When Nima Mohamed walks across the stage for her diploma Saturday, the speeches may be too long, but the line of graduates won't be. Nima is one-half of the first graduating class of theOregon Islamic Academy, the only Islamic high school in the Northwest. The other graduate is Fatima Tarhuni.
Nima's diploma represents the merging of two paths. One started in Tigard in 1997 when the Muslim Educational Trust started an Islamic school with the dream of a rigorous education with an Islamic foundation. The other began in Egypt in 1993, when Nima was born to parents who had fled civil war in their native Somalia. They were refugees looking for a future. For Nima's parents, that future had to include an education for their five daughters and one son.
"Being refuges, they feel that your home can be taken away, your money can be taken away, but the one thing that cannot be take away is your education," says Nima.
The lesson stuck. Like her older sisters, Nima is headed to college -- for her, Lewis and Clark College in Portland.
The halls of the Oregon Islamic Academy bustle with activity, as students K-12 move from one classroom to another, with a break after lunch for prayers. Some high school students, including Nima, tutor younger students after school in traditional subjects like algebra and English, where required readings include "To Kill a Mockingburd", "The Great Gatsby," and "Hamlet," but also "In the Footsteps of the Prophet," a book of lessons from the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Other classes reflect the school's Islamic roots: Islamic Studies, Arabic, and a social studies class that includes "Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes."
Mostly, it feels like school.
"Our religion is different, but the things that are similar are everything else," says Nima. "We're the same age as anyone in public school, we go through the same things, we got through the same problems, we procrastinate, we work hard. We're just humans."
But Nima says she's glad she moved from a public school to one with Muslim roots.
"It's important to have Muslim institutions so that you don't lose your heritage or your religion," she says. "I'm thankful for the school for really instilling in me the things I needed to know about my religion and giving me pride in my identity to live the rest of my life."