In its modest way, the Muslim Community School in Montgomery County is a tiny bulwark against the hate-filled sectarian violence that has ripped Iraq apart, threatens to divide the Muslim world and has created tensions among Muslim immigrants in the United States.

Each weekday, 125 Shiite and Sunni children from 18 countries pray side by side, share lunches of chicken dogs and cantaloupe, and study under teachers from both sects. Girls are allowed to wear bright-colored headscarves as well as traditional black or white ones. On Fridays, the weekly sermon is given in English, Arabic and Persian.

“We do have a few differences, but at the end of the day, we share the same morals and values. We hate to see war and people dying. We are friends, and we trust each other,” said Kadiatu Bah, 17, a senior and Sunni Muslim from Guinea who plans to attend Catholic University in the fall.

“When I go to greet another Muslim, I don’t ask if the person is Sunni or Shia. These divisions are political, not religious,” said Fatema Mohammadi, 16, a senior and a Shiite from Iran. “At our noon prayer, Sunnis pray behind Shias. At afternoon prayer, Shias pray behind Sunnis. For us, there is absolutely no difference.”

Although the conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon have exacerbated tensions between Shiites and Sunnis in much of the Muslim world, the Washington region’s Islamic immigrant community has largely resisted the trend.

There have been no reported incidents of harassment or hostile confrontations between Shiites and Sunnis in the region, as have occurred recently in Michigan and other states. Among the area’s Muslim university students, a population in which sectarian passions often run strong, attitudes appear to be tolerant and open.

“Here, there is such diversity that we are used to the differences. Even if there is a problem, it does not go beyond words,” said Anis Nordin, 33, an engineering student from Malaysia who wore a pink headscarf as she chatted in a coffee shop on the George Washington University campus with two other Muslim friends. . .

“It is the elephant in the room that no one talks about,” said Mohamed Hag-Magid, the Sudan-born Sunni imam at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling. “There were hidden and ignored feelings, and now they are coming to the surface because of the tensions in Iraq, especially on some university campuses,” he said. “We don’t want this to spread. We have to set an example of respect and tolerance, not just as a slogan.”


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