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HomeNewsArchivesISLAMIC WOMEN ARE GOOD HOPE TEACHERS FOR A DAY

ISLAMIC WOMEN ARE GOOD HOPE TEACHERS FOR A DAY

Nov. 12, 2001 – Soon after the terrible events of Sept. 11, Mary Jane Provost, head of the upper school at St. Croix's Good Hope School, decided that her students needed to broaden their education to include some understanding of what Islam is all about.
Because the news media were suddenly giving that religion great attention, often with little knowledge or understanding, Provost hoped to present a more accurate and realistic view of the subject to her students — and perhaps in the process prevent hurtful words or actions based on ignorance.
She had little difficulty in deciding where to begin: by inviting a Muslim graduate of Good Hope to speak to the present student body. The invitation was extended to an articulate, thoughtful and accomplished communicator, yet one who might not immediately have come to mind to many, because she is a woman.
Najat Yusuf is the daughter of Palestinian parents who immigrated years ago to the United States and eventually settled on St. Croix, where she was born and grew up.
While a student at Good Hope, Najat dressed in jeans and T-shirts like many of her classmates. But even then, she says now, she knew that as she grew older and developed in her faith as a Muslim, this would change. Soon after graduating from Good Hope in 1996, she began wearing the hijab, or head scarf, traditional to Muslim women.
A year ago, after much prayerful thought and study of Islam and of the Quran, the scripture holy to Muslims, Yusuf made the personal decision also to wear the veil called the niqaab which covers the face below the eyes. Today, she also dresses in modest western clothing that covers her arms and legs. She emphasizes that this is not imposed upon her but is a personal decision. "It is not a decision that comes overnight," she says. "The decision grows deeper and stronger with time and understanding after courses in Islam."
She continues, "When you grow in faith, you move to a more conservative position. My commitment makes me better as a whole. It makes me feel complete, stronger in my faith and in my true identity as a practicing Muslim."
She mentions with a chuckle that some people, seeing her in her loose-fitting clothes and face veil, refer to her as "Ninja." "That doesn't bother me," she says. "And as a Crucian, I know how to reply within the local culture."
After graduating from Good Hope, Yusuf taught at what today is called Iqra Academy, a center founded on St. Croix to provide Islamic-centered schooling. She currently is pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in Islamic Studies by correspondence from the American Open University in Virginia. She is studying in English; the program also is offered in Arabic.
Islam through the eyes of three Crucian women
When Yusuf went to Good Hope School to make her presentation, she took two other young Muslim women with her — Nazi Ahmad, a native of India, who now teaches at Iqra Academy, and Hannifa Abdulhaady, a graduate of the former St. Dunstan's School on St. Croix and the mother of a little boy currently in the fourth grade at Good Hope.
They made multiple presentations to small groups of students, primarily from the history classes. Each began with the showing of a video in which Bill Moyers conducted an interview with an Islamic scholar, a professor at George Washington University, just after the military action in Kuwait. This was followed by five-minute presentations by each of the three guest speakers and then question-and-answer periods.
One of the prime topics discussed was the role of Islamic women in society, their responsibilities and their rights. The condition of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, widely reported on television, is far from typical of women's place throughout Islam, the speakers pointed out. It was not long ago that Benazir Bhutto, a woman, was prime minister of Pakistan. The present Pakistani ambassador to the United States is a woman. Jordan's Queen Noor, American born, converted to Islam when she married the late King Hussein, and has been well known throughout the world for decades.
In her presentations, Yusuf focused on the meaning of jihad. "You will not find in any lexicon or dictionary in Islam the idea of 'holy war' in the sense of a crusade, as it is frequently defined in the media," she said. "Historically, jihad was defined as the struggle to stand in the faith. Jihad was and is an individual, personal struggle or exertion."
She told the students that the jihad of each of them was to resist the pressures of society and excel in their school studies. She cited the ready availability of drugs, alcohol and sex, and the prevalence of violence in real life, reminding the young people that she had "been there," faced that, not many years ago.
"In Islam, there are restrictions against offensive war," Yusuf emphasized. "One is permitted to defend oneself, to restore peace in society. The Quran teaches that to save one person is as if to save all humanity. A jihad is never an excuse for people to go out and kill others."
The discussions did not go deeply into theological issues, but Yusuf and her two friends explained to the students certain aspects of Islam that are frequently misunderstood. The result, Provost said, was a conveying of knowledge that the students will be able to use in assessing the news of the day and to gain some understanding of the beliefs and attitudes of an important segment of their local and world communities.
Islamic education in the Virgin Islands
In discussing the presentation by Yusuf and her two companions, Provost mentioned another group of Virgin Islanders who several years ago decided to "do something" when they felt a need for their children to be better enlightened.
Some members of the local Islamic community who, like so many other people on St. Croix and elsewhere in the United States, were disappointed with the quality of available education, organized summer programs for Islamic youth. Dr. Magid Buik came from Florida to direct them.
By the 1998-99 academic year, there also were 50 children attending preschool classes, held initially in Estate Whim. After four years of summer programs, some Muslim families in the community wanted full-time Islamic-based schooling for their youngsters, and the Iqra Educational Center was founded. Now renamed the Iqra Academy, the school, which moved to its present location in Estate Mountain three years ago, has been adding one higher grade each year. This year's addition is fourth grade; the now school has 60 students and a faculty of six full-time teachers plus community volunteers.
The school operated for two years without a director. Then Abdul Hakeem, a Trinidadian who converted to Islam from Christianity some 30 year ago at the age of 18, took the position at the start of the 2000-01 year. Continuity of effort since the beginning has been provided by Sana Jaloudi, a teacher who, together with other faculty members, ran the program in the absence of a director.
Faculty members come from India, Palestine, Jordan, Guyana, Pakistan, the United States and elsewhere, offering the students the advantage of exposure to people from diverse cultures and societies but with the unifying aspect of Islamic teaching.
The courses offerings mirror those of public and other parochial and private schools: standard math, reading, writing, science, and social studies (with mainland U.S., Virgin Islands and Islamic emphases), with the addition of Islamic studies including history and the Quran. The "foreign language" offering, instead of Spanish or French, is Arabic.
"The important thing for me," one mother said, "is that my children are getting the moral direction I want for them. My parents sent me to St. Joseph's for that reason, but now my children can have Islamic teaching, too."
Iqra Academy is the only Islamic sch
ool in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. It is supported by tuition and voluntary donations from individuals. It has an eight-member board of directors.
St. Croix, with a history of having been under seven flags and with a broadly diverse population, may offer an optimum setting for non-Muslim students to be encouraged to learn more about the Islamic portion of their community.
By their actions, Provost, Yusuf, Ahmad, Abdulhaady, Jaloudi, Hakeem and the other Iqra Academy teachers, as well as supportive parents, are encouraging a broadening of education for young Crucians. In so doing, they are encouraging those few who may identify not individuals but Muslims in general as enemies to take a more careful look at the facts. Those who do may well discover that those they thought were enemies are in fact good friends.

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Nov. 12, 2001 - Soon after the terrible events of Sept. 11, Mary Jane Provost, head of the upper school at St. Croix's Good Hope School, decided that her students needed to broaden their education to include some understanding of what Islam is all about.
Because the news media were suddenly giving that religion great attention, often with little knowledge or understanding, Provost hoped to present a more accurate and realistic view of the subject to her students -- and perhaps in the process prevent hurtful words or actions based on ignorance.
She had little difficulty in deciding where to begin: by inviting a Muslim graduate of Good Hope to speak to the present student body. The invitation was extended to an articulate, thoughtful and accomplished communicator, yet one who might not immediately have come to mind to many, because she is a woman.
Najat Yusuf is the daughter of Palestinian parents who immigrated years ago to the United States and eventually settled on St. Croix, where she was born and grew up.
While a student at Good Hope, Najat dressed in jeans and T-shirts like many of her classmates. But even then, she says now, she knew that as she grew older and developed in her faith as a Muslim, this would change. Soon after graduating from Good Hope in 1996, she began wearing the hijab, or head scarf, traditional to Muslim women.
A year ago, after much prayerful thought and study of Islam and of the Quran, the scripture holy to Muslims, Yusuf made the personal decision also to wear the veil called the niqaab which covers the face below the eyes. Today, she also dresses in modest western clothing that covers her arms and legs. She emphasizes that this is not imposed upon her but is a personal decision. "It is not a decision that comes overnight," she says. "The decision grows deeper and stronger with time and understanding after courses in Islam."
She continues, "When you grow in faith, you move to a more conservative position. My commitment makes me better as a whole. It makes me feel complete, stronger in my faith and in my true identity as a practicing Muslim."
She mentions with a chuckle that some people, seeing her in her loose-fitting clothes and face veil, refer to her as "Ninja." "That doesn't bother me," she says. "And as a Crucian, I know how to reply within the local culture."
After graduating from Good Hope, Yusuf taught at what today is called Iqra Academy, a center founded on St. Croix to provide Islamic-centered schooling. She currently is pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in Islamic Studies by correspondence from the American Open University in Virginia. She is studying in English; the program also is offered in Arabic.
Islam through the eyes of three Crucian women
When Yusuf went to Good Hope School to make her presentation, she took two other young Muslim women with her -- Nazi Ahmad, a native of India, who now teaches at Iqra Academy, and Hannifa Abdulhaady, a graduate of the former St. Dunstan's School on St. Croix and the mother of a little boy currently in the fourth grade at Good Hope.
They made multiple presentations to small groups of students, primarily from the history classes. Each began with the showing of a video in which Bill Moyers conducted an interview with an Islamic scholar, a professor at George Washington University, just after the military action in Kuwait. This was followed by five-minute presentations by each of the three guest speakers and then question-and-answer periods.
One of the prime topics discussed was the role of Islamic women in society, their responsibilities and their rights. The condition of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, widely reported on television, is far from typical of women's place throughout Islam, the speakers pointed out. It was not long ago that Benazir Bhutto, a woman, was prime minister of Pakistan. The present Pakistani ambassador to the United States is a woman. Jordan's Queen Noor, American born, converted to Islam when she married the late King Hussein, and has been well known throughout the world for decades.
In her presentations, Yusuf focused on the meaning of jihad. "You will not find in any lexicon or dictionary in Islam the idea of 'holy war' in the sense of a crusade, as it is frequently defined in the media," she said. "Historically, jihad was defined as the struggle to stand in the faith. Jihad was and is an individual, personal struggle or exertion."
She told the students that the jihad of each of them was to resist the pressures of society and excel in their school studies. She cited the ready availability of drugs, alcohol and sex, and the prevalence of violence in real life, reminding the young people that she had "been there," faced that, not many years ago.
"In Islam, there are restrictions against offensive war," Yusuf emphasized. "One is permitted to defend oneself, to restore peace in society. The Quran teaches that to save one person is as if to save all humanity. A jihad is never an excuse for people to go out and kill others."
The discussions did not go deeply into theological issues, but Yusuf and her two friends explained to the students certain aspects of Islam that are frequently misunderstood. The result, Provost said, was a conveying of knowledge that the students will be able to use in assessing the news of the day and to gain some understanding of the beliefs and attitudes of an important segment of their local and world communities.
Islamic education in the Virgin Islands
In discussing the presentation by Yusuf and her two companions, Provost mentioned another group of Virgin Islanders who several years ago decided to "do something" when they felt a need for their children to be better enlightened.
Some members of the local Islamic community who, like so many other people on St. Croix and elsewhere in the United States, were disappointed with the quality of available education, organized summer programs for Islamic youth. Dr. Magid Buik came from Florida to direct them.
By the 1998-99 academic year, there also were 50 children attending preschool classes, held initially in Estate Whim. After four years of summer programs, some Muslim families in the community wanted full-time Islamic-based schooling for their youngsters, and the Iqra Educational Center was founded. Now renamed the Iqra Academy, the school, which moved to its present location in Estate Mountain three years ago, has been adding one higher grade each year. This year's addition is fourth grade; the now school has 60 students and a faculty of six full-time teachers plus community volunteers.
The school operated for two years without a director. Then Abdul Hakeem, a Trinidadian who converted to Islam from Christianity some 30 year ago at the age of 18, took the position at the start of the 2000-01 year. Continuity of effort since the beginning has been provided by Sana Jaloudi, a teacher who, together with other faculty members, ran the program in the absence of a director.
Faculty members come from India, Palestine, Jordan, Guyana, Pakistan, the United States and elsewhere, offering the students the advantage of exposure to people from diverse cultures and societies but with the unifying aspect of Islamic teaching.
The courses offerings mirror those of public and other parochial and private schools: standard math, reading, writing, science, and social studies (with mainland U.S., Virgin Islands and Islamic emphases), with the addition of Islamic studies including history and the Quran. The "foreign language" offering, instead of Spanish or French, is Arabic.
"The important thing for me," one mother said, "is that my children are getting the moral direction I want for them. My parents sent me to St. Joseph's for that reason, but now my children can have Islamic teaching, too."
Iqra Academy is the only Islamic sch ool in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands. It is supported by tuition and voluntary donations from individuals. It has an eight-member board of directors.
St. Croix, with a history of having been under seven flags and with a broadly diverse population, may offer an optimum setting for non-Muslim students to be encouraged to learn more about the Islamic portion of their community.
By their actions, Provost, Yusuf, Ahmad, Abdulhaady, Jaloudi, Hakeem and the other Iqra Academy teachers, as well as supportive parents, are encouraging a broadening of education for young Crucians. In so doing, they are encouraging those few who may identify not individuals but Muslims in general as enemies to take a more careful look at the facts. Those who do may well discover that those they thought were enemies are in fact good friends.