The school, which met resistance last year, provides intensive instruction to help young Muslims grow morally and lay a foundation for future cultural leaders.
Thirteen-year-old Fadel Hasan has memorized the entire roster of his favorite football team, the Minnesota Vikings. He usually has an opinion about draft picks and trades that he doesn’t hesitate to share, his dad says.
Now, the youngster is using his memorization skills to learn and recite every word of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book.
He is one of a dozen Muslim boys who have left conventional junior and senior high schools for a period of time to attend the intensive Qur’an school Darul Arqam Center For Excellence in Blaine.
The school met with neighborhood opposition last year when it bought the building where it had been renting space and sought to create a permanent home. More than 80 neighbors signed a petition asking the city to deny a permit for the school, citing traffic and other reasons. School families said they believe fear and misunderstanding about their faith fueled the opposition, with some neighbors asking about the school’s ties to extremism.
The parents are emphatic: There are none.
The permit was approved last June.
Most students study full time for 2½ years, keeping up with regular studies through home schooling on nights and weekends. Their final exam is to recite the Qur’an in one sitting, a process that starts in the morning and continues until sunset. The first two students will sit for their final exam this spring.
All of the full-time students are boys, but weekend instruction is available for girls.
The parents who founded the Qur’an school say it is a part of the process of establishing roots in the broader community, teaching their children morals, and laying the foundation for future religious and community leaders.
The school is housed in a nondescript, two-story office building that the families decided to buy when it went into foreclosure.
Who the families are
The children who attend the Qur’an school are mostly the American-born sons and daughters of immigrants from India, Pakistan and Somalia. Many of the parents came to the United States for college or career and either have become citizens or have green cards. They are doctors, engineers, real estate agents and finance executives who have settled in the north suburbs.
Samad Syed, an engineer at a Twin Cities firm, is the vice president of the nonprofit that oversees the school. His son is a toddler, too young to attend the school, but being part of its inception is important to Syed, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from India.
He estimates there are about 400 Muslim families in the north suburbs who are active in community groups. Many locate there because of jobs, schools, nice homes and other amenities that make the suburbs attractive to young families.
Once the families decided to plant roots, they stayed up nights worrying about their children’s education, future and their moral compass. They held informal religious education for their children at home but felt it wasn’t enough.
“Our kids were not getting the education we wanted them to get. It was pretty unorganized,” Syed said. “The Qur’an teaches you how to be a good human being. It teaches you how to treat other people. This is our identity, who we are.”
Dr. Muhammad Suri, a psychiatrist at a local hospital, has four daughters who attend weekend classes.
“They have a lot of questions and curiosity about religion and culture,” said Suri, who is originally from Pakistan. “This helps them understand.”