By Rob Pike, fourth grade teacher
The first social studies unit in fourth grade at Moses Brown is about world religions. As part of this unit, students learn about religious intolerance and also visit local religious institutions including a church, a synagogue, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple. When recent news reports detailed examples of hate letters being sent to mosques in Rhode Island and around the country we thought it appropriate that the students should be informed of these current examples of religious intolerance. The result was a class decision to write a letter of support to the mosque that had welcomed us with such kindness and allowed us to observe their afternoon prayer. We wrote a group letter on chart paper and then the student’s decorated edges with designs and missives of their own.
The chance to visit the North Smithfield mosque was profound for teachers and students alike. Imam Ikram, who heads the mosque, does amazing work welcoming school groups of all kinds. Watching him explain Islam to our students with patience, openness, and humor made me realize how hard the vast majority of the Muslim community has been working and continues to work, to make themselves known to the rest of us as safe, moderate, and reasonable people. It cannot have been easy for that community to allow a whole class full of strangers come in and watch them as they do something as intimate as praying, but by doing that they gave us an experience that allowed us to understand them in a way that made them no longer the “other.” We could see how ordinary they were. We could see that they were shy. We could see that, although they prayed in a different way to many of us, in so very many ways they were so very like us.
Shortly before the winter break, Laura Gladding shared with the fourth grade a link to a short video that is intensely hopeful for religious tolerance and peace in our country. The video details Christian and Muslim religious communities coming to terms with each other. Watching this video may make you cry and is likely to make you believe in humanity more than you did before.