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Let’s curb the rush to judgment on TIZA

Two months ago, Minnesota Public Radio, the Star Tribune and other media outlets ran articles regarding a man who was known to build bridges between Muslims and people of other faiths and backgrounds.

Two months ago, Minnesota Public Radio, the Star Tribune and other media outlets ran articles regarding a man who was known to build bridges between Muslims and people of other faiths and backgrounds. Even the FBI and airport officials came together at Tariq ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) to remember his great works. The man I am referring to is Hesham Hussein, one of the founders of TIZA, who died in a car accident in January.

Now that this leader and bridge-builder has left us, some are using the opportunity to short-change true journalism. They have created a backlash of threatening emails and phone calls that range all the way up to threats to blow up the school.

The Star Tribune column by Katherine Kersten that began this storm — her second about TIZA in less than a month — claimed that Amanda Getz, a substitute teacher at TIZA for just one day, saw the charter school breaking rules when it came to the separation of state and religion.

New to several practices
Getz told KSTP-TV: “I’ve been in a lot of schools and I’ve never been in a school where they had washing rituals, or they had prayer, or where they had a room where you had to take your shoes off.”

Did she say “washing rituals”? I would hope that a person who is a licensed teacher with the state of Minnesota would be capable of knowing that Muslims do wash up before prayers, just as Muslims wash up before eating food.

Did she also say “had a room where you had to take your shoes off?” When did taking shoes off become a crime? I hope she never goes to Japan, where the removal of shoes will surely shock her.

It’s sad to see our tax dollars being used to support a teacher who didn’t even ask the many — yes, many — non-Muslim teachers at TIZA about Muslim practices, and instead chose to stay ignorant of these practices. It’s also sad that the journalists covering this story have not mentioned the non-Muslim staff or non-Muslim teachers at TIZA.
KSTP-TV reporter Beth Jett stated, “The woman I interviewed on camera Wednesday said she was caught off-guard by the presence of religion at the school and most concerned that she would offend someone there since she was unfamiliar with Islamic culture.”

Last year I did my internship (for a political-science degree) at TIZA. I had the privilege of working with four of the school’s excellent non-Muslim teachers. I would hope that teachers like Getz would be able to approach them and ask questions. I would hope that teachers like Getz could get rid of ethnocentric attitudes by learning about other minorities in Minnesota. Otherwise, they might have a very difficult time teaching in Saint Paul and Minneapolis schools.

Sports and Scouting after school

I remember when my daughter, who attends TIZA, was sad because I was too late to get her into soccer, which was all filled up by other students. She was, however, able to play basketball after school, and would also like to join the Girl Scouts, which is offered as an after-school activity at TIZA. I guess I don’t blame Getz for not knowing about these activities, but I do hold Jett responsible for not doing her job as a journalist.

The images used by KSTP-TV — showing children sitting on the floor — also give a skewed picture of the charter school. Minnesota Public Radio has many pictures of TIZA kids at their desks, while the one with students sitting on the floor makes it look more like a religious school. It’s important to note that all classes have desks and chairs, just as in any other school.

The bottom line: TIZA charter school has Saturday and Sunday off like all other public and charter schools. That means Jews have Saturdays off and Christians have Sundays. These families are able to wake up with their kids and go to synagogues and churches, and maybe then visit a restaurant or grandma’s house. But for the Muslim children, they don’t get Fridays off to go to prayers and spend time with their families. Instead they can choose to pray on a cold gymnasium floor.

If we were to switch the weekends from Saturday and Sunday to Monday and Tuesday, how many rooms would be created for the Christian children who chose to exercise their constitutional right to express their religion?

Finally, as a former U.S. Marine, I think it’s ridiculous to use the American flag controversy to try to show that TIZA is un-American. It is very much American.

Journalists who worked on this story should be held responsible for creating unjustified fears and an atmosphere of hate that has spawned threatening emails, phone calls, and possible violence toward TIZA charter school and its children and staff.

Mohammad Zafar is a former U.S. Marine and the father of a student at TIZA charter school. 

Want to add your voice?

If you’re interested in joining the discussion by writing a Community Voices article, email Susan Albright at salbright [at] minnpost [dot] com.