CAIRO – Accepting a job as English teacher in Al-Noor Academy, Rick Booth’s dreams came true with a highly disciplined ambitious class of American Muslim students.
“The moral rewards are just spectacular,” Booth, a former newsman for more than 30 years at the Westerly Sun newspaper in Rhode Island, told Boston Globe on Sunday, June 3.
“I tried to resist, but I fell in love with the place. I found a home here.”
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Al-Noor Academy is a private middle and high school established in September 2000 to serve the Muslim community in Greater Boston and northern Rhode Island.
Its curriculum includes all subjects taught in public schools in Massachusetts plus the religion of Islam and the Arabic language.
Joining the schools staff in May 2011, many things in the school were unfamiliar to Booth.
For example, the school students pray five times a day and the rituals are part and parcel of the school day.
The school also starts public events with a recitation of portions of the Koran.
Showing respect for the Muslim rituals, Booth has been regarded a model of decorum.
During a recent workshop organized by the school, Fatma Abdelwahab, the school’s registrar, said she looked at Booth and “he brought to my attention how I should react when the Koran is recited,” she said.
“He showed all respect.”
“He doesn’t know everything [about our culture], but he’s learning,” said Firas Al-Shaar, a sophomore.
“He always finds a way to relate to it.”
Al-Shaar said he appreciates how Booth, who usually assigns plenty of homework, makes exceptions during Islamic holidays.
“If we have a special holiday, he won’t give us a lot of homework,” he said.
Teaching Muslim students in Al-Noor school has changed many perceptions for Booth.
With the academy’s school uniform for girls, consisting of the hijab and jilbab (a long, loose-fitting garment), Booth sees the hijab the way the Qur’an presents it; as a protection for women that also illuminates their faces.
“Muslim females in this school present themselves as ladies in the American/English sense of the term,” said Booth.
“They’re modest. They’re the way I think the girls in America used to be like 60 years ago.”
Malak El-Sayad, a junior student, as well as other females at the academy, expressed appreciation for Booth’s view of Muslim females’ modest way of dressing, which they said they found refreshing.
“He really brings in new insights to Islam,” said El-Sayad.
“Through his eyes, we see things that we never saw before.”
Sharif Abdelal, a senior stduent, sees Booth’s presence as a learning experience on both sides.
“We’re learning from him as a teacher, but he’s also learning about us as a people,” Abdelal said.
Respect is mutual, and Booth says the central factor keeping him in a place that is culturally foreign to him is the level of respect he gets from students.
He said even though he has never been to a Muslim country, “certainly at the academy we get enormous respect. And it’s just priceless.”
Noticing a common high ambition among students, many of whom want to be doctors, Booth sees the academy students as a dream for any teacher for being motivated, self-confident, and persevering,
“The fact of the matter is half of them will,” he said. “And they can do it, and they know they can do it.”
He said he believes if more non-Muslim teachers knew about how motivated Muslim students are, “They’d come a flockin’ to teach at a Muslim school, because it’s a dream come true.”
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