When it comes to religion most people stick to their beliefs and never fully learn about those of others. Many times there is speculation and a basic knowledge perpetuating ignorance amongst ourselves.
After the 9/11 attacks in New York City it became very clear that mainstream Americans had no clue about the Muslim religion and the difference between extremist and moderate. Instead of perpetuating the ignorance a program for children to learn about the Jewish and Muslim culture- Interfaith Living Museum- was created nine years ago.
The goal is to teach fifth graders from various schools around the city about other religions through engaging activities promoting tolerance for different cultures as they grow up.
The Interfaith Living Museum culminated the semester long program with Muslim and Jewish students from Solomon Schechter School in Manhattan, Al Ihsan Academy in Queens, and in the Bronx Kinneret Day School and Islamic Leadership School (ILS) with an exhibit of religious artifacts and family heirlooms on Monday, May 19, 2014.
“They say some of the most important lessons you learn are outside the classroom,“ said Aisha Walayat, student from Al Ihsan Academy, as she spoke to the crowd about her experience during the program. “Based on what my classmates and I experienced over the last few months thanks to the effort at the Jewish Heritage Museum I know that they are right.”
It was clear the program was successful in its mission when it was time for Maghrib (sunset prayer) and the Jewish students stepped out of the room hushing those making noise outside the door followed by saying “they’re praying shh.”
Once the prayer was over the student’s exhibit began with various family heirlooms as they related to their culture and religion as a Muslim or Jew. The parents and program leaders saw the difference the program made on students during the exhibit and throughout the program.“I think Hannah got more comfortable with other cultures especially Islam since this program started,” said Leah Lipskar, mother of Hannah Lipskar from Kinneret Day School.
“Bella really enjoyed getting to know the girls from the other schools, she always looked forward to the IFLM day, which she called it,” said Rachel Mann mother of Bella Rosenblatt from Solomon Schechter School in Manhattan.
The program managers saw changes from the students the more they met each week and got to know one another.
“It’s great seeing the kids get to know one another… it’s very exciting,” said Dr. Paul Radensky, Manager of Education Programs, as he signs his name for student’s autograph book by request.
Amanda Lanceter, manager of curriculum and teacher programs, was excited to see the connections the students made over the course of the program.
“I think it’s important because these students otherwise wouldn’t have met and would not be having these conversations,” said Lanceter.
Not only did the students learn but the parents did too. Al-Qasin Moham-med told his grandmother, Hallimoon Mohammed, about all the different things he learned during the program. She enjoyed hearing that he was learning so much not only about the Jewish religion, but also other Muslim traditions.
“His knowledge was broaden because he didn’t know about other Muslims from different countries and the Jewish people,” said Hallimoon.
“It’s good that they’re learning at this age because they grow up knowing that they shouldn’t treat other religions differently, and respect them. People are degrading Islam because of lack of knowledge.”
The program was not just about learning the differences between their religion and culture, but moreso connecting to the things they have in common with one another.
“We all have things in common culturally, but also just on a basic human level. It was good to see them discover that on their own without prompting them,” said Lanceter.