Education

Lebanon Valley Mosque welcomes Lebanon School District staff

Written by John Latimer, Lebanon Daily News | Jun 9, 2015 8:57 AM
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Photo by Jeremy Long - Lebanon Daily News

Mohamed Omar, former Lebanon Valley Mosque president and former teacher's aid in the Lebanon School District, speaks to Lebanon School District staff at the Lebanon Valley Mosque on Monday, June 8, 2015. Staff members of the Lebanon School District visited the mosque to learn more about Islam.

With its large Hispanic population, teaching children from different cultures is nothing new for Lebanon School District's teachers.

But with the added dimension of religion, teaching children from Arabic nations whose families practice Islam provides a different sort of challenge.

To bridge that cultural divide, about 50 district staff members attended an in-service workshop on Monday that included a trip to the Lebanon Valley Mosque. While there they learned about the practice of Islam, watched an afternoon Muslim prayer service and where treated to a lunch of Moroccan cuisine.

Click here to view a photo gallery of today Lebanon School District in-service workshop at the Lebanon Valley Mosque.

It was the second year that the workshop was offered to the staff, according to Fred Shattls, director of the district's English as a Second Language department. The workshop was led by Mohamed Omar, a former teacher's aide and Arabic translator for the district who also served a year as president of the mosque.

Omar, who moved from Egypt to the U.S. in 2000, 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.

Providing a course on Arabic culture and Islam is important, Shattls said, because the number of students from Middle Eastern countries in the district is growing and now totals 87. Most of them are from Eygpt and Morocco, two of the 33 countries represented by students in the district.

"We have so many students from different Hispanic countries, but slowly but surely the Arabic population is growing," he 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."

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Photo by Jeremy Long - Lebanon Daily News

Mohamed Omar, former Lebanon Valley Mosque president and former teacher's aid in the Lebanon School District, speaks to Lebanon School District staff at the Lebanon Valley Mosque on Monday, June 8, 2015. Staff members of the Lebanon School District visited the mosque to learn more about Islam.

The workshop began at the high school where Omar spoke about the histories and cultures of several Arab countries and the differences in their educational systems to that in the U.S. 

At noon, the teachers took a bus to the mosque, located not far away at 13th and Florence streets. Following Islamic practice, each took off their shoes before entering the prayer room where they took a seat on a maroon-colored carpet with intricate designs.

They were joined by several members of the congregation, including several dressed in the traditional dishadasha, an ankle-length garment with long sleeves.

Omar, dressed in a suit and tie, spent about 20 minutes instructing the teachers on the many facets of Islam, including some nearly identical to Christianity, like the belief that all who are faithful to the religion will one day be called before God who will judge them to determine if they will go to Heaven or Hell.

"We believe we will be judged by God," he said. "The more good deeds we do, God will forgive us in the end. ... You must work. Faith without work will not be accepted."

Omar was asked about the five daily prayer sessions and if that presented a conflict for students who may not be able to break away from their lessons make their devotions.

He explained as long as there is intent to pray and the student does so at the next appropriate time it is acceptable.

"You can pray anywhere," he said. "You don't have to go to the mosque. God is forgiving and he understands intent."

The lesson was followed by the luncheon, which included traditional Morrocan dishes of couscous, lamb and rice, fresh fruit and salad. 

During the break Omar explained what he hoped to accomplish with his message.

"The goal of my speech or lecture is to break the ice, to break the barriers between not just teachers but between any American and those with Muslim background," he said.

After sharing the meal, the workshop concluded with Omar and members of the mosque saying their afternoon devotional prayer. 

At its conclusion, the mosque's founder, Hamid Housni, expressed his thanks to the teachers and praised the initiative of the district for arranging the workshops this year and last.

"I think this is the first time ever in the United States that a school district goes to a mosque," he said. "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."

Lara Book, who for eight years has taught ESL at Lebanon Middle School and French at the high school, also said the workshop was a special day. The experience will help her to communicate with her Arabic and Muslim students and their families, she said.

"It's important that we educate ourselves about cultures that are different from our own and that we try to eliminate some misunderstandings," 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."


This article comes to us through a partnership between Lebanon Daily News and WITF.

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