Thursday, September 23, 2010

Children Praying in Boston Mosque Stirrs Controversy

Taken from here.

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- An Islamic mosque where students from the Wellesley Middle School participated in a prayer ceremony during a field trip in May denied reports Friday that the mosque invited the students to pray.

"I've double- and triple-checked with our tour guides and she certainly didn't invite them to participate in the prayer," said Bilal Kaleem, president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, which operates the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury.

The school superintendent apologized to local parents after the video, shot by a parent, was made public. It shows a handful of Wellesley sixth-grade boys kneeling and engaging in the prayer ritual during the May event at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.

Kaleem said he did not know if the students prayed on their own, but a chaperone who was on the trip said the prayer was voluntary.

10 Things About Islam

"They weren't asked to pray. They weren't refused from going in ... to observe. You could go in and observe and some kids did sit down. There were some boys who sat behind the men and kind of copied them, but it wasn't like they had to," said Marijane Tuohy.

Flyers alerting the school community to the incident turned up on cars at a back-to-school meeting at the middle school Thursday night.

In the flyers, an online group called "Americans for Peace and Tolerance" slammed the school and demanded an investigation into the incident.

Some parents were offended by the group's campaign.

"Here's a group that says 'Peace and tolerance,' and what they're preaching, appears to me, to be hate," said parent Drew Knowland.

A man affiliated with the group that made the video said his issue is with the mosque that was chosen. He called it a "radical" mosque and said the school should have chosen a more moderate mosque if it was going to teach children about Islam.

Mosque officials, however, said they regularly host students and other groups and they worry that the incident is part of a growing wave of anti-Muslim sentiment.

"It just seems like a sensational, kind of publicity-seeking type of thing," said. "I mean, if this happened four months ago, and they've had this (video) for so long, if they were particularly concerned, wouldn't they reach out to us? Wouldn't they reach out to the school?"

Studying different religions is part of the school's sixth-grade social studies curriculum where classes also visit a synagogue and meet with Hindus. Students who visited the mosque in the past said they appreciated the visit.

"It was interesting. It was like, different to see our culture versus their culture," said one of the students.

Nevertheless, Wellesley Schools Superintendent Bella Wong said she doesn't apologize for her curriculum but she does believe in the separation of church and state. In a letter to parents she said, "It wasn't the intent for any of the students to participate in religious practices. The fact that any students were allowed to do so in this case was in error."

Wong apologized and said teachers would be given more guidance on future field trips.

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