As a young Muslim, I have been asked many questions about my religion throughout the years. One of the questions that I have been asked quite frequently is about my experience as a Muslim in a public school. It surprises me how people are curious about this, especially since it is not much of a big difference to me. But I did have a few interesting experiences.
When I was younger, I went to Islamic schools, and I was raised as a Muslim. I was used to the prayer breaks between classes and the halal menu during lunch. It was not until middle school that I decided to switch to a public school. Most people thought it would be a big culture shock, considering most of the things that I experienced in Islamic school were gone, and it seems like it would have been uncomfortable for me. But it was not too big of a change, personally. I have heard of some people who were really surprised at how public school worked. I got used to the school quickly and it didn’t take me too long to adjust.
Since plenty of my classmates were Muslim as well, I was able to interact with them and learn more about how the school worked. I learned that not everything on the lunch menu was halal, so I decided to stay away from dishes that included meat. The lunch menu was not too good anyway, and I usually brought my own food so it would not be a problem.
One of the challenges that I actually found quite tricky was prayer times, because I would have to pray in the school if I were to pray on time. I asked a few of my friends, and they told me I should talk to the librarian, because she was nice, and some kids would pray in the library as well. I was nervous asking the librarian if I could pray, but luckily she let me come in everyday to do so. I found a nice corner behind all of the shelves where it gave me privacy since I was scared of people watching me. I do not recall it ever happening though. I thought it would be embarrassing to have to ask for a bathroom pass at the same times each day, and it was. Nobody asked me where I went or why I was asking for a bathroom pass, but I was still a bit nervous about raising my hand. If you’re asking yourself why I said bathroom pass, it is because bathroom passes were much easier to get; library passes often required an excuse as to why you’re going to the library, so I just used to ask for a bathroom pass then head to the library.
Toward the middle of the school year, one of the teachers suddenly started trying to get me to speak to people, which I didn’t often do since I’m a pretty quiet kid. I found this a bit annoying, actually. I remember sitting at my lunch table, minding my own business as usual, and she came up to me and told me that I should go talk to this girl sitting at the far end of the table. We both seemed like we would rather not have any interaction whatsoever, but the teacher insisted I do so. I guess she thought that since I was a quiet person, I didn’t have anyone to hang out with. My friends didn’t have the same lunch period as me, and in lunch I usually sat by myself and drew. I ended up having to sit next to the girl, and I do not think either of us said a word to each other, and I thank her for that. Truly.
Another thing that bugged me but amused me a little, was how people had trouble pronouncing my name. My name is not supposed to be hard to pronounce, and most people that I know have no problem saying it properly. It is not too fun having to say it again and again for the person to finally figure it out, and I had to deal with that a few times. To this day, I find it stressful having to introduce myself to the class, because I know someone will ask me to repeat myself when I say my name. A few months ago, my teacher asked the class to do a project with the classmate next to them. From the start, I already knew I was going to hate this assignment, especially since I was not in a good mood that day. I tried to ignore everyone else and hint to my classmates that I didn’t want to talk, but the person next to me tried to interact anyway. I knew the kid from another school, and he was not exactly on my “persons I would like to talk to” list. He asked for my name, and asked me to repeat it a few times, to which he still couldn’t pronounce properly. I was getting frustrated, so I decided to just write my name down in hopes that he would figure it out. In my frustration, I scribbled down my name so messily that it would have just made it harder for him to figure out. Eventually, the teacher came to check on us both, and let me work by myself for the project.
Public school has given me a lot of experiences, just like Islamic school. Some of the experiences were good, some were bad. I do not think any school life is going to be perfect, whether its Islamic school or not. I have had a fair share of bad experiences in Islamic school as well, so I can’t say either is better than the other. However, I believe that my experiences in both schools have helped me know more about how the world works and what to expect from different people. I think this is healthy, since keeping someone isolated from other cultures might be problematic later on. It is important for a kid to know how other people will act and what they should stay away from, or get close to. A lot of my experiences have been pretty educational, you could say, and as much as I hate people mispronouncing my name often, it is amazing when I meet someone who says it just right. So, there is my answer, for everybody who asked.
The writer currently attends a public high school in the U.S. and he has requested that his name be held to protect his privacy.