Al-Iman School encourages tolerance at Heritage Day event

By Madina Toure

Students at the Al-Iman School in Jamaica presented handmade projects illustrating the diversity of countries with significant Muslim populations as part of the school’s annual Heritage Day event last week.

This year’s theme was “Muslims in the United States,” stressing that being Muslim and being American do not have to be separate.

The countries represented at the event, held at the school at 89-89 Van Wyck Expressway, included Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Guyana, Palestine, India, Bangladesh, Iran, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, Morocco, Egypt and Albania.

Students from all grades were broken up into four groups of seven to 12 individuals. Each group was asked to come up with projects that were as authentic as possible.

Although many teachers were involved in assisting the students, the heads of the social studies and English departments oversaw the effort.

The students worked on the projects after school and even on some Saturdays, according to Nassir Ali Akber, principal of Al-Iman School.

One project, a large display titled “American Muslims,” featured a 3-D bar graph designed in the shape of the U.S. map highlighting the Muslim population of each state, a poster tracking the history of Muslims in the United States and a book featuring stories from the Quran, among other items.

“We were even taken aback by them when they decided to find out information in each state, how many Muslims are there,” Akber said. “They wanted to be included. They said, ‘We are American as much as any other Americans.’”

Drawing on the fact many notable figures in U.S. and world history have been Muslims, the event was an opportunity to recognize those people, as well as to learn from their accomplishments.

Akber, who has been the school’s principal since 1995, said he started the event, which was called the “Multicultural Bonanza,” during his second year as principal.

He left to work in the private sector in April 2013, and returned to resume his job as principal at Al-Iman in April 2015. While he was away, the new principal changed the event’s name to “Heritage Day.”

“The idea was mostly first to empower my students, to feel proud of their culture, to feel proud of their tradition,” Akber said.

Seham Tajeddin, 13, one member of the group working on a project focused on Yemen, hails from the country herself. She said she enjoyed educating people about her country.

“I like to give all the information to people,” Tajeddin said.

Usman Qidwai, 18, also in the Yemen group, said he appreciated the opportunity to learn about a different country.

“It’s like going back home,” Qidwai said.

Another group member, Muhammad Ali Mirza, 12, said he liked putting the project together.

“It’s actually really fun to us,” Mirza said. “We actually get dirty.”

Elmont businessman Ali Mirza, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) for his congressional seat, said his daughter attended Al-Iman School and that he has been at the event many times.

“I see the same diversity in my district,” Mirza said.

Mohammad Mohsin, the school’s social studies teacher, said the goal of the event is to bring people together and “eliminate as much misunderstanding as possible.”

“Muslim Americans who were here on Sept. 11 or were born after Sept. 11 are just as American as anyone else,” Mohsin said.

Amira Al-Seadi, a sixth-grade teacher, said the event really aims to bring home the point that it is possible to be both Muslim and American.

“Heritage Day is all about connecting, making connections…We’re Muslims, yes, but we’re also American,” Al-Seadi said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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