A Night of Surprises (Good and Bad) at Champlin Parks High School
By Memoona Ghani, Engage Minnesota
As an Islamic Resource Group (IRG) volunteer, I recently had a chance to speak at Champlin Parks High School. The school is located just across from Jackson Middle School, and I was surprised at its ample parking space, spacious structure, beautiful open cafeteria, and a well-established auditorium.
But my surprise for this particular presentation did not start on the day of presentation. It started long before.
Usually for an IRG presentation, an organization contacts the IRG administrator and requests a speaker for a certain topic related to Islam. The speakers prepare and present to the audience in an effort to build bridges with fellow citizens. This particular presentation request was for the school’s “Islam Awareness Week,” an annual event held at different schools and colleges, particularly those that have active Muslim Student Associations (MSA).
My first surprise came when I learned that the event was being held by the high school’s MSA (Muslims Student Association). Usually, MSA requests come from colleges and universities. My interest was piqued: What would these high-school students bring to the table?
My second surprise was when one of the school’s MSA members, Arshia Hussain, contacted me to check on the details for the upcoming presentation. It was then that I discovered that this particular effort for Islam Awareness Week was being led by teenage female MSA members. Arshia stayed in touch with me until the day of presentation. She kept me informed on any changes or details of the event.
On day of the presentation, I reached the school 45 minutes early and followed the directions to the auditorium. It was pretty quiet, since the event was being held after school hours. As I entered the auditorium, I saw these young girls, including Arshia, practicing their parts repeatedly, checking the sound system, welcoming the guests, and checking on the snacks set up for the guests.
Just before the presentation was to begin I experienced the third surprise. There was an older couple that had come to attend the event, with an aim to push their Islamophobic agenda. I sensed their hidden goal by the way they interacted with the young students who welcomed them. I saw the confrontation and was a bit worried — not for myself, but for the young kids who were present in the audience.
But these young kids, even after sensing the couple’s intent, took the high road, kept their respectful demeanor, and stayed focused on the task at hand. The presentation started, and the audience continued trickling in. During the presentation, a man who looked like a plain clothes law-enforcement personnel appeared and sat towards the end of the hall.
This man had presence. Even though he placed himself far from the stage, I could see him smiling and glancing at the audience.
The presentation and the whole event went well. Then came the Q&A session, and the audience asked interesting questions. The Islamophobic couple also presented questions, along with answers they must’ve found online. But we, as certified IRG speakers, dispelled the misinformation as best we could.
The Q&A session ended. That’s when I had my final surprise. The couple, even after receiving the answers and seeming to agree, still approached the audience privately to distribute hate literature. We, as IRG speakers, did not know any of this was happening.
But then, the parents, and the man in the back with a powerful presence, spoke to the Islamophobic couple and made it clear that hate towards one group or another wasn’t welcome at the Champlin Parks High School. Then I learned that the “guy with the powerful presence” wasn’t law enforcement, but the principal of the school.
All in all, the night was successful by the grace of God. The event was held during a weeknight, the attendees opted to come in, stayed through the presentation, and learned and built bridges on a weeknight. We all went back with a sense of love and awareness. After shattering stereotypes, we all felt rejuvenated and further felt that interacting with others was not such a difficult undertaking.
At the end of the night I asked myself: What do you think when the school principal comes to attend and support an effort initiated by the young Muslim girls who are a minority at the school? It says a lot about the school and the caretaker of that school. It means the school is going to take care of its students. The school will work towards producing citizens who care and stand up for the American dream of a shared, fair system.
But, most importantly, I was pleased to see young Muslim girls taking leadership roles at such an early stage. Starting up a brand new concept as a minority teenage girl is not an easy thing to do! I also learned that this young group has just recently started holding the Friday congregation prayer with the school’s permission. They are planning to bring World Hijab Day to their school and have many more projects as well. I’m excited to watch what they’ll do next.
Memoona Ghani works as a Business Analyst at the University of Minnesota. She did her Masters in Software Systems from University of St. Thomas. She lives in Maple Grove.
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