First Islamic school in R.I. buys parish buildings
01:00 AM EST on Monday, December 15, 2008
By Paul Edward Parker
Journal Staff Writer
Asiyah Bennwahhoud, 3, a pre-K student at the Islamic School of Rhode
Island, is festively dressed for the celebration.
The Providence Journal / Ruben W. Perez
WEST WARWICK Rhode Island's Islamic community paused yesterday
afternoon to mark a milestone: the purchase of a former Catholic
school and adjacent gymnasium building to serve as an Islamic
elementary and middle school.
The Islamic School of Rhode Island the state's first and only had
been renting space from Sacred Heart Church for the last five years.
But, on Nov. 19, the Islamic School bought Sacred Heart's former
school and gym for $750,000.
Yesterday, the school held a dinner in the gym to celebrate the
purchase. Among the guests was the Rev. Richard A. Bucci, pastor of
Sacred Heart, which extended an interest-free mortgage to the school.
Before renting from Sacred Heart, Rhode Island Muslims had to send
their children to an Islamic school in Sharon, Mass., or to secular
schools in the Ocean State.
But leaders of the Islamic community, including Mohamed Abdul Rahman,
Nasser Zawia, Jennifer Ead and Nieema Nurrideen, wanted to bring the
state's Muslims together in a way that would focus on their faith,
according to Dr. Amjad Kinjawi, a dentist in Franklin, Mass., who is
president of the school's board of trustees.
"There's a need of presenting Islam in a right way," Kinjawi said
yesterday, "trying to integrate our values into society ourselves,
how to be a walking example of what Islam should be."
The Islamic School is much like any other Rhode Island school for
youngsters from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. The 117 students
study reading, writing, math and other secular subjects from 8 a.m.
to 3 p.m. in coed classes. But it also has classes in the Koran,
Islam's holy book; Arabic, the language of the Koran, and religious
values. The school also has classes in physical education, including
karate and kickboxing, to promote development of the body as well as
the mind, Kinjawi said.
The school, on Providence Street, is a two-story building with 17,000
square feet of floor space. The gymnasium building is about 5,000
A next step for the Islamic community will be to establish a high
school in Rhode Island. Currently, students must travel to Mansfield,
Mass., to attend an Islamic high school. That dream may have to wait
awhile, Kinjawi said, as Rhode Island deals with the recession.