is the last prophet and messenger. Anyone claiming to be a prophet or messenger of Allah after him or to found a new religion is a fraud, misled and misleading.

    (2) Previously revealed religions were valid in their own eras, as is attested to by many verses of the Holy Koran, but were abrogated by the universal message of Islam, as is equally attested to by many verses of the Koran. Both points are worthy of attention from English-speaking Muslims, who are occasionally exposed to erroneous theories advanced by some teachers and Koran translators affirming these religions’ validity but denying or not mentioning their abrogation, or that it is unbelief (kufr) to hold that the remnant cults now bearing the names of formerly valid religions, such as “Christianity” or “Judaism,” are acceptable to Allah Most High after He has sent the final Messenger (Allah bless him give him peace) to the entire world (dis: o8.7(20)): This is a matter over which there is no disagreement among Islamic scholars, and if English-speaking Muslims at times discuss it as if there were some question about it, the only reason can be that no one has yet offered them a translation of a scholarly Koranic exegesis (tafsir) to explain the accord between the various Koranic verses, and their agreement with the sunna. The few passages translated below will hopefully be of use until this has been done.

    (3) Islam is the final religion that Allah Most High will never lessen or abrogate until the Last Day. A hadith that seems to imply that “a tenth of Islam” will be enough for Muslims in the latter days is discussed at the end of the section.
    ——————————-

    Yes, they are defining Christianity and Judaism as “cults” and “formerly valid religions”. They are saying that Islam abrogates (or replaces) all other religions. Does this sound like Interfaith cooperation or religious tolerance? I think not.

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