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Catholic campus houses Suffolk's first Muslim school

Muslim-school-Catholic-campusBy Bart Jones, Newsday

In classrooms where Catholic girls once studied the Bible and prayed the Our Father, young Muslims now study the Quran and pray in Arabic.

The girls no longer wear uniforms of skirts and blazers, but traditional Muslim floor-length dresses called jilbabs, with hijabs covering their heads. Boys are neatly attired in light blue dress shirts and navy blue pants.

They are the 265 students of MDQ Academy, Suffolk County's first and only Islamic school, which for the third year is calling the majestic Academy of St. Joseph its home. The former all-girls Catholic high school in Brentwood closed five years ago because of declining enrollment.

The number of students in the Islamic school is growing as it continues the cross-faith coexistence. Their classrooms are on two floors of the structure, part of a complex on the grassy 211-acre property that also includes the headquarters of Long Island's largest order of nuns.

The arrangement is working out wonderfully, leaders of the groups said.

"It's been very positive for both of us," said Sister Helen Kearney, head of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood. "It's a very positive message for our world that, in a sense, tends to kind of divide groups."

The partnership underscores Long Island's growing ethnic and religious diversity. While Catholics still predominate -- two of every three Long Islanders are Catholic -- Nassau and Suffolk counties are home to at least 75,000 Muslims, according to Muslim community leaders. Two other full-time Islamic schools are located in Valley Stream and Hempstead, and the Island has about two dozen mosques.

Khurshid Khan, principal of MDQ Academy, said the move to the Brentwood campus has been a blessing for the school, which opened in 2003 with five students and had grown to occupy two houses and a trailer next to Masjid Darul Quran mosque in Bay Shore. It currently has students in preschool through ninth grade, with tuition at $4,500 a year.

"This is a gift to us from heaven," he said of the building. "For that we thank God almighty."

The Islamic school has reached out to the nuns who live and work in the complex -- in one instance, students drew get-well cards for a sister who had surgery. In turn, two nuns who live on a floor above the school's classrooms have, on occasion, baked cookies for the students. (Read more)

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