Muslim Mothers: Pioneers of Islamic Education in America

Saturday, January 8, 2011
Ballroom C (Hynes Convention Center)
Maureen O'Neill , independent scholar
Since colonial times, religious groups in the United States have strengthened their religious identity and expression through education. As America has grown, so have the educational needs and options of its increasingly diverse religious groups. The growth of Islamic schools in the United States over the past three decades marks the most recent addition to the history of religion and education in America. This historical study adds to the history of religious groups’ parochial education efforts by chronicling and analyzing the efforts of women pioneers in two of the oldest full-time Islamic schools in the late twentieth century: The Islamic School of Seattle and the Baltimore Islamic Community School. 

The research is examined within the context of Muslim women’s gender roles and the development of Muslim identity in America.  Oral history methodology and archival research were used to gather research findings, with emergent themes analyzed using a hermeneutical approach to transformative analysis within an Islamic paradigm. 

The research findings reveal implications about Muslim women's gender roles and the ongoing negotiation of difference within the racially and ethnically diverse Muslim American ummah (religious community).  The initiative, leadership and agency of the women who founded both schools emerge as testaments to their faith and to their identities both as women and as American Muslims.  Ultimately, the research raises implications about the location of Islamic schools in the history of American education, as both the Seattle and Baltimore schools emerge as unique hybrids of both the American and Islamic histories and traditions.

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