By Marcus “Ishma’il” Allgood
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – I recently attended the Islah L.A. Campus for an event for their new school [Islah Academy located in South Los Angeles].
The word “Islah” actually means Revive, Restore, and Renew in Arabic. This is the goal of the Muslim school in the heart of Los Angeles’ urban environment: To “Revive, Restore, and Renew” our children.
I heard their young Imam, Jihad Saafir, say, “We need to make a paradigm shift in Los Angeles, because we have lost two generations of youth.…”
I began to wonder what that meant. I recall seeing Facebook profiles with people having so-called “Muslim” or Arabic names, but they were holding liquor bottles and many were half naked with their hair uncovered. Is this what Imam Jihad was referring to?
When you visit the prison systems, you see just as many Muslims as you would see of any other faith. I’ve always thought of Islam as a force of change, transforming lives; at least that is what it did for me.
I remember thinking several years ago that I may not make it to age 18, because of the violence and decadence in my drug saturated neighborhood. But Islam saved me. So what happened to these young Muslim men and women in jail that Islam did not have such a transformative experience?
Maybe I am being too presumptuous. Because when I go to the masjid (Muslim place of worship), I see practicing devout Muslims in their 30s and 40s who went to Clara Muhammad Schools in L.A. How did they “Keep the faith”?
So I asked Kenyatta Bakeer, professor at West L.A. College Child Development department, how did she keep the faith – being that she is visibly Muslim with her beautiful head scarfs (called Hijab or Khimar) and modest dress, while she teaches students on how to be teachers.
She states; “After the Sister Clara Muhammad School closed (in Los Angeles), I was afraid of the unknown and once going to (public) school it was a culture shock. I felt I had to always explain what a Muslim was and wanting not to feel like an outsider.
“There was always this pull-and-tug of who I was at home and who I was at school. Through age and maturity, I evolved to the woman I am today, fully practicing Islam.
“Had I continued in a Muslim School, I believe my life would’ve been a lot different and better. I would’ve felt supported. But after leaving Muslim school, it was like being thrown to the wolves.”
I also talked to a Muslim parent, former teacher, and principal of Clara Muhammad schools - Sharyn Muhammad (now a Quality Support Supervisor at a non-profit, who has a Master’s in Child Development). I asked her what she thinks about what happened to our Muslim children who left Muslim schools and entered public schools.
She stated, “One of the things that they kept was their (Islamic) foundation. I don’t expect that piece to be lost. But when they go out and are exposed to other cultures, styles, and social gatherings – and being that our young children are so impressionable, it has had an adverse effect on their religious practice.
“If the household is practicing, they can keep a level of their faith. But when they go away from home, they begin to lose some of their practice. Maybe not their entire faith, but the home sets the tone. Having Islam practiced at home and school has the greatest affect.”
I appreciated the feedback from these leaders in our community, both in their religious circles, and in their field. But it made me think, should we only be “Reviving, Restoring, and Renewing” Muslim lives?
Of course we all need a revival. That term is funny to me because it reminded me of my old Bible thumbing days where we would have “Revivals” at church. But this revival is not just about saving souls, but about saving lives from these streets.
“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach him how to fish and he eats forever.” Allah has promised us this world’s life AND the Hereafter for the believers. Islam is a complete way of life (called Deen in Arabic), not just another religion.
Hence embracing it’s tenets of faith, hygiene, character, social justice and inter-personal relationship is a total self-makeover, a “Revival” of a sorts. Our kids need these values to be reinforced at school as well as at home.
Thus Imam Jihad needs your support in his initiative to revive, restore and renew our community. We need your help to establish a fully Islamic school in South Los Angeles again (after the legacy of Sis. Clara Muhammad’s School.)
We need teachers, students, and most importantly …we need your financial support. We are now accepting teacher applications at the Islah Campus on Slauson Avenue or online at www.Islahacademy.org.
The school opened Sept. 1, 2014. Please send your donations or sponsor a child. Make your checks payable to “Islah Academy” and mail it to 2900 W Slauson Ave., Los Angeles, Calif. Please call 323-487-0933.