The kind of responsibility, tolerance and accuracy that Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) works to promote among students was missing in Katherine Kersten’s March 9 column attacking our school.

We agree with her assertions that our academic achievement is high and that more than 1,000 students are on our waiting list. However, most of her column would produce a failing grade if one of our students turned it in.

Her assertion that I declined to allow her to visit the school, while true, was misleading. WCCO, MPR, Minnesota Monthly and the Pioneer Press have all visited TIZA. At the time of Kersten’s request, the school was busy preparing students for statewide testing. As executive director, my obligation is to the school’s students, 88 percent of whom scored as proficient in math in 2007 while the next closest school with similar demographics scored 76 percent — evidence we’re meeting our obligation. While I do have concerns about Kersten’s apparent bias against Muslims, Kevin Featherly’s March 15 counterpoint gives too much weight to how it factored into my decision, which was based mostly on the exams.

Any suggestion that TIZA is an Islamic school is false. Religion is not part of the curriculum. In addition, while approximately half of our students — not all — fast during Ramadan, and many girls wear Hijab, they are exercising their rights as they would in any public school.

The Minnesota Department of Education and other agencies inspect TIZA regularly. We are in complete compliance to ensure, among other things, that we are not a religious school.

While TIZA does not ask about the religion of our faculty, one of our senior teachers can provide insight. “It’s obvious that we’re not a religious school because most teachers here are not of the Muslim faith,” said Heidi Pendroy, a teacher at TIZA.

Perhaps the most sinister-sounding claim in the column is the suggestion of a connection to a terrorist organization. In fact, the Israeli Military Court has rejected any claim that our sponsor, Islamic Relief, is connected to Hamas as Kersten writes. Furthermore, Islamic Relief has partnered with the U.S. and British governments to provide aid around the world while receiving the same four-star rating that the Red Cross receives from Charity Navigator, a charity evaluator.

It is probably true that most TIZA students are Muslim, based on requests for religious accommodations, but we do not ask about religion. And while Arabic is taught as a second language, all other courses are taught in English. We thank the Star Tribune for allowing us to present our side.

Asad Zaman is executive director of Tarek Ibn Ziyad Academy.


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