The Community Mosque of Winston-Salem is hoping to soon close on a piece of property directly behind its Waughtown Street building, ending a long search for a proper location for its proposed Islamic school.
The mosque has hosted weekend educational programs for Muslim children for more than 30 years under the auspices of Community Mosque Academy. If all goes as planned, the property on Bretton Street will become a full-time learning institution known as Community Mosque Academy Inc. Mosque members and supporters are providing the financial backing for the project, organizers say. The school could accept its first students in August.
“A Muslim school fills a very important gap,” concluded Imam Khalid Griggs, the longtime leader of Community Mosque. “…We think this will give them a foundation in their faith that they will draw from for the rest of their lives.”
Safiya Griggs, the Imam’s wife, will serve as the Academy’s first principal. It will require more schooling for Mrs. Griggs, who retired from the City of Winston-Salem in 2009, but she says it will be well worth the effort to see the children of her community in a learning environment that supports and affirms their culture and beliefs.
“Parents want their children, in addition to public school, to learn their faith,” she said. “Islam is not just a religion. It’s a way of life.”
The school, which will initially be open to grades K-5, will offer North Carolina standard course of study, in addition to lessons on important components of the Islamic faith, making time for daily prayers and honoring Islamic holidays, Mrs. Griggs said. In a post-9-11 world, the need for such a supportive community is real, she added. While some Muslim children fare fine in public schools, others grapple with harassment from other students and teachers who refuse to learn the correct pronunciation of their names or honor their Calls to Prayer.
“Islam has been linked with terrorism and it’s hard on our children,” remarked the city native, who has taught at the mosque for 30 years. “Parents want their children to be in a safe environment where they can practice their faith. We want what all parents want for their children: a good education and a safe environment.”
Muslim children in public schools face a volley of obstacles to observing their faith, from cafeteria food that sometimes doesn’t adhere to Muslim diet restrictions, to secular and Christian cultural ideals and practices that Muslims don’t share, such as dating, Mrs. Griggs said.
“They’re living in two different worlds and they’re having to adjust to that,” she remarked. “…I’m not sure parents really understand what their children are going through in public schools. They can’t really be Muslim in public schools.”
The house will need renovations in order to be brought up to code and made suitable for a school, a task that will require considerable time and money, Griggs said, but the community’s response to the project leaves no question in her mind that the effort will not be in vain.
“It’s a tremendous undertaking and it would not happen without help of the parents, the existing staff of the part time school and the entire Community Mosque community,” she remarked. “Everybody has been so wonderful. We’re trying to raise funds right now to close on the property and everybody’s chipping in, even the children.”
Academy officials had considered another location for the school, but the project never came to fruition. Having a site that can be encompassed into the mosque’s campus is quite literally a godsend, Griggs said.
“It’s from God, it’s from Allah,” declared the grandmother of six. “…It’s a wonderful experience. It’s an adventure, it’s a nice adventure. I’m tired in the evenings when I lay down, but it’s a good tired. It’s a peaceful tired.”
The school will charge a monthly tuition of $450 for one child, with discounts for each additional child a given family enrolls, and Academy leaders say they are already working to secure some scholarship funds for families who need them. Mosque member Shaid Chaudhary said he’s already picked up applications to enroll his seven-year-old daughter and four year-old son, who is slated to start kindergarten in the fall.
“I think it’s really great because we need to teach our kids about Islam because there are so many distractions here every single day,” said the Rawal Pindi, Pakistan native. “I struggle with that with my kids too. It’s hard to kind of teach them the right way, which is Islam.”
Chaudhary said he worries about the influences his children are exposed to in public school. The father of three is a member of the Board of Directors and a teacher at the Academy, but he says the weekend academy simply isn’t enough.
“I’m trying to teach kids about Islam – that’s all I want to do – but it’s challenging in this environment,” said the Volvo Financial Services IT professional. “They go to public school everyday … they’re getting knowledge about other things a lot more than about Islam so I think it’s really important to have a full time school.”
For more information about Community Mosque Academy Inc., visit www.communitymosque.com or call (336) 650-1095.