- Sponsorship -

Muslim Teacher Hopes to Plant ‘Seed of Understanding’

Uncovering Religious Aspects of Historical Events

The Monday after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Sairah Ahmed went to teach her history classes at Cedar Springs High School with a heavy heart. Like her, the two terrorists were Muslim, but she felt no connection whatsoever to them or their beliefs.

Along with feeling the shock of mass violence, she recalled, “I would have been emotionally healthier to process that event with my students if (the perpetrators) were not Muslim.”

Whenever a terrorist attack is carried out in the name of Islam, Ahmed can be so depressed that it’s hard for her to get out of bed. But she does so, wearing the hijab headscarf that makes her faith visible, wondering if any of her students or colleagues could ever associate her with such hate.

See Related Article: Teaching About Religions to Foster Understanding, Respect – As students walked into Craig Beach’s darkened classroom on a recent morning, they heard the song “Wild World” by the former Cat Stevens, now the Muslim musician Yusuf Islam. A projection screen showed the Kaaba, the sacred building in Mecca toward which Muslims pray.

 

Then she steps into the classroom to teach, and acknowledge her hurt.

“I usually bring that personal point to them: ‘This is really hard for me. This is not a good day for normal-thinking Muslims,’” said Ahmed, a 13-year teacher of world and U.S. history. Then she will help students process the terrible events of the day in light of extremists throughout history who have used religion to cloak their personal agendas.

Fortunately, Ahmed doesn’t address religion only after terrorist incidents. She weaves it into her history courses as a way of helping students know their world.

“I want them to experience that every group has their take on this life, and questions about an afterlife,” she said. “What better way to understand the human condition and the human experience than faith? How do we understand the world if we don’t understand these bigger, broader questions?”

Sairah Ahmed incorporates religion studies into her world and U.S. history courses

‘ISIS is Against Me Too’

Grand Rapids-born and a graduate of Kelloggsville Public Schools, Ahmed brings a rich background of faith and academic expertise to teaching her mostly Christian students. She aims to impart an appreciation for religious diversity and its importance in world affairs.

“It’s so precious,” she said at the end of a recent school day. “Learning and studying religion is such a beautiful thing.”

It’s also necessary in order to place historical events in proper context, said Ahmed, who minored in religious studies and majored in history at Michigan State University. She draws parallels between today’s religious violence to events such as the Holocaust and the Hundred Years War, and the attraction of groups such as ISIS to the rise of Nazism.

Looking to the past can help students make sense of today and overcome fear with logic, she said.

“We have a lot of fear right now about terrorism,” said Ahmed, the mother of two young children. “I tell my students ISIS is against me too, an educated Muslim woman. If they were to attack a building, they would go for me first. It’s not logical to be scared of all Muslims when we’re fighting a common enemy.”

She gives an overview of all the major faiths at the beginning of the year. She also explains right away that she wears a head covering in public as a dress code of modesty, and acknowledges she is a Muslim with biases just as a teacher of another faith would have.

“I think they’re the better for it, if they can be exposed to somebody from a different culture (who teaches) the same way anybody else would,” she said.

No Religion Preaches Hate

Ahmed said she’s heard few negative comments at school about her faith, but has had lots of rewarding discussions with students.

She asks them to temporarily suspend their own religious judgments to learn the teachings and appreciate the similarities of all major faiths. And she tries to counteract cultural hatred against and among religions with more realistic views of what they actually stand for.

“I hope to plant a seed of understanding, a seed of respect, for different cultures and values,” she said. “There isn’t any religion that preaches hate. God is love, and that’s preached in every religion.”

CONNECT

Cedar Springs High School

- Sponsorship -
Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is a freelance writer and former columnist for The Grand Rapids Press/ MLive.com. As a reporter for The Press from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today magazine, Religion News Service and the Aquinas College alumni magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

LATEST ARTICLES

District welcomes new administrators, ready to ‘lead through uncharted waters’

New administrators share their thoughts on starting their posts during a pandemic...

Teacher and coach applies lessons in classroom and on field

New Kelloggsville head football coach Brandon Branch also teaches science and math at the high school and looks to bring academics and athletics together whenever he can...

Two high schools, newly renovated, await return of students

Two major renovation projects at Ottawa Hills and Union high schools are part of a 30-year, $175 million school improvement bond approved November 2015 with the majority, $155 million, earmarked for construction...

Avid reader, Petoskey-stone hunter, lover of great outdoors

Melanie Hoeksema is the new Ada Elementary principal. SNN gets to know her in this edition of Meet Your Principal...

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

From cruise director to the classroom

Cortney O’Brien is the new interim dean of students for the 2020-2021 school year at Cedar Trails Elementary School. School News Network took some time to get to know her better in this edition of Meet Your Administrators...

Cedar Springs ready to help students succeed

Superintendent Scott Smith says preparations have been going well, thanks to the “grit and determination” of district staff...

Here come the students; schools try to be ‘prepared for everything’

Area school districts have to be able to switch instruction plans if the pandemic fires up again, and be prepared for the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in one of their schools...
- Sponsorship -

HOW'S SCHOOL TODAY?

Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...

RADEMACHER & FRIENDS

Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -

MEDIA PARTNERS

Maranda Where You LiveWGVU

SUSTAINING SPONSORS