Minnesota state education officials have announced that a local charter school tied to a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood organization must change the way it deals with Muslim prayers in school and busing for after-school religious instruction. According to a local media report:
Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a public school with mostly Muslim students, has been accused of blurring the line between religion and state by promoting Islam, which the school has denied. Most of the school’s operations follow state charter school law and federal guidelines on prayer in schools, but the department found two areas of concern, said Morgan Brown, an assistant commissioner with the department. School director Asad Zaman said he takes the state’s concerns seriously and will address them as soon as possible. He also took the report as vindication, saying: “I now have proof that this is not a religious school.”But the report said the school may be violating the law by allowing voluntary Friday prayers that most students attend to take place on school grounds. Those 30-minute prayers take up so much time that they may be a burden to non-praying students, and could mean the school isn’t teaching students for as many hours a year as the state requires. Letting teachers participate, even though they don’t lead prayers, may give students the impression that the school endorses Islam. The state also said it was concerned about the appearance created by the school’s bus schedule. The school does not provide busing for students immediately after classes, instead it waits until the end of after-school activities, which include a religious studies course run by the Muslim American Society that more than half the students take.
The controversy appears to have over the begun in April when local media reported on the Islamic character of the school:
Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) — named for the Muslim general who conquered medieval Spain — is a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights. Its approximately 300 students are mostly the children of low-income Muslim immigrant families, many of them Somalis. The school is in huge demand, with a waiting list of 1,500. Last fall, it opened a second campus in Blaine. TIZA uses the language of culture rather than religion to describe its program in public documents. According to its mission statement, the school “recognizes and appreciates the traditions, histories, civilizations and accomplishments of the eastern world (Africa, Asia and Middle East).” …Journalists whom Zaman has permitted to visit TIZA have described the school’s Islamic atmosphere and practices. “A visitor might well mistake Tarek ibn Ziyad for an Islamic school,” reported Minnesota Monthly in 2007. “Head scarves are voluntary, but virtually all the girls wear them.” The school has a central carpeted prayer space, and “vaguely religious-sounding language” is used. According to the Pioneer Press, TIZA’s student body prays daily and the school’s cafeteria serves halal food (permissible under Islamic law). During Ramadan, all students fast from dawn to dusk, according to a parent quoted in the article. In fact, TIZA was originally envisioned as a private Islamic school.
The same report detailed the connections between TIZA and Islamic Relief and the Muslim American Society (MAS), both part of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood:
In 2001, MAS-MN negotiated to buy the current TIZA/MAS-MN building for Al-Amal School, a private religious institution in Fridley, according to Bruce Rimstad of the Inver Grove Heights School District. But many immigrant families can’t afford Al-Amal. In 2002, Islamic Relief — headquartered in California — agreed to sponsor a publicly funded charter school, TIZA, at the same location….TIZA’s strong religious connections date from its founding in 2003. Its co-founders, Zaman and Hesham Hussein, were both imams, or Muslim religious leaders, as well as leaders of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN). Since then, they have played dual roles: Zaman as TIZA’s principal and the current vice-president of MAS-MN, and Hussein as TIZA’s school board chair and president of MAS-MN until his death in a car accident in Saudi Arabia in January. TIZA shares MAS-MN’s headquarters building, along with a mosque….TIZA claims to be non-sectarian, as Minnesota law requires charters to be. But “after-school Islamic learning” takes place on weekdays in the same building under MAS-MN’s auspices, according to the program for MAS-MN’s 2007 convention. At that convention, a TIZA representative at the school’s booth told me that students go directly to “Islamic studies” classes at 3:30, when TIZA’s day ends. There, they learn “Qur’anic recitation, the Sunnah of the Prophet” and other religious subjects, he said. TIZA’s 2006 Contract Performance Review Report states that students engage in unspecified “electives” after school or do homework. Publicly, TIZA emphasizes that it uses standard curricular materials like those found in other public schools. But when addressing Muslim audiences, school officials make the link to Islam clear. At MAS-MN’s 2007 convention, for example, the program featured an advertisement for the “Muslim American Society of Minnesota,” superimposed on a picture of a mosque. Under the motto “Establishing Islam in Minnesota,” it asked: “Did you know that MAS-MN… houses a full-time elementary school”? On the adjacent page was an application for TIZA.
The MAS had been a less well-known part of the Muslim Brotherhood network in the U.S. until the Chicago Tribune did a feature story on the group in September 2004 identifying its connections to the Muslim Brotherhood.