ISNA West Coast Education Forum Unites and Inspires

ISNA’s Chicago Education Forum has long been an anticipated, calendared event for educators and administrators of Islamic schools across the country. Yet for the second year in a row, the West Coast Education Forum has been addressing issues of interest to schools in California and neighboring states.

The forum’s — held Jan. 18 to Jan. 19 — overall goals included providing attendees with: informational sessions and workshops; networking opportunities; and inspirational speeches to encourage and unite Islamic schools. And the attendees’ responses surely did these things and more.

The opening morning sessions comprised three unique parallel sessions that included workshops. One workshop provided opportunities for exchange of ideas about designing activities that fit the needs of learners at different levels. The afternoon three parallel sessions focused on building a positive environment conducive to learning. A session discussed the hindrance due to a lack of standardized assessments on teaching the Arabic language.

The six evening sessions were followed by the inaugural banquet keynoted by Ustadah Maha Hamaoui (a long-time educator in Southern California) and Sheikh Yassir Fazaga. Hamaoui illustrated how Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (ITALICS ‘alayhi rahmat) was instrumental in his form of dawah: because of his recitation, many embraced Islam. She said: “Words have a different power, that depend on the heart it’s coming from,” reminding that patience and endurance are important aspects of being a teacher. Stating that children love a message, a sense of humor, and relevance within the message, she concluded, “Before they go into my world, I must go into their world.”

Sheikh Yassir Fazaga, scholar at the Orange County Islamic Foundation, also spoke of the importance of “delivering Islam in a sound intellectual context.” He related his experiences on how to develop future leaders in our communities.

The networking session was welcomed by all. While most of the representatives at the conference were from California, a few were from Texas and Illinois. Dr. Haleema Shaikley, principal of the City of Knowledge School in Pomona, Calif., was delighted to meet fellow principals for the second year in a row. “The forum was very good. Topics were excellent and speakers were highly qualified,” she said. “They hit issues that needed to be addressed.”

Saturday’s afternoon sessions included some about the use of technology, using authentic texts from the Arab world, and promoting a positive school environment, including the relationship between the school’s board and principal. Ahmed Khorshid, a teacher trainer and curriculum developer of the New Horizons school system, enjoyed the presentations made by fellow educators. “I’m here to benefit from different experiences of different colleagues. I appreciate the variety of presentations,” he said.

The day ended with a luncheon and final sessions. The luncheon included presentations of the essay contest winners that had been announced among schools in the weeks before the Forum. There was also a speech by former students and parents.

Hadeer Soliman is now a first year law student, having attended Islamic schools and University of California, Irvine as an undergraduate. She said that, throughout college, she realized the importance of Islamic education because it provides spiritual education, allowing one to make a decision as an adult, with role models and love of the Quran. “I grew up loving the Quran and loving the message,” she said.

The second speaker spoke as a parent: Dr. Eba Hathout’s son and daughter, who attended Islamic schools in Southern California, and are now at Harvard, one as a medical student. Her words borne out love and gratitude for Islamic schools.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui, a member of ISNA Majlis asShura, also spoke of the importance of having Islamic schools that are strong in their curricula and values. Although most schools do not have a high school, those that do, such as City of Knowledge School in Pomona, have high rates of college attendance, with many going on to universities in the University of California (UC) system, such as UC Irvine and UCLA.