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 
square feet.

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.

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