CAIRO - Dealing with challenges facing young American Muslims, an Illinois school has hosted a series of workshops to help students overcome cultural differences and hardships.
I wanted to learn about something I didn't have a lot of knowledge about, Sina Rufin, a first- and second-grade teacher at First Baptist Church in Oak Park, told Sun Times.Rufin is one of a group of American teachers attending special workshops on tackling problems facing Muslim students.
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Last Saturday, she attended her first workshop titled, Working With Muslim Families With Young Children.
The event was one of 19 workshops hosted by Percy Julian Middle School and designed to reinforce the theme of Building Relationships in Early Childhood.
The initiative was first suggested by Elham Al-Hindi, whose 7-year-old son was facing huge challenges at school.
Among problems discussed in the workshop is that of shifting studying in English at school and speaking Arabic at home.
However, teachers often mistakenly recommend to immigrant parents that they speak only English at home.
At a certain age, children can be influenced by five languages if they are adequately introduced to that many languages, said Al-Hindi, a student at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
The event, attended by about 400 participants, also included a panel discussion on Community: Celebrating What Everyone Brings to the Table.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of seven to eight million.
Since the 9/11 attacks on the United States, US Muslims have complained of facing discrimination and stereotypes in the society because of their Islamic attires or identities.
An April 2011 forum, sponsored by the New Jersey chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, warned of a growing violence by bullies against Arab, Muslim and South Asian students.
Attendees have praised the workshops for helping them get a better understanding about Islam and Muslims.
I didn't meet anyone I knew was Muslim or anyone I identified as Muslim til I moved to Oak Park, Jean Mendoza, who has taught at Pilgrim Community Nursery School, said.
Brought up in Decatur, Illinois, she was inspired to share what she learnt about Muslims and Islam.
Seeking more information after the 9/11 attacks, Mendoza sought out information at a mosque in Champagne-Urbana, where she was working.
There was an audible gasp from students in my class when I said I'd been to the mosque, and I thought, Well we have some work to do.' They thought I had done something dangerous, she said.
Afterwards, she was keen on spreading the message of the importance of developing a sense of cultural reciprocity among Americans.
She opines that people from other cultures, especially those who are new to this country, constantly must learn about mainstream American culture, but Americans usually are more reluctant to learn about others.
Although most Americans defend religious freedom as a foundational principle, many admit to being uncomfortable with Islam, according to a 2010 report by the Pew Research Center.
While 38 percent of those surveyed said they had an unfavorable opinion of Islam, more than half of Americans said they did not know very much about Islam.
This discomfort with Islam was basically related to lacking proper information about this faith.
Rufin, the Oak Park teacher, urged Americans to dispel myths about other faiths.I am one who feels we all are of the human race, and I love to learn about it and to be more tolerant of other cultures, which is very important in our society so we don't have these myths in our lives that are the opposite of truth.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net