PORTLAND – Mounting pressures from Muslim parents in the region have prompted the Muslim Educational Trust to open the new coeducational Oregon Islamic Academy – the first high school in the Northwest geared to Muslim students.
Syed Ahmad was one of those parents. He told Wajdi Said, the trust’s executive director, that he moved his family from Texas to Oregon for work and they lived in Tigard to be close to the Muslim Educational Trust’s Islamic School, which teaches students through eighth grade. But he told Wajdi that he’d return his family to Texas to attend an Islamic high school unless one opened here.
The academy’s mission is “to shape the minds and hearts of its students according to the teachings of the Holy Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH),” the parenthetical phrase an abbreviation for “Praise Be Unto Him.”
Said explained that mission will be fulfilled in rigorous classes of math, science, history, language arts, Arabic and other courses to prepare students to excel in college as inquisitive learners, and caring, moral adults who are proud of their Islamic beliefs.
“Hopefully they will be part of the success of America in the 21st century,” he said.
The trust’s current school has 20 preschoolers. There are 89 K-8 students and a waiting list of 260.
Projections, according to Said, show the high school will open with six freshmen in September. School officials plan to grow to a full high school curriculum and add three buildings, including a computer science laboratory. Boys and girls will attend class together, and girls will have the option of wearing the hijab head covering.
The school will be open to students of any faith, Said explained, and all will study comparative religions so they can be leaders in the nation’s pluralistic society.
“In this day and age of extremists and fundamentalists, it’s wonderful they’re wanting to learn about others,” said Sister Mollie Reavis, a mathematics and comparative religion teacher and former interim principal at St. Mary’s Academy.
Reavis, who served on the Islamic academy’s formation committee and reviewed its parent-student handbook and curricula, has seen zealotry across faiths. She welcomes the addition of another Portland-area school that she thinks will prepare youth well for their roles as college students and as citizens.
The Catholic girls high school has had nine students come from the Islamic K-8 school, and they’ve all done well, Reavis said. But she understands that some Muslim parents might want a high school of their own.
“They want for their children a place where their religion and values are supported and not ridiculed,” she said, “and that’s what most parents want.”
Karen Keyworth, co-founder of the Michigan-based Islamic Schools League of America and its director of education, said that she knows of no other Islamic high school in the Northwest.
The league, a nonprofit organization supporting Islamic schools, is about to embark on an extensive study of Islamic K-12 education in the United States, but the league has about 235 schools, serving about 32,000 students, on its reference list.