CAIRO - After more than three decades of serving the community, an Islamic school in Seattle is closing its doors and ending its message over a lack of funding and dwindling numbers of students.
"Here, everything was taught through love," Zarbakhtah Kakar, a former student at the Islamic School of Seattle (ISS), told Seattle Times.
"If you made a mistake it's OK: 'How can we help you get back up?'
Kakar, a medical assistant who now lives in Lynnwood, enrolled at ISS in 1985.
Like hundreds of students, he found love and education at the school, which taught him about religious education as well as academic preparatory subjects.
It was the root of my Islamic education. Without that, I feel like I would've lost my roots," said Kakar.
Opening its doors in 1980, more than 120 students attended at the school.
But that was the peak.
By last school year, enrollment had dwindled to about 20 as the school became less popular as Seattle's Muslim community diversified and other Islamic schools started in the region.
Struggling in recent years to find a principal who supported its approach and could also balance an unstable budget, it was forced to end its 32 years of serving the community.
"The ISS has been a beautiful incubator of what an Islamic School in America should look like, a visitor to a potluck at the school said.
I hope one day someone will carry this torch, as it is the real future of Islam in America, and how Islam can contribute, and not just be 'tolerated.'"
The sharp decrease in student enrollments was blamed for parents who wanted the school to focus almost exclusively on religious teachings.
Others, however, disliked its Montessori model and wanted classes to be structured more like those of a rigorous preparatory academy.
Some parents also did not like that some teachers and principals were not Muslim, or wanted the school to limit enrollment to people of one national heritage.
We're kind of caught between these two groups, Ann El-Moslimany, an ISS board member, said.
Students were grateful to the school that taught them their first lessons of life.
Former student Atieh Al-Matti, who attended in the early 1990s and is now a sales consultant for an IT and security company in Jordan, still recalls his school as "a miniature United Nations."
Hosting students from many nations, each with its own language and customs, the school helped him to get introduced to other cultures.
Teachers reinforced their religious identities through lessons that united scriptures with science, history and math.
The school's leaders and students also regularly joined or hosted interfaith events.
Shouldering an important role after the 9/11 tragedy, the school worked to combat misperceptions about the Islamic faith and a sudden fear of Muslims across the nation.
"We worked very hard in making sure they (students) weren't isolated as Muslims but actively engaged with other religions and other groups of people," El-Moslimany said.
Now, El-Moslimany is working to sort through books and the school's unique lesson plans, identifying ones she thinks should be stored.
Despite pain, she still hopes for a new beginning for the school.
"It may be an end of the school, but it's just a beginning of where we're going with our vision and our mission," El-Moslimany said.The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of between seven to eight million.