CLIFFSIDE PARK, N.J. — Yasmeen Elsamra had a simple request: While her classmates were eating lunch, she wanted to go off to pray.

Yasmeen, now 14, was told that she could not do that, and she went home distraught that afternoon in October 2003. Praying five times a day is a cornerstone of her Islamic faith.

”If I wasn’t allowed to pray my second prayer at school, I couldn’t do it at home,” she said. ”When school finishes, the third prayer begins.”

Her family contacted a Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Eventually, the district acknowledged that it had no policy to prevent a student from praying alone in free time. It allowed Yasmeen to use an empty classroom to unroll her prayer rug, face the holy city of Mecca, and touch her head to the floor.

Her case was part of a nationwide effort by Muslim parents to make public schools more friendly and accommodating to Muslim students. The movement has gained strength since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (MORE)


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