Jum'uah Mubarak! AFA 8th graders were blessed today with the opportunity to make an apartment a home for a family coming as refugees from the Ivory Coast. We used our heads and hearts to make pieces come together for this family and recited surah Fatiha for their new home and life. Sr. Nadeen shared with us her story as a refugee from Syria having to adjust to 3 different countries before making the US her home. Lots of life skills at work- engineering, problem-solving, aesthetics, measuring spatial configurations, interior design and just a bit of Marie Kondo-ing! Thank you to @KindWorks for coordinating the setup and to our wonderful AFA community for donating beautiful items. We prayed jum'uah at Diyenet Center and had an amazing tour and lessons about Ottoman architecture with Dr. Sharif. Did you know the floor of the musalla there is heated by electric coils?
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Jum'uah Mubarak! Look who came to visit today through 4th Grade's Live Action Museum! You had to push a button on the display for each person to come alive and tell you about themselves. Among the amazing people we had speaking with parents and AFA students were Mother Teresa, Michelle Obama, Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Malala Yousafzai, Queen Rania and many other notable women from history and present day. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin L. King, Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Ceaser made an appearance and impression as well. Such an engaging way to learn about important people and connect their lives to our own. And they shared so many little-known facts about themselves that really helped us museum-goers understand how even more interesting these interesting people are!
Middle School students were excited today to host 14 year old Lama Abed who came from Gaza, Palestine to testify in front of Congress and speak to Americans about the situation of young people in her homeland. She told us about how random electricity outages disrupt daily life including being able to do homework and housework. Lama talked about blockades that mean she and most of her community cannot visit Al Aqsa or other important places in Jerusalem. Blockades also make it difficult to travel anywhere outside of Gaza. She also shared that she loves to write poetry and taught herself English over the years. And, with us all encouraging her, she sang a beautiful rendition of a song in English and another one in Arabic! AFA students shared with her how they realize they take so much for granted here - sometimes using electronics for hours on end just for fun. Some said that being able to get an education is such an important part of their future they can't imagine how children elsewhere aren't able to. And how, despite the hardships, Lama still has such a positive attitude. AFA will be in touch with Rebuilding Alliance, the organization that sponsored Lama's visit to create partnerships with schools in Gaza. One project is the portable/wearable solar light initiative Lama told us about being so helpful to young people. Here's part of what Lama sang - the Fight Song- and we joined along with her: Can you hear my voice this time? This is my fight song Take back my life song Prove I'm alright song My power's turned on Starting right now I'll be strong.
*Here's another story from our 20 Years of memories!* Faizah Badeges was the ultimate doer, may she rest in rahma. We’ve been blessed with AFA parents over the years who have contributed so much in the form of time, talents, funds or opening their homes to whatever was needed. Faizah was a parent who not only helped in all these ways but a constant cheerleader whose favorite phrase was “Let’s do it!” To raise money for our school, she made delicious egg rolls and chicken satay to sell on Fridays. She drove students for field trips and rides home in a blue van with an American flag sticker that she replenished whenever it faded. She supported the first AFA Video/Film Club by encouraging budding young filmmakers to postpone their homework and focus on being creative! She also fought cancer twice and both times smiled through the ordeal while planning the next AFA event or gathering. Or telling us that everything will be fine when we ran out of space for more classrooms. Between the cancer visits, a record-breaking tsunami – 10th-deadliest natural disaster in history with estimated death toll of nearly 230,000 - hit her birthplace of Indonesia in 2004. Immediately afterward she urged her AFA friends with “Let’s do something”. “Let’s do something” turned into Faizah leading 3 AFA staff members on a trip there to see what could be done. Hundreds if not thousands of non-profit organizations and many governments were working to rebuild the destroyed landscape of the city of Banda Aceh and its surroundings on the westernmost coast of the country. Some people had lost up to 250 family members. Many had seen their entire home and all their belongings disappear. Everyone had a story about the “hand of God” coming in the form of a wave and taking something into the ocean. Amidst the hills and mountains, there were ships and boats flung from the high waters. Entire groves of palm trees were stripped off the shore and pieces of homes – broken plates and dishes, furniture, porcelain appliances, floor tiles - were strewn everywhere. The only standing structure somewhat intact in the middle of the rubble was the marble mosque where calls to prayer continued to be made by eager young boys who took turns going up the cracked minaret. As Faizah translated for us, we could see her support and encouragement of people we met. Her determination to “do something” which seemed impossible in those bleak days also became a perspective. She once said: “Do you see that mountainside that was stripped off during the tsunami? Well, God did that so we could see the valuable iron ore hidden inside! And now we have wealth we didn’t have before!” Our AFA team focused on a very small idea. Could we work with just a few schools to find out what they needed to recover and revive their communities? And was there something we could learn from them since we had heard of their resilience and perseverance? The cluster of schools we visited had new orphanages attached because so many children had become parentless through the tsunami. Beyond the physical needs of these buildings, school managers asked us to work with them on training teachers to be more effective and teach the whole child, even more, challenging considering their losses. So, we put into action our AFA core values and approaches along with each teacher’s personal commitment and passion to have deep conversations and conducted workshops with adults and children still surviving through that difficult time. Along the way, we collected remnants and pieces of homes and lives that were scattered among the decimated villages and neighborhoods of Banda Aceh. Back at AFA we relayed the story of perseverance and determination we had seen to our students. They along with our then art teacher created a mosaic of those pieces we’d brought back and shared amongst themselves lessons of faith, positivity, and blessings. We all realized together that it takes putting pieces together to make a whole. AFA then adopted a school in Banda Aceh named Subulu salam - meaning the way to peace - and became part of the organization Faizah founded called Hope4OurChildren. Faizah returned to Allah (s) not long after this remarkable trip. Her motto continues to ring true with how service and stewardship are core to AFA. And how we nurture in each AFA student the desire to “do something” and make the world a better place. http://bit.ly/Celebrate20AFA join us to hear more stories at our 20th Celebration!
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Tips for American Muslim parents on talking with children
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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