LEBANON, Pa. – Dozens of teachers and administrators in Pennsylvania’s Lebanon School District recently attended a taxpayer-funded in-service workshop at a local mosque to learn about Islam and Arabic culture.
About 50 staffers from the district attended an in-service workshop Monday led by former district Arabic translator Mohamed Omar, who “took time off from his new job as a case worker for the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia to share his knowledge of Islam with the staff, which included Superintendent Marianne Bartley and several other administrators,” the Lebanon Daily News reports.
The workshop started off at the high school where Omar discussed the differences and similarities between the education systems in the U.S. and Arab countries. Afterward, they headed to the nearby Lebanon Valley Mosque to delve into the Islamic religion and join a prayer service with the congregation, according to the news site.
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“We have so many students from different Hispanic countries, but slowly but surely the Arabic population is growing,” Omar said. “With Hispanics you have the language differences and certainly cultural differences, but there are similarities in their religious practices. Of course, the Arab language and the religion are very much different, but we are learning that there are also many similarities.”
At the mosque, teachers and administrators slipped off their shoes and mingled with parishioners clad in traditional Muslim attire. They talked about God, and the general concept in both Islam and Christianity that the All Mighty ultimately decides who heads to heaven or hell.
“We believe we will be judged by God,” Omar told teachers at the mosque. “The more good deeds we do, God will forgive us in the end. … You must work. Faith without work will not be accepted.”
Teachers also asked questions about Islam at the mosque, including how Islam’s call for five daily prayer sessions jibes with a demanding school schedule. Omar told attendees followers of Islam are simply required to intend to pray and must do so at their next available opportunity when forced to skip a session.
“You can pray anywhere,” he said, according to the Daily News. “You don’t have to go to the mosque. God is forgiving and he understands intent.”
After the discussion, the group shared a Moroccan meal of lamb and rice with Mosque followers before sitting in on an afternoon devotional prayer to wrap up the day. It was the second year in a row district staff participated in the Islam workshop, and the local mosque was grateful for their visits.
There was no mention of objections or threatening letters sent to the school district by atheist groups that typically scream foul with religious-themed school events.
“I think this is the first time ever in the United States that a school district goes to a mosque,” mosque founder Hamid Housni told the Daily News. “Usually a representative of a mosque goes somewhere. We don’t have words to explain to you how we appreciate that. This is very, very special.”
Teachers seemed to think the session was enlightening.
“It’s important that we educate ourselves about cultures that are different from our own and that we try to eliminate some misunderstandings,” English as a second language teacher Lara Book said. “And any way that I can communicate with my students, especially the ESL ones, that makes it more meaningful or easier, it is a vital tool for us.
“Basically, although our cultures are different, the fundamentals of them are similar and we all want the same things: happiness for our families health, and success,” Book said. “Although we might go about finding those things in our lives differently, from a cultural standpoint, we all want the same thing.”