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placeholder January 18, 2016   •   VOL. 54, NO. 2   •   Oakland, CA
Catholic Schools Week

Sana Naqvi during morning prayers at St. Patrick School.
Courtesy photo

Moral values draw some non-Catholics
to diocesan schools

When her daughter asked to be taken out of the public school she was attending several years ago, Noreen Naqvi became frustrated. Naqvi explained that her children were not used to being in an environment that "lacked moral structure" and values, she said.

But where could she send her children? A close friend suggested enrolling her kids at St. Patrick School in Rodeo. The school had everything she was looking for: strong academics, values, discipline and a faith-filled environment. However, St. Patrick was a Catholic school and Naqvi and her children were practicing Muslims.

Naqvi recalled that when she first went to the school to gather information, she could tell by the faces of some people at the school site were uncomfortable with her presence. What they first saw was a woman wearing a hijab, a scarf or head covering draping the head and shoulders, and is worn by some women who are Muslims.

Students at the school were not as wary of their new Muslim classmates because the Rodeo school has welcomed non-Catholic students before. While predominately Catholic, the school's population is about 20 percent non-Catholic, 80 percent Catholic, said principal Kelly Stevens. "Most of our non-Catholic children either are non-denominational Christians, Muslim, Sikh or Hindu."

"When non-Catholic parents come to enroll their children at our school we tell them that we are first and foremost a Catholic school," Stevens said. "Our Catholic identity does not change just because some of our students are non-Catholic. All children attend morning prayer, daily religion classes, and our weekly and monthly Masses and prayer services. All children are expected to participate. This is part of how we build community and develop our children's moral character. Most parents appreciate that."

Born in Pakistan and raised in Great Britain, Naqvi speaks flawless English and is neither quiet nor shy. "It was no problem for me" to speak up and ask and answer questions, she said. Naqvi had a plan. She began attending Mass at the parish church, drawing many glances from parishioners, which she welcomed. She said that the idea was for people to see her, a Muslim woman, and see that she was friendly and safe.

Rev. Larry Young , pastor at St. Joseph Parish, was also helpful with this process, Naqvi said. Each time the pastor noticed her sitting in church he would acknowledge that she was there.

Muslims and Catholics share many "similarities" and "commonalities, but at the same time there are many differences," Naqvil said. Followers of Islam believe that there is only one God, like followers of Christianity and Judaism. Islam, Christianity and Judaism all believe in the existence of prophets. However the religions differ on who they consider a prophet; Muslims hold that Muhammed is one, Jews and Christians don't.

When questions regarding Islam occurred, Naqvi would put together a presentation to offer both information and help foster understanding. There were also some teachable moments. When her daughters began wearing the hijab at ages 9 and 10, their classmates and teachers were confused and thought the girls were distancing themselves from their classmates. Naqvi went to the school to talk about the hijab and Islam to the teachers and students.

The school also allowed some modification to its dress code. The girls cover their head and shoulders with a scarf and they must keep their legs covered in public. The boys wore wear the same clothes as their classmates. Naqvi's children also had dietary restrictions to follow.

The family belongs to a branch of the Islamic faith that Naqvi described as conservative. "We have a practicing home," she said. Other Muslim families are not as orthodox and the women, for example, do not wear the hijab.

Naqvi blamed the mass media, social media and some public officials for spreading fear and creating animosity between Americans and all Muslims when words like "terrorist" enters the conversation. "Practicing Muslims" closely follow the beliefs of Islam that include "love of our God," respect for other people and as envoys of peace, she said.

Referring to the violence and mayhem caused by extremists, Naqvi said that they do not represent Islam.

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