It was tough leaving beloved teachers, but their training at Dar-us-Salaam had made them strong enough to handle public school. Hayat and Habeeb Marso are actively involved in the Muslim Student Association of their new school. Their principal, Cheryl Logan turns to Hayat for advice on Muslim issues.
A major issue of concern for many Muslims is being able to offer their daily prayers, and prayer in public school has always been an 'issue'. A lot of parents at Parkdale are frustrated that their kids cannot pray in school.
"We got into major trouble last year as we were hiding and praying in congregation," Hayat says as he soberly wraps up the leopard print prayer rug in his family's prayer room. Last year, the principal, Cheryl Logan told the students that they could not pray in congregation..
At a recent bullying seminar hosted by CAIR at Dar-us-Salaam, Hayat consulted with Todd Gallagher, an attorney with CAIR. Habeeb also spoke with a local lawyer to learn more about the laws. As the MSA President who will graduate in May, Hayat maintains that it is his responsibility to pave the way for students who will follow him.
It’s not that students of any faith can’t pray in school, no matter what the general public thinks. They can. And Muslim students do, in empty classrooms, under stairwells, and library corners. They just can’t do it with the support of the school, because that’s a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.
What this means is that the school administration cannot lead prayers or mandate that students attend prayer.
The ruling according to the First Amendment Center “requires that teachers and administrators neither promote nor denigrate religion — a commitment to state neutrality that protects the religious freedom of students of all faiths and no faith.”
The U.S. Supreme Court banned official prayers in public schools, but religion is not taboo in schools. That's because the same First Amendment that separates church and state also gives students like the Marsos the right to freely practice their faith.
Abdul Karim Taufique is the MSA Vice-President at Roosevelt High School in the same school district. He says that they have no issues with holding salah at school. Since they follow a different period system, student can easily pray at lunch time. They host Friday prayers after classes, where he delivers the Khutbah."There is no process. The Principal gave permission so anyone can pray in the library media room," says Abdul-Karim.
"We cannot have daily congregational salah after classes at Parkdale, as there is not enough time and we will miss our bus home and our lunch schedule is such that some students have lunch before Dhuhr time starts," says Hayat.
"Ms. Logan needs to prepare for an increase in Muslim students coming to her school," says Afeefa Marso, Hayat and Habeeb's mother. With Dar-us-Salaam and its K-12 Al-Huda School set to relocate to Howard County after this school year, there will be a vacuum and "those area residents who cannot move or send their children to the future Dar us Salam campus in Cookesville, will look for options such as the local high schools." Arabic as a foreign language and the International Baccalaureate program makes Parkdale a viable option for some parents.
As the MSA President who will graduate in May, Hayat maintains that it is his responsibility to pave the way for students who will follow him.
So instead of making it a public issue, Hayat and the Parkdale MSA decided to continue the gentle and diplomatic approach. The MSA invited parents and Principal Logan to an MSA meeting and they discussed the process of getting permission to pray in congregation for Dhuhr salah. Principal Logan said she would need to see report cards and good behavior. But 4 weeks passed without results.
Hayat and his peer's parents continue emailing their requests and recently have convinced the administration.
"Requests for prayers are done by parents of students, not by organizations. This ensures that the parent is aware that the student has made a request. To date the ones that have been requested have all been granted," says Cheryl Logan, the principal of Parkdale High School in an email to the Muslim Link.
All parents who had given written permission received this good news on January 13, 2013. On Monday, January 14, 2013, students will be directed to a location to pray Dhuhr prayer in jam'ah from 12:45 to 1:00. They will be excused from class 10 minutes early so that they can fulfill this obligation.
Giving the students a pass from class to pray without good grades, decent behavior and parental permission would open the gates for trouble. Some kids used the excuse to pray in the past to skip class and get into fights. "They wear kufis" says Hayat, just as they would a gang color. ‘Fake Muslims’ is how they are known in the tough halls of Parkdale High School.
Habeeb said some of these students have taken their Shahadah because one of the Hispanic converts who gave them dawah is immensely popular. He gave up everything for Islam. But the others are so used to street violence and drugs that they can't give it up. Gang culture is a part of their life.
The hesitancy in granting permission does not seem to stem from prejudice; the problem is the school's culture. Logan has a tough task in the running of Parkdale High. She replaced Mr. David P. Burton as principal, inheriting a school that did not have a good record or reputation, marred by gang violence.
The school gets a 3 out of 10 ranking on greatschools.org. But things are changing now as graduation rates are at 93%. She runs a tight ship.
"Many things have changed at Parkdale with a new principal and administration staff, they have insured our safety and we are receiving the best education that PG County has to offer," writes a student. In 2010, Logan implemented the parent patrol to prevent violence and fights and other illegal behavior in the hallways."She is a great principal, the school has changed under her management," says Hayat.
"We don't have this problem at Roosevelt High," says Abdul-Karim, "some people were skipping salah to goof around but we took care of them by talking to them. I can understand why their principal was not granting them permission."
Hayat's next jihad is to receive permission for Jum’ah salah.
Many students are signed out by parents to attend Jumu'ah at nearby Prince George's County Muslim Association (PGMA) or Dar-us-Salaam.
The students who get left behind are the ones who embrace Islam in high school unknown to their parents, many who are devout followers of other faiths."A brother who was a taxi driver used to come and pick the convert brothers and take them to Friday prayer, but then the principal found out and she was very upset," says Hayat.
At the last MSA meeting at Parkdale High, there were at least three students who raised their hand when asked if they were the only Muslims in their families. Some of these students are as young as 14.
Students accepting Islam in high school without parental permission is a national phenomenon having its own unique issues. Young Muslims, a national youth organization, recently posted this message on their Facebook page based on the feedback from the various chapters:
"Guys, can we all just stop for a minute and legitimately make some sincere duas for all the revert Muslims, please? I think we seriously take for granted the blessings and ease of being 'born' or 'brought up' as a Muslim. Some of my revert friends have to lie to their parents to be able to pray, some can’t pray, some have yet to visit a Masjid, some are threatened on a daily basis and verbally abused. Some have even been disowned to the point that they live with some of my other friends. I’m not going to act like I understand how they feel but it must be so hard when you finally found something your heart warms up to and that very thing is the cause of your family hating you. Just please try to imagine how difficult that must be. Please make dua that Allah makes it easy for all our brothers and sisters who recently accepted Islam, may He bless them with an endless amount of sabr and may He soften the hearts of their parents/family. Keep doing what you do you guys, inshaAllah you’ll all be rewarded for your struggles. We’re thinking of you always."
This echoed the feelings that the students at Parkdale have for their friends whose parents have not accepted Islam.
At the Muslim Student Association meeting at Parkdale, the boys roll out the bright yellow chart paper to lay out a musallah. Hayat calls the Iqamah, while his younger brother Habeeb leads the salah. Adnan gives a khatirah on the prohibition of wasting time. Their friend, Elon, the popular kid, is also there. A green kufi on his head, he whips out an MP3 player and blasts a lecture by a British shaykh that he listens to online.
It is after school hours and Elon can share the faith that he has accepted with his brothers and sisters, without breaking any of Principal Logan's rules.