Editors' preface: With some 150 Muslim schools, the United Kingdom leads the non-Muslim world in its provision for education within the confines of traditional and sometimes radical Islamic thought. Other European countries have only a small handful apiece. The United States has a growing number, around 235, catering to some 3 percent of Muslim students, and perhaps as many as 600 Islamic day schools.
As in the U.K., some of these schools have generated controversy. The best known is the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax, Virginia, where textbooks containing hate material were found by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in October 2007. Similar materials were found in Saudi academies in Bonn and London.
Less well known, but every bit as controversial, is the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, an elementary charter school in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota. A public school, it receives funding from the state, but as a charter school, it is subject to a lower level of accountability than most. Founded in 2003, the school is closely linked to the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN), with which the school shares a building.
The academy has more than 300 pupils, 80 to 90 percent of whom are Muslims. Like Muslim schools elsewhere, it provides a mixed curriculum: regular subjects such as English language, Arabic as a foreign language, alongside lessons on Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. At the end of each day, Islamic studies classes are provided for students, most of whom attend. More than that, the school arranges for group prayers at about noon each day as well as a 30-minute prayer and sermon session on Fridays.
This clear emphasis on religion in the context of an American public school prompted Katherine Kersten, a columnist with the Minneapolis Star Tribune, to look more closely at activities and curriculum at the academy. Kersten's work, backed up by other writers, including the Middle East Forum's Daniel Pipes, brought the school to wider attention than previously.
One result of Kersten's article was the decision by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota to initiate an investigation of the academy. The ACLU's chief concern was with violations of the First Amendment's establishment clause (which prohibits the establishment of religion in the United States). The ACLU asked that the school discontinue provisions for Friday prayers and cease to promote or assist the provision of after-hours religious teaching.
Things have now reached a crisis point. In January 2009, the ACLU, tired by now of the academy's prevarication over basic school standards, sued both the school and the Minnesota Department of Education on the grounds of violation of the First Amendment by using taxpayers' funds to promote religion. The 19-page complaint is available online.
We present the following extract from the ACLU complaint here as evidence of the way Middle Eastern values are moving toward the mainstream of American life, contravening long-established secularity in public and charter schools. The outcome of this case will be crucial for the future management of Islamic incongruity where it threatens to destabilize American culture in areas beyond schools and the provisions they make for providing education suitable for all citizens.
The ACLU Lawsuit
United States District Court, District of Minnesota, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Plaintiff, v. Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy; Islamic Relief USA; Alice Seagren, individually and in her capacity as Minnesota Commissioner of Education; and The Minnesota Department of Education; and Asad Zaman; Asif Rahman; Mahrous Kandil; Mona Elnahrawy; Moira Fahey; and Mohamed Farid, individually and in their capacities as Directors of Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, Defendants.
Plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, for its Complaint against Defendants, states and alleges as follows:
1. This is an action to obtain declaratory and injunctive relief establishing: that the operation and public funding of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy ("TIZA") is unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and of Article 1, Sec. 16 and of Article 13, Sec. 2 of the Minnesota 2 Constitution; and that the leasing of space by Muslim organizations to TIZA and the resulting transfer of state funds intended for the support of charter schools to such Muslim organizations through excessive lease payments also violates the Establishment clauses and Minnesota Stat. §124D.10. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota supports and promotes the free exercise of religion, including exercise expressed through schools founded upon Muslim or other religious practices. This Complaint is based upon the use of public funds to support such practices.
TIZA's Entanglements with the Muslim Religion
38. In numerous ways, TIZA advances, endorses, and prefers the Muslim religion over other religions or nonsectarian approaches in connection with school activities and fosters entanglement between government and religion.
39. TIZA advances, endorses, and prefers Muslim religious practices through its decision to locate its campuses in facilities owned by religious institutions affiliated with MAS-MN without demonstrating that locating its campuses in such locations has been necessary; to share space and other operations with MAS-MN; and to permit consequent improper exposure of public school students to religious iconography.
40. TIZA has advanced, endorsed, and preferred Muslim prayer in at least the following ways:
41. TIZA advances, endorses, and prefers Muslim clothing rules in at least the following ways:
42. TIZA advances, endorses, and prefers Muslim dietary practices by serving only food permissible under Muslim dietary laws.
43. TIZA advances, endorses, and prefers Muslim religious practices through its provision of school transportation. Although school ends at 3:30 p.m., buses do not depart the Inver Grove Heights campus until 4:30 p.m. MAS-MN offers a Muslim studies program at the Inver Grove Heights campus every day from 3:30 to 4:30. A majority of TIZA's students are enrolled in the Muslim studies program.
44. TIZA organizes its school calendar around Muslim holidays.
45. TIZA encourages school personnel and students to refer to teachers and other employees by such religious-based titles as "Brother" and "Sister."
46. TIZA's history of entanglement of Muslim religious practices with ostensibly secular educational offerings has imposed excessive monitoring burdens upon the government.
 See Denis MacEoin, Music, Chess and Other Sins: Segregation, Integration and Muslim Schools in Britain (London: Civitas, 2009); see also, "Music, Chess and Other Sins," Middle East Quarterly, Summer 2009, pp. 78-82.
©1994-2013 The Middle East Forum E-mail: info (at) meforum (dot) org Daniel J. Pipes