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Education Reporter

Public Charter School Apparently Teaches Islam
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In Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota, the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) has come under scrutiny from columnist Katherine Kersten for leading students in Muslim prayer and providing religious instruction in Islam. TIZA is a K-8 public charter school funded by taxpayers and sponsored by Islamic Relief, an international aid organization that the Israeli government claims has provided "support and assistance" to Hamas. TIZA is located in the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota." The school also shares this building with a mosque.

TIZA is named after the Muslim military commander who conquered Spain in 711 AD. While the school enrolls just 300 students, it has a waiting list of 1,500. The school recently expanded to a second campus in nearby Blaine, Minnesota.

Almost all TIZA students stay after school for "Islamic Studies" instruction provided by the Muslim American Society. The religious instruction they receive during Islamic Studies is not technically part of the school day, but buses don't leave until after Islamic Studies is over. 77% of TIZA parents reported that their main reason for choosing the school was "after-school programs conducted by various non-profit organizations at the end of the school period in the school building."

Amanda Getz, a substitute teacher, recently received an inside look into how TIZA operates. Getz says that homework assignments for the after-school religious instruction were written on the board right alongside assignments for math and social studies. There was no clear division between subjects studied during school and the study of the Qu'ran after school.

That, however, was not the most surprising feature of the TIZA school day. Getz subbed on a Friday, the Muslim holy day. Upon arrival, she was informed that there would be a school assembly in the gym after lunch. Before the assembly she would need to take her students to the bathroom four at a time for "ritual washing." Afterward, says Getz, "teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day," led the students in Muslim prayers. As the students and teachers entered, a second man "was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet."

When the Minnesota Department of Education inquired about prayer at TIZA in 2004, executive director Asad Zaman assured the department that prayer was voluntary and student-led. "The prayer I saw was not voluntary," says Amanda Getz. "The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred." Nor was the prayer student-led — and in 2004, TIZA went only up through grade 5, making it even less likely that students led the prayer assemblies in question at that time.

Director Zaman, who is also a Muslim imam, assured Katherine Kersten that the Department of Education had inspected TIZA "numerous times" to make sure that all religious activity complied with state law. Kersten's research, however, discovered that officials had only visited the school three times, and never specifically to ensure that TIZA was not a religious school. The department responds to complaints rather than pro-actively searching out problems, Assistant Commissioner Morgan Brown explained. "Since 2004, we haven't gotten a single complaint about TIZA," he said.

"TIZA is now being held up as a national model for a new kind of charter school," warns Kersten. The Minnesota Department of Education just began a new review of TIZA, and the ACLU is also looking into the religious activities Kersten and Getz reported. "If it passes legal muster," Kersten writes, "Minnesota taxpayers may soon find themselves footing the bill for a separate system of education for Muslims." (Minnesota Star Tribune, 4-10-08)

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