The first Islamic school in Rhode Island is set to open
here next month, serving Muslim students from Rhode Island and nearby
In past years, Muslim parents have had to take their children to parochial
schools in Massachusetts, or send them to local public schools, where they
sometimes face prejudice, said Jennifer Ead, spokeswoman for the new
Islamic School of Rhode Island.
The new school is in an unusual place -- the site of a former Roman
Catholic parochial school, just behind Sacred Heart Church -- and its front
door looks out on a grotto honoring an Italian saint.
"It's good to be in the background of a church," said Nasser Zawia, a
member of the school's board of trustees who said he wants the school to be
an accepted part of the community. "It erases a lot of misconceptions."
The school is open to any student, pre-kindergarten through grade six,
although enrollment may be limited to pre-K through grade three during the
first year, Ead said. Fewer than 50 have signed up so far. Students are
expected from as far away as Massachusetts and Connecticut. So far, no
non-Muslims have enrolled.
There's been a need for an Islamic school in the area for some time, but
the backlash against Muslims following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist
attacks galvanized the effort to create one, Ead said.
"We wanted our children to come and feel free in who they are and not have
backbiting and ridicule," she said. Ead said public schools are
particularly difficult for Muslim girls, who often stand out because they
cover their heads.
Zawia and Ead said overt hate crimes are rare in Rhode Island, although
just last month, someone spray-painted slurs on a convenience store across
town that is owned by an Egyptian-American