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AFA Theatre Troupe shined on stage today! Their moving production of "Orphan Trains" was directed by Troupe sponsor Ms. Widad [Middle School English teacher] and played to a standing room only audience. We cried, laughed and marveled at how well performers depicted the stories of 9 orphans through (many changes) of period costumes and regional dialects. Cast members decided to donate admission fees to better orphan lives today! From 1853 to 1929, The Orphan Trains Project joined adoptive parents with orphans - mostly from immigrant families - in countless towns throughout the vast American landscape. Based on primary records from the Children's Aid Society of New York, "Orphan Trains" brings this compelling story of hardships and victories to life, resonating with the authentic voices of a diverse group of children.
Alhamdulillah, on this blessed last jummah of Ramadan and the last day of this school year, our beloved Mr. Brandon – AFA School Resource Officer - took his shahada surrounded by students, teachers and staff. We first spoke with students about the importance of the shahada that lives in our hearts and how it reminds us that we belong to and love Allah (s) and that the beautiful Prophet Muhammad (s) was sent to teach us mercy. Brandon then repeated the shahada first in Arabic, then in English. Afterward, we all said the shahada together to affirm our faith and commitment just like Brandon did for his first time today. Brandon has been seeking and searching since before he joined us three years ago and said that being here has given him insight and inspiration about a direct relationship with God. He asked if he could declare his shahada at AFA because he feels this is his second home and family. Each of us who passes through the doors of the building or sees him in the parking lot already knows that Brandon’s character and personality reflect that of the best of people. His smile alone lights up our days and his thoughtfulness makes our work lighter. We make dua for Brandon to have an easy time as he learns, grows and understands better the blessings of taking his shahada. It was a beautiful way to end the year!
Our beautiful, smart, kind and loving 8th graders graduated this past Sunday and they are ready for the world! We sent the Class of 2018 off with this prayer together: Ya Allah! Expand and broaden their chests so they breathe deeply and easily to be fully present in their life; Open and soften their hearts so they listen and learn from others with humility. Ya Allah! Straighten their spines so they have the courage to speak and act for truth; Ya Allah! Ease their difficult tasks when they seem insurmountable; Ya Allah, loosen the knot from their tongues so others understand all the ways they convey their work for peace, justice, and equality. Ya Allah protect them from harm and from doing harm. Remind them that You come running when they walk towards You. Ya Allah you are Peace, the Source of Peace, give them peace in their hearts and in their lives. Ya Allah, help them to remember you, to thank you, and to worship you in the best ways possible. Ameen.
AFA classes chose one word that they would like to have as a reminder for themselves and the community to make the world a better place. Here are their contributions to our collective well being.
AFA was invited to the United States Institute of Peace's annual iftar this week! 7th Grader Rayyan and 8th Grader Ammar joined 4 other young men to give adhan in the beautiful cavernous building in Washington DC. It's the one shaped like a dove just as you enter the city from VA. The event focused on youth empowerment and leadership around the world and we were able to talk with ambassadors, US policymakers, and non-profit leaders about the role of young people in peacemaking. Maghrib was brought in by a round of adhans made by the young men echoing through the building - many in the interfaith gathering said their spirits were uplifted hearing the beautiful voices calling everyone to prayer and success. Alhamdulillah!
Alhamdulillah, for the 3rd year in a row, AFA has participated in Rise Against Hunger meal packaging. These 10,152 meals will go to feed mostly school children in Mozambique. Each packet contains soy protein, vitamins, rice and deyhrated vegetables and feeds around 6 people. We made a dua that each hand receiving a meal that our hands helped pack (or our hearts watched being packed) will be blessed with goodness. And we pray Allah (s) accepts our efforts during this blessed month of Ramadan.
So much Ramadan readiness going on at AFA! Our front foyer and musalla are Ramadan decked out! Students are sharing their own ideas for how to bring the Ramadan spirit to the halls and classrooms. Middle School had a Welcome Ramadan/Goodbye Testing party today! Crafty MS students made customized candles, designed iftar-time frames, bookmarks for Quran reading, and wrapped Ramadan Mubarak gift chocolates. And each grade will have a Blessings Jar in class to fill during Ramadan with what they're thankful for. Final countdown is nearly here!
How to talk to your children about being Muslim
Muslim American parents face the frightening prospect of their children confronting harassment at school, or being questioned about their faith. Studies have found that Muslim youth face bullying at twice the rate of their peers. Last week, U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch encouraged parents to contact the Department of Education and the Department of Justice if their children are threatened. Below, Afeefa Syeed, an educator and parent based in the Washington, D.C., area, shares some guidelines she developed for her community.
It's toughest for the young ones who look at pictures of the bad guys and say, "But Mama, he looks like me."
Our American Muslim children are growing up in a world of warped lunacy that takes what they know about a beloved prophet or God and turns it into reasons for anguish. And the frustrations are even greater when young ones watch the news or are witness to confrontations that end with their asking, “Daddy, why does that man say I’m going to hell?”
As Muslim parents and teachers, we feel a heaviness in our hearts about the world and because of this hopelessness and helplessness, we are stripped of the superpowers usually assigned to us in those little eyes. Nevertheless, our children are an amana, a trust for us to keep safe while we have them in our care. Being present with them and understanding their feelings is the heart of parenting in this complex and difficult time.
In order to be conscientious and responsive parents, American Muslims might think of the following elements that are becoming part of our new normal:
Deal with our own emotions
As parents, we are sad, angry, confused, frustrated. It is important to acknowledge these emotions and empathize with one another so we can respond to the needs of our children. Even without knowing what we know, children pick up cues from our behavior and emotional state to then be in a state of disorientation themselves.
Actively listen to our children
Parents need to learn what their children know and feel. Some kids may have snippets of information, others are essentially clueless. Be present and be aware so your children feel connected when they do ask questions. Create opportunities for check-ins as a family to ask how they feel, what their day has been like with specific questions about friends, teachers and relationships.
Talk about what it is to be Muslim, and let them ask questions
Instead of only focusing on “that’s not who we are,” use this as an opportunity to reinforce and reclaim who we are as Muslims. Whether it’s in the family or a Muslim school like ours, we need to create environments where they feel comfortable asking questions, and sharing doubts and concerns. It’s really a series of teachable moments -- “Let’s talk about what [prophet Muhammad] did when he had disagreements.” “How does the Koran tell us we are supposed to treat each other?”
It comes down to taking tools from the faith to counter how it is being misused. We can use the power of prayer and fasting, knowing that God is the source of peace, protection and love to counter the hate, violence and insecurity swarming around us. When children see parents model their faith as a way to be stronger than what surrounds them, their sense of belonging to something greater than themselves reassures them.
Find the positive, be the change
These are trying times to be sure, but we have to point out to our children where there is goodness in the world, regardless of nationality, religion or background. Parents can model random acts of kindness for children to bolster how we can contribute goodness to the world. Get to know neighbors, clean up streets, participate in interfaith activities to truly exemplify the undeniable identity we share as Americans who are integral threads in the fabric of our country.
Afeefa Syeed, a cultural anthropologist, is founder and head of school of Al Fatih Academy, a school with a curriculum based on peace and civic education and integrated learning. She has served as a senior advisor at the U.S. Agency for International Development and as a scholar consultant for the Carter Center, as a research associate with Cambridge University’s Institute on Religion and International Studies, and as a senior fellow and an advisory council member for the Institute for Global Engagement’s Center for Women, Faith & Leadership. Additional tips on talking with American Muslim children about current events can be found here.
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