Friday, December 4, 2015

Year 6: Week 14 - Lessons From A Muslim

I was going to write about how I was inspired by one of my fellow teachers to really pour on meaningful praise on my students and how much this has changed the feeling in my classroom. However, with all that has been going on in the world, there’s something much more important that I need to address: Muslims. 

After the Thanksgiving weekend we had a teacher in-service day on Monday. Theses days can sometimes be very meaningful and other times less so. The time between Thanksgiving and the Holiday break is one of the most stressful times of year as preparations for Holiday concerts go into high gear. Entering this week, I was feeling stressed and part of me was feeling resentful that we had this in-service day instead of a productive day of teaching with my kids.

I didn’t really look closely at the agenda thinking, “well, it’s not like I can do anything about it, so why bother think about it.” I must have saw the topic about Islam, but it didn’t really sink in until I walked into our first meeting and saw our presenter Chaplain Omer Mozaffar, a Muslim Chaplain from Loyola University Chicago. His warm presence made me reconsider my attitude about the day and as he started speaking, I was immediately engaged.

Chaplain Mozaffar gave us a beautiful overview of Islam. He talked about how his father would point out that the architect for Willis Tower and the John Hancock buildings was Muslim. The statistics he provided helped us understand that stereotypes about violence being central to Islam was illogical. There’s no way a religious tradition could have survived for so long and be so widespread if it was based on violence.  Chaplain Mozaffar broke down every single negative stereotype about Muslims with patience and a lack of anger.

Chaplain Mozaffar confirmed facts that I knew.  More importantly, he framed Islam in a way that showcased the beauty of the soul of what it means to be Muslim.

At the end of his talk, I asked the Chaplain how the Islamic community is dealing with hateful rhetoric being expressed towards Muslims.  He talked about how Muslim leaders are studying the struggles of other minorities from the past for perspective like Catholics in early 20th century America and Jews in pre-world war II Germany. He said that they expected more hate in the coming months. Omer had every right to speak with anger and sadness but he didn’t.  Instead there was a strength and faith in his voice.

The talk didn’t have anything to do with pedagogy. There was no discussion in how we would talk to kids about Islam or how to use this information to make our curriculum more inclusive.  What was the point of having this presentation at a teacher in-service day?

Things seem pretty bleak right now.  Politicians are using hate speech to pander to the worst part of our souls turning fear into racism. Muslims in America are suffering as many minority group in America have experienced and they are suffering in ways that no other group has had to endure.

How is this knowledge about Islam going to help me be a better teacher?  I don't know right now but what I do know is that I've been thinking about this question the entire week.  With this question in my mind, I've been more conscientious to authentically teach my third graders about Hanukkah and have set-up a visit from a Rabbi to talk to my students.  With this question in my mind while reeling from another shooting that involved Muslims as suspects, I had an honest discussion with an African-American student about how the word "boy" can hurt.  And with this question in my mind, I have embraced my responsibility as an educator to rise above the ignorance and hate and be a model of understanding and empathy for my students.

Chaplain Mozaffar has every right to express anger at the injustice and prejudice Muslims are experiencing every day in our country.  But instead, he embodies one of the central tenants of Islam, the belief that deep down, all people are good.  This gives us hope, because if a Muslim can face a world so filled with darkness with this belief, than the rest of us can surely look past the fear in our own hearts to the goodness inside of Muslims in our community and in the world.

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