Madison grows Muslim Student Alliance

Christa McIntyre | 7/18/2017, 5:41 p.m.
A group of students at Madison High, the most ethnically and culturally diverse school in Oregon, is leading the way ...
Students at Madison High form the Muslim Student Alliance, working together to break stereotypes about Islam, picking up leadership and education skills, while volunteering in the community. Pictured from left (top row) are Ahlam Osman, Fowzia Ibrahim, Balkissa Noor and Amira Jeylani; and (front row) Yasmin Elmi, Samaax Noor and Zahra Abukar. Christa McIntyre/Portland Observer

A group of students at Madison High, the most ethnically and culturally diverse school in Oregon, is leading the way to facilitate positive perceptions about families in Portland who have emigrated from Muslim-majority countries around the world. The young adults formed one of the first of its kind, the Muslim Student Alliance to educate and break stereotypes about the culture and religion of Islam.

As sophomore Samaax Noor, a member of the alliance explained, “At Madison no one tolerates racism. You can walk down the hall, go into a classroom and explore a whole new culture. Then go down the hall, into another classroom and see something completely different, but you’re still welcome. That’s the beauty of it all.”

It was during the holy month of Ramadan last year, as many of these students observed their faith in silence, that the roots for change were generated. From dawn until dusk Muslim students at the northeast Portland school fasted in the tradition of the religious observance, continuing with the same dedication to their classes as in other months.

During P.E., for example, Muslim students would stretch, run laps, and push their bodies to the edge while practicing their faith by foregoing water and food. Many of their fellow students and teachers weren’t even aware of the cultural and religious practices.

This year during Ramadan, Muslim students at Madison met in a classroom set aside during the lunch period as a designated space where fasting students could support one another. The math classroom of Miss Brown, who has supported the alliance from its beginning, became a symbol of how people can practice different customs under one roof.

Teachers and administrators at Madison also stepped up their efforts to be receptive and supportive of learning about Muslim culture, faith and practices. The alliance set up a prayer room with the support of the school and staff, where Muslim students observe their religious call to prayer even during school hours.

With the space to fast and the prayer room, the students in the alliance say they feel empowered for one of the first times in their school career.

The support lifted a heavy stress for the students, sophomore Fowzia Ibrahim told the Portland Observer, “By us having a prayer room and having this opportunity, we’re also bringing in a part of ourselves that we left at home and for the most part, our lives. Half our life was here and half our life was there, now we’ve put it together.”

After the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 and the current push by President Trump for a travel ban against countries whose religion is primarily Islam, Muslims in the United States have faced obstacles in acceptance and understanding of their culture, history and traditions.

Somali youth make up the third largest immigrant group in Portland Public Schools. Many Somali families fled their war torn African country through sponsorship by local Christian churches to settle here. Islam is practiced by most Somalis.