“This country has given us a lot,” he added. “We also have some good cultural and family values of our own which we think will benefit this society.”
Parents say they were surprised by the initial resistance to the school because most have felt welcomed in Minnesota.
A typical school day
“I never experienced any prejudice, nor have my kids. This society has been very open to us,” said Suri, whose eldest daughter, Mariam, was valedictorian at Spring Lake Park High last year and is now a student at the University of Minnesota.
The program for boys runs Monday through Friday, with the school day starting at 8 a.m. The boys wear traditional tunics, pants and a cap. They sit on a carpeted floor in a circle. Each boy has a small wood stand in front of him holding his Qur’an.
They study one to two pages a day, reading and then reciting in unison. Qur’an teacher Noman Khan walks around the room listening to each voice.
School leaders recruited Khan from Buffalo, N.Y., where he studied Islam at the Darul Uloon Mabanin school. He does not allow the children to have cellphones or technology during class. During lunch break, the kids eat lunches packed from home and play pingpong and foosball.
They finish up around 3:30 p.m. and usually do some homework each night.
Syed said that memorizing the 400-page Qur’an, written and recited in Arabic, helps build character and is an important foundation for future religious education and leadership.
Fadel Hasan asked his parents if he could attend the Qur’an school. He is the youngest of three children and the only one enrolled there. The family discussed it and determined that he could go there full-time for one year. It’s a balance between faith and academic potential, said his parents.
‘Golden opportunity for me’
They said they hope a strong moral foundation helps their son navigate the societal distractions — technology, drugs — that ensnare many teens.
For his part, Fadel Hasan said, “I really wanted to connect to my faith. It’s a golden opportunity for me.”
The young teenager said the hardest part is not seeing his old school friends every day. They still come to his home to play and implore him to come back soon. He also plays soccer year-round and loves pro sports, technology and gadgets.
As for the logistics of memorizing the Qur’an — or the Vikings roster — he said it’s not so hard: “You read it a couple of times, then try to say it without looking. You try to visualize the page. Then you can read it in your mind.”
For Mariam Suri, born in New York and raised in Iowa and Minnesota, the school offers a chance to explore her faith. She studies there every Sunday.
“I never really had an opportunity to study my religion and study the Qur’an in detail. I never had those resources,” she said. “I felt more in touch with my spiritual side.”
“Most of the Qur’an we are reading, they talk about being the best person you can be. Try and be nice, exemplify the pillars of Islam: charity, faith. Show compassion. It’s really nice and peaceful,” Suri said.